Television

Aaron Sorkin: Not a Good Historian Either

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Let me tell you about the '60s, man.

How many historical errors can Aaron Sorkin squeeze into one scene? Angus Johnston watches The Newsroom and counts the mistakes. My favorites are Sorkin's apparent beliefs that SDS was founded in 1968 and that it was launched as a single-issue antiwar group.

I've got one more item to add to the list -- not exactly a correction, but a sign that Sorkin's understanding of the subject lacks nuance. At one point in the Newsroom rant, the speaker declares that "Even at the height of 1968 the Democrats wouldn't have nominated Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin for any office, and no candidate would have sought their endorsement." Johnston replies:

1968 wasn't "the height" of anything in terms of Democratic Party radicalism. That year the Dems nominated their sitting vice president at a convention that saw epidemic police violence against protesters, violence that was essentially ignored by the conventioneers. The party's presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, never came out against the war in Vietnam, and only called for a ceasefire weeks before the general election.

You can debate the phrase "essentially ignored," but aside from that caveat all this is accurate. But it's worth pointing out that four years later, the Democrats did nominate a firmly antiwar candidate. And as that convention approached, Abbie Hoffman later wrote, the older yippies

sent a delegation to Washington to meet with McGovern's campaign staff. If they had said our support would be the "kiss of death" we would have toned it down. They did not, as we promised to do nothing that would embarrass him (though many party faithfuls said our existence was embarrassing enough).

So the Democrats didn't seek the endorsement, but they didn't reject it either. Hoffman and Rubin visited the convention floor, and some McGovern activists "escorted Jerry and me to the Illinois delegation, where we ceremoniously sat in 'Mayor Daley's chair.'" When it was time to nominate a vice presidential candidate, one delegate voted for Rubin. (Another backed Archie Bunker.) Hoffman later ran into McGovern in Minneapolis, "but I was careful to stay out of camera range, not wanting to taint him."

More on The Newsroom here. More on Sorkin here, here, here, and here. More on the Yippies here. More on SDS here.