August 18, 2013 7:50pm PT by Erik Hayden
'The Newsroom' Recap: Shady Sources and Selective Editing
[Spoilers ahead from Sunday's episode, "One Step Too Many."]
On the heels of an episode that focused on the reporting of a single News Night program, this week the show returns to its main story arc -- the details of Genoa investigation. Viewers already know, via flashbacks, that the story turns out to be untrue. But how everything went wrong is yet to be revealed.
A Genoa refresher: The news team has been trying to verify a tip that the U.S. military used sarin nerve gas on a small village in Pakistan while trying to rescue marines who were held hostage and scheduled to be executed. (The storyline is based on CNN's 1998 "Tailwind" segment. Read more about that here.)
The episode begins with the News Night producers assigned to the story laying out their sourcing to other members of the Atlantis Cable News team. Here's what they have supporting their case: a Gunnery Sgt. said that he heard it was sarin gas used; archived tweets from the surrounding area detailed a helicopter attack; a humanitarian report described a mass grave in the area; and a confidential source handed over a suspicious munitions report.
Producers Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) are openly skeptical about the story's veracity. However, news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) is now firmly on the side of proving the allegations true.
Spearheading the investigation is D.C. bureau producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater). In somewhat of a twist for the HBO drama, doubts about the producer's trustworthiness are floated by Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). That conversation telegraphs a scene in the episode where Jerry, who hasn't ever been seen making up facts previously, distorts the video testimony of a general to fit the narrative of the story.
That retired military figure, Gen. Stanislaus Stomtonovich, plays a key role in the episode. Stomtonovich -- an expert on the U.S. chemical weapons program who also appears to justify their use in certain circumstances -- agrees to speak with Charlie and MacKenzie.
Meanwhile, in non-Genoa news, business reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) pitches a story about Disney's $200 million write-down after John Carter tanked. "They may take it in the teeth on John Carter, but nobody's going to get hurt," she appraises of the big-budget bomb.
After Sloan explains her pitch, anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) admits that he's fretting about his own favorability ratings and has commissioned a poll to see if he can improve his numbers. He tries going on ACN's inane morning news show to see if that helps get people to like him more. It doesn't seem to do much.
The other side plot of the episode: Jim wants to meet up with his new girlfriend, campaign reporter Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer), when she visits Manhattan. They end up going on a double date with Hallie's friend and producer Neal Sampat (Dev Patel). The four reporters are, surprisingly, joined by Mitt Romney's spokesperson, Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer). They end up, not so surprisingly, getting into an argument about politics. Taylor reveals that she was fired by Romney's team.
Back to Genoa: Gen. Stomtonovich indicates to Charlie and Mackenzie that sarin gas was, indeed, used on the village. He agrees to be interviewed on tape by Jerry and confirms that the operation happened. However, when the ACN producer asks directly if the chemical weapons were used, Stomtonovich couches his language by saying, "If we used sarin, here's how we used sarin."
In ACN's editing room, Jerry weighs what to do with the quote. He cuts it to "we used Sarin," which distorted the retired officer's words. (The episode's title, "One Step Too Many," seems like a reference to this moment.) The edited interview is played in the meeting with ACN staffers, which helps cement the idea that the Genoa story is true.
But when Charlie says more evidence is needed, Jerry's righteous indignation shows. "We have a moral imperative to question the flagrant disregard with which the president and the national security establishment treat the Constitution and international laws!" he protests, adding that he suspects the rest of the team "likes the president" too much to run the story about a potential war crime.
The news team shelves the story for months -- the show then fast-forwards through the primary campaign to pick up after Romney picks Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, so it's now at least September of 2012 -- when the ACN producer gets another confirmation that the Genoa is true from another military source.
The Newsroom airs at 10 p.m. on Sundays on HBO.