In this week’s episode of The Newsroom, ACN’s Operation Genoa story falls apart like me during the last 15 minutes of Beaches. A bunch of questions are answered, at least one opportunity (in my opinion) is missed and three News Nighters throw themselves on their journalistic swords to save the reputation of the network. Let’s assume crash positions as we review the epic – I’m sorry, “institutional” – failure that goes down in “Red Team III.”
DON CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH | Most of the key players spend some time in the episode being interrogated by ACN lawyer Rebecca; Don goes first. He rails against the stupidity of ACN having to prepare for the worst just because Jerry Dantana is angry he got fired. Rebecca counters that, although Jerry certainly doctored the tape, the matter is a bit more nuanced than Don would like to admit. Jerry’s “claim is, he’s a scapegoat,” she says coolly. “I understand why he’d feel that way, because it was entirely his fault,” Don shoots back. (Heh.)
But the truth of it is that there were several problems that should’ve gotten caught but didn’t during the three Red Team meetings, and a flashback brings us into the third one. We learn that MacKenzie interviewed the previously assumed-dead Herman Valenzuela, who backed up what the News Night team had already learned: Operation Genoa was an extraction to recover captured American military personnel, and in it, the U.S. Armed Forces used chemical weapons on civilians. This is the first meeting for which Will has been present, and his face is blank as Jerry & Co. review their sources and the facts – we find out his non-reaction is because “I heard the same story,” he tells them. (Though, as Rebecca points out, no one thought to ask Will if his reliable, in-a-position-to-know source was the same as Charlie’s. Oops.)
Charlie, Mac and Jerry want to run with the story. Don thinks airing it will put soldiers’ lives in heightened danger, and Jim says it just doesn’t feel right. “Eleven months of reporting versus your gut, I’ll take the reporting,” Jerry says peevishly. “I’d take Jim’s gut,” Sloan pipes up, and Neal concurs. (That’s sweet, guys, but Jim’s not infallible. Remember, he did give away an interview with a presidential candidate to a pretty face a few months back… though, in that case, his gut probably wasn’t the body part calling the shots.) Harper and Dantana argue — Jerry says Jim fetishizes the military, Jim says he doesn’t know Jerry and therefore can’t be certain about his judgment — until Will makes the ultimate call: “I trust Charlie and Mac.” The broadcast is a go!
ACN REPORTS | The special airs live, with all of the staff nervously watching. Everything seems fine until Charlie gets a call from a livid Gen. Stomtonovich, who strenuously asserts that he never said that the U.S. used sarin. “It’s on film,” Mac replies when she, Will and Charlie discuss the matter, but she volunteers to check the raw tape once more. Though the call rattles them all a little, Will and Mac still manage to have a seemingly innocuous conversation about shot clocks vs. game clocks as he watches a college football game. If you’re thinking Mac’s about to figure out what Jerry did to the tape… you’ve got to wait a while.
The next morning brings news both good (the special netted 5.8 million viewers, “That’s an I Love Lucy number!” Will cries gleefully) and troubling (the Department of Defense sends News Night an email that involves the phrases “legal remedies” and “Espionage Act”). That’s so not good. Still, everyone stands by the story… until Elliott interviews the former gunnery sargeant involved in Genoa on his show later that night.
During Elliott’s broadcast, Sloan and Don banter it up in the control room. I loved her assertion that she’d “thrive” in jail because she’d “do everybody’s taxes and invest the warden’s money. What are you gonna do? Produce their nightly news show?” but then things get a little fuzzy – probably because I blacked out for a moment after being hit over the head so hard with the “and sometimes boys are vague with their messages” line. (Side note: This season isn’t going to end with another Sloan-and-Don near miss, is it?)
The flirting is interrupted, though, as the vet slips on-air and says he incurred a traumatic brain injury while on duty. It’s an injury he’d lied about to the News Night team – and one that often causes memory loss, which could mean that he’s not as rock-solid on those Genoa facts as he originally seemed. Don urges Elliott to bail out of the interview, and they quickly go to commercial. Not long after, a late night emergency staff meeting is called.
During the tense powwow, everyone (but Jerry) learns that Maggie wasn’t in the room during the Stomtonovich interview. Cue the journalistic outrage! Charlie and his eyebrows subdue everyone into silence, telling those assembled to chill out – leading to this awesome exchange:
WILL: How much of what you’re saying do you believe right now?
