8:22pm PT by Erik Hayden
'The Newsroom' Recap: Genoa Falls Apart; Benghazi Happens
[Spoilers ahead from Sunday's episode, "Red Team III."]
After weeks of flashbacks teasing the aftermath, this is the episode where the ill-fated "Operation Genoa" segment airs on ACN. Jerry Dantana gets fired for selective editing and sues ACN for wrongful termination. Charlie Skinner's source burns him over a personal grudge. MacKenzie McHale and Will McAvoy offer to resign. News Night gets record ratings and then plummets. The Defense Department decides to declassify documents to take legal action against the network.
Somehow, the episode fits in an entire side plot about the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya (along with several mentions of the inflammatory Innocence of Muslims film that sparked protests in the Middle East). It turns out the News Night team could've advanced the Benghazi story, but they had too much on their plate fending off lawsuits and retracting Genoa.
How did ACN's producers and McAvoy get the Genoa story -- that the U.S. military used sarin nerve gas on a Pakistani village during a marine extraction -- so wrong? All of their sourcing on the nerve gas turned out to be fake. "Genoa was a real mission. It was successful," admitted McAvoy to his team of lawyers.
Below are the major Genoa sources, how they panned out and a hint from the episode about what might be next:
>Gunnery Sgt. Eric Sweeney: He was part of the Genoa extraction team and recorded video testimony. It was revealed that he had a traumatic brain injury and suffered memory loss and hid it from the ACN team. The News Night producers only found out about the condition when Sweeney was interviewed on the air for a follow up on another show on the channel
>The Munitions Manifest: Charlie was passed along the manifest, supposedly from one of the helicopters involved in the raid, from a high-placed source. It included a reference to a nonexistent payload, so the team believed it was sarin gas. It turned out that Charlie's source just wanted to deeply wound the news division president's credibility. The source had a son who worked briefly at ACN and was fired. Written in invisible ink on the munitions manifest: "F--- You Charlie."
>Lance Cpl. Herman Valenzuela: The soldier, another who was involved in the operation, was the final source the team needed to go forward with the story. However, when MacKenzie rereads the transcript of her interview with the soldier, it becomes clear that he didn't have any direct knowledge of the incident and was just backing Sweeney out of camaraderie. MacKenzie realized she posed leading questions to him.
>Gen. Stanislaus Stomtonovich: The General was a chemical weapons expert who claimed to have knowledge of Genoa. He also indicated to Jerry that sarin gas was used in the operation. However, Stomtonovich didn't say that sarin was used during an on-the-record video interview, so Jerry edited the quotes. MacKenzie eventually finds out the selective editing because a basketball game is playing in the corner of the screen and she notices a difference in the shot clock times. Jerry, who is single-mindedly determined to prove the story true, is unapologetic when confronted. He is fired.
>Now what? Thanks to a State Department source, the news team could've been the first to report that the Benghazi wasn't just a protest that got out of hand. They decided against running that story because of the Genoa headaches. The episode ends with Charlie, Will and MacKenzie offering their resignations to Leona Lansing, the CEO of Atlantis World Media. She refuses to accept the team resigning. "We don't have the trust of the public anymore," a resigned Charlie explains. "Get it back!" Leona entreats.
The Newsroom airs at 10 p.m. on Sundays on HBO.