The News vs. The Newsroom: What Not to Call Rick Perry's Ranch on Live TV

Comparing the HBO series' depictions of Occupy Wall Street investigations and Republican presidential-campaign drama 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 journalists handled them. 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 fourth 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: Shelly Wexler, a prominent voice within the Occupy Wall Street movement, makes an appearance on the show at Neal's urging on September 30, only to find herself on the losing end of a demoralizing interview with Will McAvoy. Shelly later complains that Will has treated her unfairly, that he and the rest of the media are "looking at [Occupy Wall Street] instead of what we're pointing at."

The news: In the early days of October 2011, several major TV news outlets brought on Occupy Wall Street protesters for interviews, in an effort to get an on-the-ground perspective on the growing movement. Many journalists were much more civil and truly inquisitive than Will was with Shelly—like Christiane Amanpour, who interviewed protester and Daily Kos blogger Jesse LaGreca.

"It's the moment now to perhaps try to translate that into a political push, a political demand," Amanpour said. "Is there something you can make this about?"

"I think this entire movement is about economic justice," LaGreca responded. "To me—and I'm not speaking on behalf of Occupy Wall Street, I'm just giving my personal opinion—I think it's a matter of economic rights, social rights, and social justice."

Elsewhere in North America, professors and authors who had taken up the Occupy cause were called in to talk about the nature of the problems Occupy Wall Street was protesting against. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges gave a swift dressing-down Canadian news network CBC's Kevin O'Leary, and Fordham University history professor Mark Naison analyzed the Occupy Wall Street movement in the context of other historic American social justice movements on ABC News.


The Newsroom: It's revealed to the press that a ranch leased by Rick Perry's family since the 1980s has its a rock at its entry gate painted with the name of the ranch: Niggerhead. Charlie chastises Elliot Hirsch for saying that name on air and points out that most other networks found ways to avoid uttering the offensive word—to which Elliot protests, "Don Lemon said it!"

The news: It's true: In the video below, despite the display text reading "N-----head," Lemon says "the most poisonous word in the English language" on CNN.

Other news programs used sanitized language to avoid explicitly stating the term.

"Texas governor Rick Perry, who's running for the Republican Presidential nomination, is in the middle of another controversy, this one involving the name of the family hunting camp—a name that used to include a racial obscenity painted on a rock at the entrance," said Scott Pelley of CBS Evening News.

"The original name of [the ranch] included a racial slur painted on a rock out front," said David Muir of ABC News.

"'N-word-head,' it read," said MSNBC's Ed Schultz.


The Newsroom: "Perry's done," Romney press spokeswoman Taylor says to Jim before he leaves the campaign. "It's not the ranch that's gonna get him—it's his intellect.

"Not the worst reason for a Republican to lose," she adds. "I wonder if anyone's gonna notice that."

The news: Perry hung around for a while after being what Taylor calls "done." He suspended his campaign on January 19, 2012.

There was much speculation as to what had truly killed the Perry campaign, but most of the reasons provided by analysts and the press weren't directly related to Perry's intellect, but rather his policies and his mounting collection of campaign-trail flubs. According to an Associated Press report,

Perry's exit marked the end of a campaign that began with soaring expectations but quickly faded. He shot to the head of the public opinion polls when he announced his candidacy last summer, but a string of poor debate performances and campaign flubs soon led to a decline in support.

His defining moment came during one debate when he inexplicably could not recall one of three federal agencies he had pledged to abolish. He joked about it afterward, telling reporters, "I stepped in it," but never recovered from the fumble.

Also problematic for conservative supporters: Perry's support of a Texas policy to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates and his 2007 order to require schoolgirls in Texas to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, an order later overturned by state lawmakers.

Perry also risked backlash from elderly voters after calling Social Security a fraud and a "Ponzi scheme." He said the popular federal retirement program for seniors was financially unsustainable and pledged to retool it if elected president.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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