The News vs. The Newsroom: Yes, That GOP Debate Really Did Get That Nasty

Comparing the HBO series' depictions of Occupy Wall Street, the Republican presidential campaign, and the opening of the "Ground Zero Mosque" to what really happened

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The Newsroom takes place roughly two years in the past, where the ACN News Night team strives to virtuously and judiciously report the news as it happens. By reenacting headline-making happenings, Aaron Sorkin's HBO series comments both on those happenings and the way they were handled by journalists. So it's worth asking: How does The Newsroom's version of events fit in with the way these events really unfolded in the media?

Not always perfectly—but not always incorrectly, either. Here's how the third episode of The Newsroom's second season compares to the real-life news coverage and media narratives of the time period it portrays.


The Newsroom: Episode Three opens on September 23, 2011. At the GOP presidential debate the night before, all nine Republican presidential candidates remained silent while audience members booed at a gay U.S. soldier's question for Rick Santorum about policies regarding homosexuality in the military. Will McAvoy delivers a report with some punishing extra commentary.

The news: When Stephen Hill was booed at the Republican debate and Rick Santorum didn't acknowledge the audience's negative response, several prominent media figures were, like Will, shocked, indignant, and disappointed.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews pointed out—as Jim Harper does in the episode—that this gaffe was, above all, a missed opportunity. "Is there any natural leader in the Republican party, or is it mob rule? [A candidate could say,] 'Now, let's think that through again. This guy is fighting for our country,'" Matthews said. "'You may not approve, if you have an attitude, about his orientation or his political ideologies. But let's have a hand for everybody in our military.' That would be a chilling moment."

Several Republican leaders decried both the booing and the lack of response from the primary candidates—even debate participants Santorum (who said he couldn't hear the boos from the stage) and Gary Johnson, who said he could hear the boos and regretted not saying something.

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Megyn Kelly, however—the moderator at the GOP debate, for whom The Newsroom's Charlie Skinner offers a very colorful suggestion—tried to set the story straight.


The Newsroom: Neal continues to carry a torch for the OWS cause, and makes his case to Mackenzie that the protesters in Zuccotti Park are doing something that deserves more news coverage.

The news: In the last days of September, sentiments like Neal's popped up in the news—but they were expressed by the protesters themselves.

"Why is the media not covering it? ... Because the media is controlled by the exact people we're protesting against," said one protester, in a report from RT News. "They don't really talk about why we're there, or they try to make it seem like our numbers are dwindling when in fact they're increasing. Or that we're dirty hippies or young teenagers who are now disgruntled when that's really not the case at all."

And as for the Megyn Kelly video that Neal and Mackenzie watch in her office, you can see the rest of that report—in which Kelly expresses uncertainty over whether the protesters sprayed with pepper spray were over-dramatizing the effects of it—here. (Rough week for Megyn Kelly in Newsroom-world.)


The Newsroom: Sometime around September 26, Hallie appears to discover—with Jim's help—inconsistencies in Mitt Romney's record on abortion issues.

The news: Romney's sudden change of heart after a history of defending the status quo on abortion issues certainly invited questions from reporters like Hallie in the following weeks and months, as well as from the general public. This compilation of footage of Mitt Romney defending abortion rights as a Massachusetts politician surfaced that fall on YouTube.

But his changing stance was already public knowledge at this point, to some extent. Here's Rick Perry calling out Mitt Romney for flip-flopping at the GOP presidential debate on September 22.


The Newsroom: "You know what opened four days ago? Park51, the Ground Zero Mosque," Will tells Mackenzie. "Turns out the sky didn't fall down. And nobody, including us, covered it. You wonder why people hate the media."

The news: Expand your media diet, Will McAvoy—The Huffington Post, Gothamist, Newsday, The Washington Times, and Bloomberg Businessweek all picked up the story.

"This space is a testament to our intentions and to the service that we, as Muslims, intend to give back to Manhattan," said the Islamic cultural center's developer, Sharif El Gamal.


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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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