Free speech, political speech and “speaking truth to stupid”

Title card from The Newsroom

Where speech and truth collide

Citizens United strikes again. Yesterday, the Supreme Court narrowly defeated a Montana law that would limit political spending by corporations, thus reinforcing the belief—most recently articulated by GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney—that “corporations are people, too.” In this strange, new universe, political speech goes to the highest bidder, which, in most cases, puts the needs and concerns of actual people last.

In an ideal world, one scripted by Aaron Sorkin, this wouldn’t happen. Or if it did, it would be discussed, examined, debated, railed against and sermonized about with eloquent fury. Perhaps it will be written into an upcoming episode of “The Newsroom,” his new morality play now showing on HBO. I’d love to see what Sorkin makes of that!

Many of the journalists-who-cover-television (talk about meta!) panned the show, calling out its pretentiousness and noting it was full of echt-Sorkin elements (long tracking shots, fast-talking larger-than-life characters and philosophical rants). Maybe so. But compared to the uneducated, small-minded, short-term-thinking networks and frivolity on most news shows, this “Newsroom” was a bracing intellectual jolt. It took a story we knew (the BP oil spill) and gave us a gripping “making of” that presented the facts and players (the reporters and reported upon) in a new light—making it seem even more awful, if that were possible. The actors inhabited their roles and technological scene partners with grace and authenticity, revealing bits of their characters in an unshowy way. Styling did not trump storytelling (unlike, say, Madmen) and, yes, there was diversity in casting, but not something to stumble over.

And the writing… Sorkin has described dialogue as music and his use of language is rhapsodic. The words tumble over themselves and you’re left marveling at as much as what he says as how he says it. It is created to—in the words of “Newsroom’s” executive producer—to speak truth to stupid.

This Thursday, SCOTUS takes center stage again when it reveals whether or not it will uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare,” as it is derisively called). The prognosis for the bill is grim and no doubt its opponents are already chilling the champagne. You have to wonder what the outcome would have been if the denizens of “West Wing” had framed the debate  and “The Newsroom” had brought us the story. Just saying…

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