The News vs. The Newsroom: Was There a Real 'Genoa' Report? Yes—in 1998

Comparing the HBO series' depictions of Mitt Romney's campaign staff gaffes and the investigative reports on "Operation Genoa" to what really happened
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How does The Newsroom's version of news events from last year fit in with the way those events really unfolded in the media? Not always perfectly -- but not always incorrectly, either. Here's how the sixth episode of Aaron Sorkin's HBO series' second season compares to the real-life news coverage of the time period it portrays.


The Newsroom: Business reporter Sloan Sabbith mentions to Will that she's thinking of doing a story on Disney's colossal 2012 box-office flop John Carter.

"It's projected to lose about $200 million for Disney," she says to Will. "Say what you want, but they're one of the few American industries still making a product people want to buy. Nobody's gonna ask for a bailout, and Disney's stock is relatively safe. Entertainment is one of our highest revenue-generating exports, and they employ members of 17 different unions, all of which have excellent minimum basic contracts. They may take it in the teeth on John Carter, but no one's going to get hurt."

The news: Dennis Kneale of Fox Business News delivered a similar story in May of 2012. He pointed out that while the mega-failure of John Carter was, of course, a large-scale loss for Disney, the studio's stock prices, still excellent predictors of growth in Americans' disposable-income spending habits, hadn't taken a hit -- in fact, their stock prices were up almost 30 percent over the last six months. Disney's bottom line, according to Kneale -- especially with the help of The Avengers, released the same summer -- would be just fine.


The Newsroom: On March 21, Mitt Romney spokeswoman Taylor crashes Jim's date with Hallie while she and the rest of the Romney campaign are in New York. "I know you had a special night planned, so of course I'm coming along," Taylor says smugly. "You know why?"

"Because we spent six minutes and 20 seconds--" Jim sighs.

"On Etch-a-Sketch," she finishes.

The news: On the morning of March 21, CNN's John Fugelsang asked Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser for the Romney campaign, whether competition with the other Republican presidential nominees had pushed Romney's platform so far to the right that it could hurt his chances in the general election. Fehrnstrom replied that the governor could "hit a reset button" for the fall campaign. "Everything changes," he said. "It's like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."

While the moment did create a media frenzy among those eager to weigh in on Romney's apparently adjustable political beliefs -- Etch-a-Sketches were brandished by commentators and rival politicians alike in the days following -- six minutes and 20 seconds is a pretty startling figure for a nightly news show.

ABC's evening broadcast only assigned the story about two minutes and 20 seconds. "Mitt Romney and his campaign had wanted to talk about his victory in the Illinois primary," said Washington correspondent Jake Tapper. But then, he said, holding up an Etch-a-Sketch, "debate over this iconic children's toy, the Etch-a-Sketch, threatened to erase all that."

NBC's segment on the gaffe lasted two and a half minutes; Fox News gave it three minutes and five seconds. But Rachel Maddow, in a nearly 15-minute segment on her MSNBC show, took Romney's entire political career to task when she dug deep into the implications of the "Romney as Etch-a-Sketch" metaphor. "The shake-everything-up-and-invent-your-own-reality side of him has an even more serious implication," she said. "He lies all the time."


The Newsroom: This week's episode ended on an ominous cliffhanger note: Charlie Skinner admits to a team of lawyers investigating ACN's story on a black op called Operation Genoa that "None of it was true." We can likely expect, then, that more of the fallout from the story, in which the ACN news team reports on American troops' alleged use of sarin gas on civilians while performing an extraction in a small village in Pakistan in 2009, will be explained next week.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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