HBO's 'The 'Newsroom': Washington state, drivers licenses and illegal immigrants
Spokane was the most exciting guest star on the second episode of "The Newsroom," HBO's new show about a primetime cable news show.
In the episode titled "News Night 2.0," the new crew struggles to put together a show about Arizona's illegal immigration law. This is the same law that the Supreme Court recently ruled on in real life.
At the pitch meeting, a producer cites an alternative weekly in Spokane, Pacific Northwest Insider (in real life, the Pacific Northwest Inlander), which published a story about a guy who said when he as 16, he found out he was in the country illegally. The state of Washington found out rescinded his driver's license and he needs his car for his job.
The state of Washington does not require proof of legal U.S. residence when people apply for driver's licenses. Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna wants the state to start requiring proof of legal U.S. residency before the state gives drivers licenses. His opponent Jay Inslee supports requiring applicants proof of legal state residency and proof of identity for licenses, but he does not support not requiring proof of U.S. legal residency.
Last year, the state of Washington revoked the license of Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who revealed he was in the country illegally.
So with the facts out of the way, let's talk about the journalism.
At the end of the show, the anchor Will McAvoy quietly sets up a cab fund to get the immigrant in Spokane to his job. Journalists everywhere rolled their eyes. Journalists do not make financial investments in the stories and subjects they cover. For instance, journalists do not make campaign contributions or hold stock in companies they cover. Financial ties compromise the appearance and ability to do fair and unbiased reporting.
At the beginning of the show, associate producer Margaret Jordan tries to set up an interview with the Arizona governor. Her press aide refuses to make her available after Jordan cracks a joke about the aide's in bed. Turns out Jordan was once trapped under his bed while he had sex with his girlfriend.
To replace the governor, McAvoy interviews a clown car panel about the immigration bill: Miss U.S.A.'s second runner up ("I'm an American, not an American't"), an immigrant expert who answers the question "how do you feel about...?" with "absolutely," and a gun enthusiast who responds in monosyllables. It's a hot hilarious mess.
Editors do not allow reporters to work with sources with whom we have personal relationships. A former Seattle Times editor's wife got a job as press secretary for a former mayor and she ended up having to turn it down. I was once researching a story on the summer internship program at Microsoft and I was set up for an interview with a recruiting manager who I had met at a couple social occasions. I discussed it with my editor and we told Microsoft it would need to make someone else available. As journalists, we cover the circus. We don't sleep with the elephants.
That said, journalists do sleep with each other like Will McAvoy and executive producer MacKenzie McHale. At the low point of the episode, McHale sends an email saying that she cheated on McAvoy which accidentally goes to the whole company. She runs out and stomps all over a coworker's cell phone, then demands everyone delete the email without reading it. It's tough to believe an executive at her level would be completely incompetent at email.
I was once involved with an intern when I was an intern at The Seattle Times. I'm calling it "involved" because he refused to call it "dating" which may give you a clue as to why that involvement was ill-fated. He left for a better job. Then a different ex-boyfriend from years past took a job in my newsroom, working at a desk next to mine. He got happily married and took a job at another paper. And I'm now married to a sports reporter at The Seattle Times. Throughout all that, I have never had a relationship meltdown in the middle of the newsroom and I have never witnessed one. We have argued all the way in the car from home to the office parking lot, which makes us just like every other marriage in the world.
Here are the four questions McHale presents as the guiding values of the reinvented news show.
- Is this information you need in the voting booth? This was question is in the back of our minds when I worked in on the news side regarding political, crime, transportation, education and environmental stories. This is not necessarily asked in the business, sports and features sections. It certainly is a guiding question in the opinion section as we're meeting with 100 candidates before the Aug. 7 primary to make endorsements.
- Is this the best form for the argument? This is a question for broadcast journalists, not print journalists.
- Is the story in historical context? Yes, almost always asked before writing a story.
- Are there really two sides to the story? When I worked on the news side, we always presented both, or more than both sides of the story. McAvoy dismisses this with the example, if the Republican caucus passes a resolution that the world is flat, the newspapers will lead with "Democrats and Republicans disagree on the shape of the world." On the opinion side, we'll give you our best argument.
I'm still watching. Are you?
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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