First, apologies for being a bit late (and perhaps a bit brief) with this week's review of The Newsroom's latest episode "5/1" while I'm in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and Internet connectivity is a bit sketchy. On Sunday May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama came on the air late in the evening to announce that our military had shot and killed Osama bin Laden, putting at least a bit of closure upon the horrific September 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombings nearly a decade earlier.
This week's The Newsroom is set in the hours preceding the announcement as small hints and leaks begin to emerge into the ears and Blackberries of Will's (Jeff Daniels) earnest young staff. But the hour begins with a phone call to ACN News Division President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) by a man who identifies himself only as "Deep Throat." Deep Throat's inklings about the evening about to unfold are simply his calling card (and proof of street cred) to hint at a much different and, likely, more personal story for Will and his team.
The question raised during "5/1" is "When is it both acceptable and responsible to release a breaking news story?" Is it responsible journalism to break an historic news story immediately? After one credible confirmation? After two? With a story like the killing of bin Laden, Will and Mac (Emily Mortimer) are reminded of All the President's Men and breaking the story about the Watergate break-in. When you are dealing with a story that can change the world with a single sentence broadcast to millions, it's not good enough to simply "know." You need more than one independent confirmation, no matter how highly placed your source.
But to Charlie, even a double confirmation isn't enough. He knows from personal experience the old wartime adage "loose lips sink ships." He insists that ACN wait until they know the U.S. military is out of harm's way before Will goes live on the air. It doesn't matter that Geraldo is blabbing on Fox News what it thinks is the real story. Or what the New York Times is confirming. It is not until Vice President Joe Biden confirms to Will that not only has the U.S. killed bin Laden, but it's okay to let the world know, that he is willing to broadcast the story.