This is the first in a ten-part exclusive excerpt from the Pride Goeth Before the Fall: An Oral History of NewsNight. It’s being republished with the permission of Nina Howard Press.
Rebecca Halliday: When I first walked into ACN, I didn’t know what to think. I’d worked with painters and law-and-order types, not newsmen. My friends warned me that the NewsNight crew was a bunch of angry, repressed misanthropes, using the news as a way to distract themselves from their existential angst. But when I first got there, nobody was screaming. I was actually a little disappointed when nobody shouted about their personal lives in the middle of the newsroom for all to hear.
Will McAvoy: Rebecca? Who’s that? Oh, the lawyer? I thought her name was Reba. Yeah, she was all right. Though she had this annoying habit of saying my jokes were funny, rather than just laughing at them. I know I have the confidence of a tall man, but even giants need their egos stroked.
MacKenzie McHale: What Will won’t tell you is that the Genoa inquisition actually gave his life some structure. Before that he was a mess, smoking pot and then going on air, screaming at everybody, having unproductive therapy sessions. He needed a bodyguard, for Christ’s sake. Speaking of, it struck me as odd that Lonny just disappeared that one day.
Will: Before Rebel, I was Don Quixote searching for my windmill. Before Reba, I mean. Her name’s Reba, right?
MacKenzie: Rebecca helped focus Will’s attention, and he was actually a lot more pleasant to be around after that. Spending time with him wasn’t just a retread of things you already knew … everything got more unpredictable. It was like there were actual stakes in his life.
Will: It used to be that Mack absentmindedly leaving my purse behind at the office was the most frustrating thing to happen any given hour. But the Genoa thing supplanted all that. Now it was us against ourselves, marooned in a desert of our own making.
Leona Lansing: Did I know that Will’s employees were a bunch of emo twentysomethings who were contractually obligated to date inside the office? No — that was Charlie’s job. I was too busy consoling Reese’s ego. It was so bruised. I rubbed it with a $100 bill to make him feel better.
Maggie Jordan: It’s hazy, but I guess it all started August 23. I remember I blew a fact-check on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story. I don’t even remember what that story was about anymore, but at the time it was this major event in the control room.
Jim Harper: I remember Mack and I had to call some guy at a Benihana to scrub the error. You could hear the Ginsu knives in the background.
Maggie: They rescued me from my own incompetence. God, sometimes I just feel like I have no control over my ditziness, like some higher power has decided most women have to be like this, and I have no choice but to obey.
Jim: I don’t know — maybe if she hadn’t messed up the DSK story I wouldn’t have been such an ass to her when she tried to make things right. But watching her and Don’s patty-cake handshake made me feel like I was 6 years old again, and I had to watch the playground bully steal my crush.
Maggie: Jim said something about it not being the right time, and we needed at least a season before our inevitable reunion. I didn’t really understand — I was too busy fantasizing about unmussing his hair.
MacKenzie: What we never told the lawyers was that the real reason Genoa happened was because Maggie and Jim were in love with each other but too emotionally crippled to deal with it.
Jim: There was this unspoken rule in the newsroom at the time, which was that anytime you needed a favor from Mack, just compare your needs to her relationship with Will.
MacKenzie: I knew when he compared his heartbreak over a woman whom he only kissed once to mine over a man whom I cheated on, I had to give him the Romney assignment. I can’t even imagine that kind of heartbreak.
Don Keefer: What I always wondered: Would everything have been different if Maggie’s cousin sent me that YouTube video only a day before? Imagine the children Sloan and I would’ve had by now.
Sloan: It’s been however many years since then — now do I wonder what I ever saw in Don? Of course. The guy’s greasier than an appetizer at that crappy bar we used to go to after work.
Maggie: What I always thought was weird was that Don walked into that lamp before he broke up with me. It was his apartment, you know? He put the light there. I think he purposefully tried to wake me up, so he could watch me cry.
Don: I was just sort of tired of it by then, you know? Like, once I wasn’t a cast member in the story, I didn’t think it was very interesting anymore. I didn’t think it was going to drive Maggie to use her hair as a metaphor for her inner trauma.
Maggie: Don let me stay in his bed that night, and after I had my panic attack I dreamt about Jim and me on a balcony. I was twitching and hyperventilating just like that one Christmas, but this time instead of telling me how to breathe, he handed me a boxed set of Sex and the City DVDs. Then, as he walked away, he asked me to fact-check them.
Jim: The night Maggie and Don broke up? I was probably in Nashua watching Sex and the City in my hotel room. Watching it reminded me of Lisa.
Neal Sampat: Did I feel like Genoa and all the Maggie-Jim-Don drama overshadowed my success at getting into Occupy Wall Street on the ground floor? Maybe, but I was too busy with Shelly Wexler.
Jim: I remember calling Neal that night, but he didn’t pick up. He texted me a few seconds later: “At Occupy Wall Street rally. I think I’m in love,” and then he put one of those emoji of a hand with sparkles coming out of it.
Neal: An anthropology grad student who drinks Mud Coffee and puts me in my place? When you’re a member of the pajama people like I am, that’s sexier than Bigfoot. And did you see what she could do with her hands?
Will: What I remember most from the Genoa days was how uncomfortable that floor in the ACN hallway was.
MacKenzie: I didn’t know if Will was trying to look out for me, or if he finally remembered I owed him $100 from the time I blatantly stole it from him.
Maggie: Will sat there for hours, humming Rebecca Black the whole time.
Will: It was part of a new initiative I was working on — being protective without being overbearing, dignified without being righteous, priestly without being preachy.
MacKenzie: Nobody thought it could last all season.
Will: There were doubters. Whenever anyone asked whether the less-annoying me would stick around, I looked them in the eye and sang. “It better, it better, you bet.”
Author’s note: We spent months tracking down Jerry Dantana, who was until now thought to be sorting through drone rubble in the remote mountains of Pakistan. Instead, we found him in Canada, murmuring about drones with a redhead who identified himself only as “Brody.” Dantana declined to participate with this book.