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The Newsroom Recap: Backsliding

From: Brian.Brenner@gmail.com
To: Editor@NYMag.com
Subject: McAvoy story update
Sent: May 28, 2011 22:00

Hey, man —

I’ve been here for two days, and you should see what a sack of self-reverential nutjobs work at this place. At a pitch meeting, they actually compared the war on drugs to their own crusade against fluff news. Failures all around.

Anyway, this is going to be a great story if I can get anybody on the record. McAvoy is forcing me to shadow him for a bit before he decides whether we get the story. Until then, everything is off the record. But he’s blatantly admitted his agenda in having us come in (which sort of defeats the purpose of having an agenda, if you ask me). He wants somebody to expose Leona Lansing’s crusade against him, and he wants me to be the guy who does it because — well, I can’t tell you. Even though it’s journalistic malpractice to report on somebody … well, somebody I used to know … Will says I should go ahead and do it anyway. He says a partial disclosure of my, uh, friendship with his EP in the second graf should be fine. You okay with that?

He told me this while smoking cigarettes in his office, which is plainly illegal. Staffers tell me he’s much more fun when he’s illegally smoking pot. I asked him about it, and he muttered something about Don Quixote playing softball.

Originally, I pitched you a story about how McAvoy was becoming the last bastion of news and truth on cable news. But now the story seems to be that McAvoy is reverting. Half of his audience stopped watching when he didn’t cover the Casey Anthony trial, which seems hard to believe since they’ve all grown accustomed to News Night’s hard-news agenda. But apparently logic is defied a lot around here.

McAvoy’s running scared, is what I’m saying, which he admitted to me (again, off the record). Lansing is trying to run him out of ACN, and the ratings drop is all the cover she needs. Did I mention that already? Sorry. Was worried you might have forgotten. Aaron Sorkin once told me that it’s best to repeat story lines several times. “Never trust your audience when you can demean them,” was his quote, I think. Come to think of it, he told me that a few times the night I met him.

So, McAvoy’s caving. (He said it was because he had to or he couldn’t moderate — and, of course, thus revolutionize — presidential debates. (Shame, I was hoping Terry Smith would get to be the moderator. Love his Capitol Report show.) But McAvoy’s EP, MacKenzie (the one who’s going to star in our totally full disclosure), has apparently brainwashed the staff. They’ve been so busy making hard news, they’ve forgotten how to make compelling news. A former staffer who is somehow even more condescending than McAvoy came in to give them a crash course in how Nancy Grace does it.

The guy — he was sort of separate from the main group, so I didn’t catch his name; Juan, maybe? — is one of those sneering sexists who doesn’t quite realize it. He singled out the women for being stooges in Nancy Grace’s plan to corrupt American minds. “No one's ever gone broke in America serving up a woman who makes other women feel superior.” And what was weirder — the women totally bought it!

The sexism angle has to make it into my piece somehow. It’s like all the women here are reinforcing their own negative portrayals. I’ve never seen anything like it. At one point, McAvoy’s blogger, Neal, was talking to ACN's star economic correspondent, Sloan Sabbith. When Neal, pretending to be an Internet troll, told her she “screwed her way to the top and has a big ass,” Sloan overreacted despite Neal making it clear that he was tossing out a hypothetical. She assaulted Neal and demanded, “Do I?” She was talking about her butt. The far more offensive, damning allegation went totally unmentioned. It’s like they’re starring in a workplace drama from the sixties.

Anyway, the crash course worked — the Casey Anthony coverage brought 150,000 people back. Wouldn’t Will’s regular viewers turn off the TV at the first sight of Baby Caylee, you ask? Me too. Nobody around here seems to have even thought of the question.

What else, what else? Oh! I followed ACN's news president to the New York Public Library. (Sneaky, I know.) He was awesomely reverential as he walked through its halls, and a triumphant string section started playing somewhere in the building at just the right time. It was a very triumphant walk. He met with a source, but I couldn’t catch what they were saying. I do know that he asked a staffer to vet him — even though all the source asked was that News Night highlight the source’s old congressional testimony. But the news executive is treating it like they have an exclusive or something. Weird news judgment in this place.

Office gossip seems atypically light, at least while I was there. Sources tell me there’s a lot of tension between an associate producer, senior producer, and that Juan guy, but I didn’t catch much. There was that time when the senior producer felt emasculated because the associate was calling him "she," but I just chalked that up to the antiquated gender norms in the air.

Still working on the Will-MacKenzie love story angle. It seems to only move forward when there’s a third party involved. Maybe my being here will help it along.

Oh, one more thing: The power went out right as the News Night team was further sullying their immaculate values and doing a hit on Anthony Weiner. Came right as MacKenzie was praying to God, too. Very convenient (that kind of thing tends to happen a lot around here). I did some Googling, and it doesn’t look like anywhere else in New York had a power outage. Would be totally bizarre if only ACN's office went down. Almost as bizarre as how it was 98 degrees in the block around ACN, but 82 degrees everywhere else. That must be why the power went out.

Emptying my notebook:

  • Right before the blackout happened, I spotted a former colleague of mine from an old mag called Parks and Recreation. Was funny to see her here, especially because I hear another old colleague is dating News Night’s blogger.
  • Caught a glimpse of Leona Lansing leaving the building. She was regal and elegant, and seemed like the only person at ACN who wasn’t an emotional mess. Seems to me like she’s deserving of her own story. Maybe a follow-up after we’re done with this piece?
  • You wouldn’t believe how many times people yell at each other in full sight here. (Sloan and MacKenzie were arguing about the debt ceiling.) It’s like nobody has an office. My sources tell me there have been at least a half-dozen of these eruptions in the bullpen in the last year. Makes it very hard to work, they say.
  • Everybody drops a lot of names and references around here. The ones I caught: Camelot, Don Quixote, Jerry Springer, David Frum, Mark McKinnon, Alan Simpson, Steve Schmidt, Andrew Sullivan, J. Edgar Hoover, Broadway Danny Rose, Sarah Lawrence college, Dan Rather getting pushed out of CBS, and Taylor Swift. (Couldn’t really catch what was said at the NYPL, so I probably missed some, the way these people talk.)
Photo: Melissa Moseley/HBO