Aaron Sorkin is responding to critics of a controversial rape storyline featured on “The Newsroom,” including a staffer who claims that she was removed from the writers’ room after expressing her concerns over the episode.
Sunday’s penultimate installment of the HBO drama featured a subplot about a young woman who creates a website accusing classmates of rape after police fail to investigate her claim. The scenes drew open criticism from some media and fans on Twitter, with attention compounded by the real-life scandal Rolling Stone faces in its questionable reporting of a gang rape at UVA.
“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 in a written response to Mediaite. “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.”
While Sorkin maintains he encourages difference of opinion among writers, Alena Smith says she was ejected after offering her criticism. Sorkin essentially confirms the assertion, saying Smith inspired a “healthy back and forth” about the issue, but eventually he had to move on and turn in script in.
“Alena still wouldn’t let me do that so I excused her from the room,” he said. Further defending himself, the “Social Network” scribe said that Smith was a fan of his revised pages, thus his surprise at her disappointed tweets.
“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,” he wrote.
Reps for Sorkin did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for further comment.
Read Sorkin’s full response:
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.