Aaron Sorkin: What I Read

The Oscar-winning screenwriter defends elitism in journalism (and everything else)

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How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin, whose works include The Social Network, Sports Night, The West Wing and A Few Good Men.

I get the The New York Times and Los Angeles Times thrown at my door every morning. I'll read the front page of The New York Times, then the op-eds, then scan the arts section and then the sports section. Then I do the same with the L.A. Times. I'm not on Facebook and I don't tweet but I know plenty of people who love both. At the office I'll have either CNN or ESPN on with the sound off. At night I check in with MSNBC once in a while. The homepage on my web browser is Yahoo, which I'm told it shouldn't be, but I've just been too lazy to change it. From time to time I'll read some of the comments under stories on it to get a sense of what it must be like at a Klan meeting.

The upside of web-based journalism is that everybody gets a chance. The downside is that everybody gets a chance. I can't really get on board with the demonization of credentials with phrases like "the media elite" (just like doctors, airline pilots and presidents, I prefer reporters and commentators to be elite) and the glamorization of inexperience with phrases like "citizen journalist."

When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from "BobsThoughts.com," Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website--something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us.

As the saying goes, the problem with free speech is that you get what you pay for. Obviously there are great writers and thinkers publishing on the web and there have also been times when citizen journalists have made a positive contribution to the public discussion, but I think the cost/benefit is way out of whack. Like saying that graffiti is good because somewhere in there is a Banksy.

Not to be unoriginal but Beck and Limbaugh are eye-poppingly awful. It would be easier to buy their love of America if they didn't have such hate for Americans. They're my generation's Joe McCarthy--tarring anyone who disagrees with them with schoolyard epithets and, of course, being "un-American" or even on the side of America's enemies--but they reach a much, much larger audience than McCarthy did. They appeal to the worst in the worst among us and squander an opportunity--all those eyes and ears--to inspire.  I'm a fan of the two-party system and a fan of debate. It's only by having smart people ("elites") who disagree with each other that we arrive at what we hope is the best solution to a problem. The effort gets choked to death when one side says the other is fundamentally evil. Neither the right nor the left has a monopoly on incivility and imbecility but--with my eyes and ears being connected to my brain like everyone else's--I find the right trades in it a lot more than the left.

Yes, I've seen Olbermann and Matthews and Schultz and Maddow but they simply don't compare to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and Coulter. And Ingraham and Breitbart and Palin and Gingrich. (And with Fox News No. 1 on cable and Limbaugh No. 1 on the radio, where did we get the idea that the media was controlled by the left?) But there's reason for hope. Maureen Dowd--a bogeywoman for the right--won her Pulitzer Prize for taking Bill Clinton apart. I've been just as proud when my friend, Peggy Noonan, puts country before party and journalism before everything. David Frum (George W. Bush's chief speech writer), puts a lot of effort into imploring Republicans not to be led by TV and radio personalities rather than political leaders. Mark McKinnon, another senior advisor to President Bush, makes constant, thoughtful and energetic appeals to the moderate wing of his party. Neither Frum nor McKinnon have won any popularity contests with Republicans as a result.

For more Media Diets: Adam MossJennifer EganMalcolm GladwellSusan GlassnerJoe WeisenthalAndrea MitchellAnna HolmesEric SchmidtNick DentonDavid BrooksAndrew BreitbartGary ShteyngartTom McGeveranMegan McCarthyBret StephensJoseph EpsteinDave WeigelChristopher HayesChris AndersonLewis LaphamReihan SalamPeggy NoonanJoe RandazzoJay RosenNeetzan ZimmermanClay Shirky and many more here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.