To say that Sunday's penultimate episode of The Newsroom was not viewed favorably might be the understatement of the year.
The episode, which also saw the death of a major character, dealt with the highly sensitive but timely subject of rape on college campuses. Just last week Rolling Stone apologized for a story it published about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia and admitted it wasn't properly fact-checked before going to print.
The Newsroom has always ripped its stories from the headlines and showcased how situations could have been handled differently or more effectively, but there was no way for series creator Aaron Sorkin to know the Rolling Stone story would unravel just days before his own episode would air on HBO. He also had no way of knowing the allegations against Bill Cosby would resurface by the time the episode aired. Still it all came together to create the perfect storm.
Not only did the episode have critics and fans ready to set their TVs on fire, but it even received pushback in the show's writers' room as well.
"When I tried to argue, in the writers' room, that we maybe skip the story line where a rape victim gets interrogated by a random man, I ended up getting kicked out of the room and screamed at just like Hallie would have for a 'bad tweet,'" she said. "I found the experience quite boring. I wanted to fight with Aaron about the NSA, not gender. I didn't like getting cast in his outdated role."
Sorkin issued a written response to Mediaite on Monday. He did not deny that he kicked Smith out of the writers' room, but maintained that he encourages disagreements and differences of opinions.
"Let me take a moment to say that I understand that the story in last night's episode ... has catalyzed some passionate debate this morning. I'm happy to hear it," Sorkin said. "It catalyzed some passionate debate in our writers' room too. Arguments in the writers room at The Newsroom are not only common, they're encouraged."
Noting that he engaged in a "healthy back and forth" with Smith about the issue, Sorkin eventually cited script deadlines for the reason he eventually dismissed Smith from the room. He also expressed disappointment that she would air her grievances in the public forum of Twitter, saying that she "casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality."
You can read Sorkin's full response below:
Let me take a moment to say that I understand that the story in last night's episode (305—"Oh Shenandoah") about Don trying to persuade a Princeton student named Mary (Sarah Sutherland) not to engage in a "Crossfire"-style segment on his show has catalyzed some passionate debate this morning. I'm happy to hear it.
It catalyzed some passionate debate in our writers room too. Arguments in the writers room at The Newsroom are not only common, they're encouraged. The staff's ability to argue with each other and with me about issues ranging from journalistic freedom vs. national security to whether or not Kat Dennings should come back and save the company is one of their greatest assets and something I look for during the hiring process. Ultimately I have to go into a room by myself and write the show but before I do I spend many days listening to, participating in and stoking these arguments. As with any show, I have to create a safe environment where people can disagree and no one fears having their voice drowned out or, worse, mocked.
Alena Smith, a staff writer who joined the show for the third season, had strong objections to the Princeton story and made those objections known to me and to the room. I heard Alena's objections and there was some healthy back and forth. After a while I needed to move on (there's a clock ticking) but Alena wasn't ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn't let me do that so I excused her from the room.
The next day I wrote a new draft of the Princeton scenes—the draft you saw performed last night. Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story. But I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That's what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I'm saddened that she's broken that trust.