“The Newsroom” Episode 5 recap: The Glass(-Steagall) Ceiling

Lori Acken

I found out Olivia Munn’s character’s name (Sloan) on this episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), producer of a news-show-that-tells-the-truth™ and ex of that show’s once-egomaniacal-but-now-Arthurian anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), needs to talk economic stuff for some event but doesn’t know any economic stuff — so she asks Sloan, a hot brainiac economist for some reason working at a cable news station, to tutor her. Sloan tells her about a New Deal law called Glass-Steagall that regulated banks and “helped lead to the longest sustained period of economic growth in U.S. history, 60-year expansion of the middle class, largest increase in production and largest increase in median income. We also won World War II, put a man on the moon and a computer in everyone’s lap. And you know what happens next?”

McHale, weeping over some other stuff, says, “We cheated on the perfect guy with a guy who dumped us?”

“Yes,” Sloan says, “we repeal Glass-Steagall.”

Aside from the attempted comedic juxtapostion, here Sorkin tips his hand that: A) he will use any hamfisted device, like a hot economist Seussifying economic history for national news show producer who would need to know at-least-Seussified economic history get a job interview, to lay pipe about the slouching-toward-Babylon world that show is attempting to demystify for America; and B) we should be perceiving McAvoy, whose problems being human and professional were The Newsroom’s very premise, as “the perfect guy.”

Something weird is going on. And by “weird,” I don’t just mean this week’s magnanimous non-window-dressing screentime for The Newsroom’s staff-of-color, including Sloan, the young South Asian-British staff blogger/producer Neal (Dev Patel) and young African-American producer/reporter Gary (Chris Chalk).

It is early 2011 in Newsroom continuum, their plate full up with the Egyptian pro-democracy uprising and Koch Industries middle manager/Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s union-busting salvo against public workers. This would seem rife to include the federal codification of labor rights and unions’ partnership in a still-industrial economy as catalysts of the prosperity Sloan addressed, but Sorkin is too busy cramming pointless crap into the show — including a Valentine’s Day B-story — to nuance such things into the narrative.

So to boil it down to need-to-know:

— Since Sorkin deigns to help us understand the world via pithy office-banter detours into pop-cultural effluvia, Will and Gary explain the movie Rudy to Proficient But Socially Awkward Earnest Guy (SA3), specifically its tear-inducing “jersey scene,” which SA3 has never seen, perhaps because he asked someone very much like me if Rudy was a good movie.

— After the network’s correspondent in Egypt is beaten up, Neal discovers an idealistic young Egyptian reporter on the ground, whom News Night hires as a stringer.

— Sister gossip mag TMI, hatchet-apparatus for company boss Jane Fonda, who dislikes the new News Night for being good, heats up the feud with News Night over the ethical quandary of McHale’s federal prosecutor boyfriend appearing on their show while, it reveals, surreptitiously planning a run for congress. McHale fears he may have been using her to build his media presence. Former TMI employee Gary drops a bug in McAvoy’s ear that it may be SOP at the magazine to take payouts to kill stories.

The Egyptian wunderkind is kidnapped and held for $250,000 ransom and the company brass balks at paying it. McHale cries and self-flagellates, then dumps the boyfriend. McAvoy has a sit-down with the TMI editor and accedes to pay to kill the McHale conflict-of-interest story. He starts writing a check but balks when she suggests they are both journalists, after all.

Her saying this makes sense in no kind of context, until you realize McAvoy needs to make an impassioned speech. He does:

“I got a guy on my staff who [did something that doesn’t matter] because I got another guy who got beat up covering Cairo and the first guy wouldn’t see a doctor till the second guy saw a doctor. I got a producer who [did something brash]. I’ve got an 18-year-old kid risking his life halfway around the world and the AP who sent him there hasn’t slept in three days. I’ve got 20somethings who care about teachers in Wisconsin. I’ve got a grown woman who [something quirky that doesn’t matter] staying up all night trying to learn [sort-of] economics from a PhD who could be making 20 times the money three miles downtown. They’re journalists. Come after me all you want. Come after me [in sundry ways]…But you touch my staff and you are walking into a world of hurt…”

There’s more but you already saw the gist of it in last week’s impassioned speech or, if you are reading this in the future, all of them. Back in the Newsroom, it is discovered that “corporate” didn’t wire $250,000 to save the Egyptian stringer, but McAvoy did. So McHale ushers Neal in, who says he can’t give much but wanted to contribute, and leaves a check. McAvoy discovers a line of staffers stretching across the Newsroom, all with checks. Get it? Rudy!

Oh, and Neal and freed-Egyptian-stringer share warm greetings on Skype.

This is curious and uncomfortable. The kid risked life and limb revealing himself as a correspondent for a Yankee newsnet and went through hell, but that is secondary to McAvoy’s triumphal wire-transfer. McHale’s obsession is beginning to feel merely precursor to a radial fetishization going on. Sure, McAvoy is ready to go to the mattresses for his staff, good, but increasingly it feels like their actual, vital role in giving him smart things to say on TV is kind of just setup for him to be Great — which feels rather kingly and explains Sloan, Neal and Gary’s bench-time until now and why they will be riding pine next week.

Sorkin too obviously subscribes to the Great Man lens of history, but it is worth pointing out that that tends to run counter to his progressive leanings, not least by rendering measurable reality down to the cartoon narrative that is ostensibly News Night’s nemesis. The solution to a tyrannical king is not, after all, a nicer king.

New episodes of The Newsroom air Sunday nights at 10/9CT on HBO.
Images and video: ©2012 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


  1. To Mr Grimm
    You are harsh but funny.
    I like the show and your take on it.
    1 thing though after the comment was made on the show now the Glass Steagall repeal is back in the press and up for comment.
    not bad for show that gets 2millions viewers. I guess most o those work in the media.

  2. Fantastic as always. You knjow what I thought was gonna happen? I thought he was going to get TMI in trouble for taking bribes. I mean… couldn’t he have done that?

    Again, I accept the imperfections and DO NOT CARE, because I love the impassioned speeches. Eat ’em up.

    So cute how Mackenzie became “‘Kenzie” for no discernible reason.

  3. Comment on using a local little known reporter during the Arab Spring uprising. That really happened if I recall, I can’t remember off the top of my head which network, but I seem to remember that it did occur. I agree that it does get a bit too sappy with the in-office relationships and McHale should have it a little more together after being a stoic war-zone reporter for a few years. I also wish they would play it a little straighter in general.

  4. So I have a question: did i genuinely find last night’s episode grating…or did I find it grating because your last recap poisoned my infatuation with the show? I mean it, Grimm…I found myself ticking off Sorkinisms last night, and started to wonder if I’d have come upon them organically, or if your insidiously clever take down of the great AS – and I DO think he’s great – is lurking there in my brain.

    Either way, it really bugged me that Mac – the woman with a boy’s nickname! – is shown to be an idiot about economics…just for a cheap plot device. If this show is supposed to be aspirational, than how come they saddle it with an EP character that’s utterly stupid with some regularity?

    Damn. Grimm, if you even MENTION “The Walking Dead” in an unkind way, you’re asking for a world of hurt…

    • I would never do that. I would only suggest that “You cain’t keep them safe!” BWAH-hahahahahahaha!!!

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