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Bill Densmore


Recommended reading from Bill Densmore -- Aaron Sorkin and "The Newsroom"

During a Journalism That Matters board meeting last year, I remarked that I had been personally moved watching the first episode of the HBO series, "The Newsroom," written by Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote "The Social Network," movie script). Here are the two segments that affected me:


At the beginning of "The Newsroom" series' first episode, the star anchor man played by Jeff Bridges, is asked by a student during a panel discussion at a journalism school: "Why do you think America is the greatest country in the world."

He answers:

"It's not. But it can be."

And then goes into this monologue, address first to two other panelists:

"Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn't cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don't like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin' smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!

And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you're going to tell students that America's so starspangled awesome that we're the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

"And you -- sorority girl -- yeah -- just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don't know what the fuck you're talking about?! Yosemite?!!!

"We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn't belittle it; it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one -- America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.

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Later in the script, the anchor, Jeff Bridges, gets lectured by his executive producer (and former girlfriend). He asks her: "What does winning look like to you?" She replies:

"Reclaiming the Fourth Estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worth of a great nation. Civility, respect and a return to what's important. The death of bitchiness. The death of gossip and voyeurism. Speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot. A place where we all come together. We're coming to a tipping point. I know you know that. There's going to be a huge conversation. Is government an instrument of good -- or is it every man for himself? Isn't there something bigger we want to reach for? Or is self interest our basic resting pulse? You and I have a chance to be among the few people who can frame that debate."