CHARLIE: 60 percent
WILL: I thought it was in the mid-80s. You pulled it off.
CHARLIE: [with the most amazing look on his face] Experience.
Mac later realizes that Herman Valenzuela isn’t as solid a source as he originally seemed, either; in his interview, which she conducted, he didn’t state one original fact – he just backed up what Stomtonovich and Sweeney said. The next day, Charlie goes to D.C. to talk to his “Deep Throat.” And that’s when things get really bad.
A FATHER’S REVENGE | Charlie has lots of questions for the man who brought him the helicopter manifest, but that man first wants to show off some pictures of his son, David. There’s David on his first day of college, on his first day as an ACN intern, on his first day home from rehab (I don’t like where this is going…) and at his funeral. What?
Apparently, the source’s kid was hired at the network on his 90th day of sobriety from a heroin addiction but was fired, and that firing was part of a downward spiral that ultimately killed him. The grieving father is mad that Charlie didn’t step in to stop the dismissal, and therefore… ACN’s Operation Genoa story became a thing. (Side note: From the way the men talk about it, I was thinking that the intern was somehow involved in the Internet death threat hoax aimed at Will last season. What a good way to wrap in that plot point, I thought. But, nope. The kid just posted about how he didn’t like News Night, and Neal let him go because of it. Missed opportunity, no?) When Charlie states that David “deserved to be fired,” the source slaps him and suggests he hold the very fake manifest over a lightbulb for 20 seconds, Nancy Drew-style – which reveals a nasty message (aimed at Charlie) that would make Ned Nickerson blush.
TIME’S UP | Meanwhile, back in New York, the news division is getting the first word about the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi. It’s not too crazy, though, for one of the control-room guys to bring a segment countdown clock into the newsroom to show Mac. I assume he did so because the giant, flashing neon arrow pointing to Jerry’s deceit was being used by someone else? Something in the petite EP’s mind clicks, and we next see her reviewing Stomtonovich’s interview once more – and paying particular interest to the corner of the basketball game on the TV behind the general…
“You forgot the shot clock,” she says when she sees Jerry exiting the elevator, then pushes him back in and closes the door behind them. Mac is so mad she can’t look directly at the fill-in producer, so they both stare ahead as she tells him the clock on the tape goes from 19 to 3 to 2 to 14. He’s screwed, and he knows it, but he tries to rationalize anyway. “I wouldn’t have done this on any other story, and I wouldn’t have done it unless I was sure!” he says, voice rising. Mac shouts that “No one!” is ever going to believe them again, and he says he needs a lawyer. “You’re fired,” she calls out as he departs. “I know,” he says resignedly.
Upstairs, Mac finds all of the staff in Will’s office. They’re buzzing about a source who says that what happened in Benghazi was a coordinated attack, but they fall silent when she enters with tears in her eyes and says, “We have to retract Genoa tonight. All of it.” Want a visual punch to the gut? Watch Jeff Daniels’ face in this scene. Good stuff.
FAKE NEWS FALLOUT| As Will tells Rebecca & Co., News Night‘s top story that evening was the retraction. “We just stopped being good.” And so, after he reports on the following night’s election (it’s obviously November 5, 2012), he’s going to resign. He makes his way up to the executive level, where he, Charlie and Mac await Leona’s arrival from some swanky fundraiser. When the big boss lady does show up, she’s lamenting the fact that she paid $1,000 to see Skyfall at a benefit. “You know why? To meet Daniel Craig,” she says. (Lady, a grand to set eyes upon those steely peepers and that chiseled jaw in person? You got a bargain.) But Hurricane Sandy aftermath kept Craig from appearing. Boo.
Anyway, Leona swans around the room in an awesome black gown and refuses the trio’s resignations. “You will resign when I fire you out of petty malice and not before,” she states. (Ha!) Right after she uses the vernacular “hizzy,” Charlie wonders out loud what I’ve been thinking since she entered: “Leona, are you stoned?” She’s not high, Charlie, but she’s also not going to let Jerry take home a $5 million settlement just to make the network’s problem go away. Rebecca enters and tells Leona not to let them go, and the ladies’ back-and-forth implies a friendship that goes beyond the network. (To be a fly on the wall on one of those girls’ nights!) The entire scene feels like a fever dream – in the best way possible – but Charlie is determined to have some normalcy. “Leona, we don’t have the trust of the public anymore!” he bellows. “Get it back!” she shouts. And… roll credits!
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots