Aaron Sorkin: Not a Good Historian Either


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.

NEXT: Democratic Coalition Eats Self

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Of course, if the point of the monologue is to reveal what a reporter believes/knows about history then maybe the errors are intentional…

    1. This was the heroic news anchor speaking. Sorkin was using him as a mouthpiece.

      1. Fair enough

      2. Is this the episode where they made up a Rush Limbaugh call to purchase guns and ammunition in the face of an Obama election?

    2. I don’t think Sorkin even writes statements for one of his mustache-twirling villains that he intends to be wrong, at least not without having a righteous hero correct him on the spot.

  2. 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.

    As opposed to his well-known grasp of nuance on every other subject he’s touched.

  3. Thank you Angus Johnston for watching this crap so that I don’t have to.


    1. Where do I sign up?





  5. Has Reason written a response to the newsroom’s third episode yet?

    That one deserves it.

  6. I think HBO’s The Newsroom is going to give rise to a cottage industry of debunkers. God bless those internets.

    1. It certainly won’t help his pre-existing distaste for the internet.

  7. Is all of this critical review on some HBO soap-opera because low information voters mistake it for some kind of reality?

    1. I wonder if there’s anyone watching this show that enjoys it as a sitcom/dramedy/whatever. We got people who agree with the politics, people who are debunking it, people hate-watching it, people watching just so they can be in conversations with the above; are there any “it has a fun plot” people out there?

      1. Politics is always Sorkin’s main downfall. If it was just a workplace dramady, it wouldn’t be that bad. He does screwball comedy banter very well.

        His other downfall is his woman problem. They are either damsels to be rescued, cheating bitches or thinly drawn ciphers.

        1. yeah, the basic tragedy of the clown who wants to be taken seriously. He once claimed he wasn’t smart, but knew how smart people talked and could mimic it. He was half-right

        2. They are either damsels to be rescued, cheating bitches or thinly drawn ciphers.

          Wait, are you saying there are other options?

        3. They are either damsels to be rescued, cheating bitches or thinly drawn ciphers.

          You think so? I have thought many times about when Sam tells Josh that Amy Gardner is “the real deal,” i.e., not secretly a damsel for Josh to rescue. But perhaps she later turns out to be a cheating bitch; I don’t really think so though.

          Anyway, I agree overall. I’ve always been a fan of the West Wing but certainly not for its politics. I just want Josh and Donna to get married, dammit.

        4. The best satire is the simple art of putting a real person’s words into a fictional person’s mouth.

      2. I tried to pose a thought experiment on The AV Club where I asked if the show would be tolerable with a conservative/Republican bent.

        The responses I got where, “That’s just to ridiculous to even consider- the Democrats have moved so far to the right, so making the main character a conservative Democrat who hate all Democratic positions is crazy! Teabaggerz!”

        1. I guess the point of that is: There is no way you like this show if you aren’t liberal.

        2. What name do you post under? I imagine we’ve traded Likes with each other (especially in Community reviews).

          I was glad to see one commenter use the “there is a bias in favor of reality” line in last night’s review.

  8. It’s good to watch your opponent’s fairy tales. It gives you an idea of their psyche.

    1. At least Riefenstahl’s stuff had some good quality workmanship. This is just patched together and hacky.

    2. So long as it shows a chink in the armor to exploit, sure, but what I usually encounter is a videogame mentality. Defeat them on their own debate grounds and the game just returns to the beginning like it never happened.

      1. Brilliant – exactly so

    3. I put my time in on West Wing.

  9. Is there anything Aaron Sorkin is good at? Aside from spewing Clooney-esque levels of self satisfied bullshit into the air?

    1. My guess is that he was once and could be a talented writer. But has let his smugness betray whatever talent he has. It is hard enough to write good dialog and plot as it is. When you add the requirement of it serving the cause, you are pretty much doomed to failure.

      1. Yeah, it’s basically like Springsteen. Some pretty good underlying talent, but when you try and shoe-horn a sermon into something that wasn’t meant to contain a sermon you get a half-assed version of both.

        1. Polemics are boring. And they make especially bad drama. What makes drama interesting is depth and complexity, villains that are not all bad and heroes who are not quite what they seem. Once you start writing polemics you can’t do that anymore. Everyone must be a cartoon.

          1. And that is why it is criminal that Deadwood only lasted 3 seasons.

            Best TV drama of all time.

            1. Just for the lyrical use of the word ‘cocksucker’, if nothing else.

              Pure poetry, I tell ya!

          2. I’m fond of reducing it to an epigram: Ideology makes bad art. If the primary point of your art is to convey an ideologiocal message, your art is probably gonna suck. There are exceptions (like The Foutainhead! No, wait…) but as a general rule, I find it to be really helpful.

            1. You can make great political or philosophical art. It is just really hard. And middle brow hacks like Sorkin are not up to the task.

            2. “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Sam Goldwyn

            3. I’ve long had a distaste for dystopian didactic novels, and I include 1984. I much prefer reading Orwell’s essays. I suppose what I dislike most about 1984 is the fact that it is listed as a favorite or classic book by the very people who engage in conformist fascism on a daily basis. When it comes to the second-rate didactic dystopian books (and movies) we see churned out all the time, meh, fuck that.

              Dystopias without all the didacticism like Mad Max can be pretty awesome, though.

            4. I made it about three pages into the Fountainhead before giving up on it.

            5. The Fountainhead was readable only because Rand focused on the character more than the ideological message. It can be read as a slightly interesting story with interesting characters. Atlas Shrugged, on the other hand, is a purely ideological book wrapped up in a weak “story”. It is unreadable. Disagree with me, you know you want to.

        2. This song is about the factory that used to build factories. It’s called “Factory”

          1. There is a Springsteen song called Johnny 99. It is about a guy who lost his job at the auto plant and “got a gun shot a night clerk and they call him Johny 99” for the 99 years the judge gave him. Every time I hear the song and its sympathetic portrayal of the guy all I can think of is “what about the poor bastard he murdered?”

            1. John, he wasn’t working in a factory, building things, American things, with his hands. Johnny was doing him a favor by taking his factory-less life.

            2. That would be ‘Poor Rashid’ a song about a stuggling immigrant who got killed working his second job by some racist redneck named Johnny.

          2. This song is about the factory that used to build factories. It’s called “Factory”

            Have y’all seen this list of “Bruce Springsteen songs, if the title more accurately reflected the subject matter”? Hi-larious.

      2. Admittedly I’m not that familiar with his early work, so I suppose it’s possible that at one time he was more than just a hack.

    2. Moneyball was pretty good. So maybe he’s good at adapting other writer’s material for the screen?

      1. He excised a critical character from the book…

        1. What, you don’t think Jonah Hill could have been a college WR?

  10. Sorkin/McAvoy says in his rant “The Pentagon is a big building. You can’t levitate it,” and Johnston says “This part is true.” Dude, if you can levitate a paperclip, you can levitate the Pentagon. Size is irrelevant.

    Actually, McAvoy’s rant is a pretty good take on a grumpy old man’s take on the Sixties. I mean, by Sorkin standards, this is pretty damn accurate.

    For all my fans, my take on The Social Network, “Jew or no Jew,” is here:…..eman.php#1

    1. You don’t have any fans.

      1. lol

      2. Shhh! John! We agreed not to tell him!

        Just like when we said we were going for ice cream and then put him in the home!

        1. Or told the kids we were taking him to live on the farm…

      3. I am Alan’s A#1 fan.

  11. I put Sports Night in my Netflix queue because I remember it fondly from when it was on TV.

    I got about 1/2 way through the pilot episode before I realized how obnoxious and douchey it was and turned it off.

    1. I eagerly await the episode of The Newsoom when a guy sleeps with a perfectly demure girl and it turns out that she’s a prostitute or an ex-porn star. Because that’s happened to everybody, right?

      (I have no seen last night’s episode, in case this has already happened.)

      It’s sort of like the fascination that Hollywood has with people having business meeting in strip clubs. Just because they have business meetings in strip clubs, they think it’s commonplace.

      1. You can tell Hollywood is run by dorky men. Every romantic comedy or drama consists of endless numbers of gorgeous women who can’t get dates and equal numbers of fat dorky men with gorgeous wives or girl friends.

        1. It does happen a surprising amount in Hollywood though…

          1. I know at least one fat dorky guy with a hot wife. But you’d have to ask my wife why that is.

        2. That show…the one with the UPS driver and Leah Remini. “How did that schlub get that chick?” is what I asked myself every episode. It was distracting as hell. It’s probably why I can’t remember the damned name.

          1. I believe the explanation was that his thetan levels were off the charts..

          2. And everyone sitting at home watching that schlub and thinking “hey, I’m just like him and have a similar job, why don’t I have the nice things he has?” is probably part of our overall problem too.

          3. King of Queens. And God I can’t stand that guy. The other one that drove me over the edge was Life with Jim, where Jim Belushi was married to Courtney Thorne Smith. I have no idea if that show was even funny. I could never get over the rage of a schuck like that landing her to ever watch it.

            1. According to Jim, and it ran for eight seasons, none of which elicited the faintest whisper of a chuckle from any living creature.

              1. How did it run for so long if nobody liked it. Its not fair. TV is important and should be realistic. Do they think were stupid.

      2. I eagerly await the episode of The Newsoom when a guy sleeps with a perfectly demure girl and it turns out that she’s a prostitute or an ex-porn star. Because that’s happened to everybody, right?

        I think that was a plot line for the West Wing.

    2. “It’s a comedy that’s too good to be funny!”

      1. Pretty much! I don’t know if they got rid of it in future episodes, but they had a low-volume laugh track on the Sports Night pilot. I kept looking at the squeeze saying “did you hear that? Was that a laugh track?” That, and the douchtastic dialogue, was why I turned it off.

  12. If there’s anyone the New Left hated more than the right?

    It was the Old Left.

    Isserman (2001) reports that the New Left” “came to use the word ‘liberal’ as a political epithet.”[36] Historian Richard Ellis (1998) says that the SDS’s search for their own identity “increasingly meant rejecting, even demonizing, liberalism.”[37] As Wolfe (2010) notes, “no one hated liberals more than leftists.”.[38]…..liberalism

    Chicago was emblematic. Inside the convention, the Old Left was nominating their candidate; outside the convention, the Old Left was cracking the New Left’s skulls.

    We get a little taste of the same thing in regards to the Ron Paul people. Before the Paulites can revolutionize the country, they’re gonna have to revolutionize the GOP. And the GOP? Doesn’t want to be revolutionized.

    If the Paul people come to hate the GOP for that, to the point of advocating violence, it’ll be closer to how the SDS and the New Left felt about the Democratic Party.

    A simple Wikipedia search would have disabused Sorkin of his false notions. My guess is that he’s perfectly aware of them–it’s just that hatred of the Democratic Party doesn’t figure into his objectives for this election year.

    1. In other words, the radical New Left movements Sorkin apparently admires?

      They hated liberals like Sorkin.


  13. I particularly like the long-winded defense of the Weather Underground in the comments. “No, we totally never killed anyone! Except that one time we killed one of our own by accident!”

    1. Just because you actively planned to cease power and intern and murder upwards of 25 million Americans doesn’t mean you were all bad.

      1. Seriously, do yourself a favor and read that dialogue. It’s like two joes arguing with each other.

        1. Lefties are incapable of holding anyone on their team responsible for anything other than not being sufficiently loyal.

        2. Is it wrong that I would pay money to watch that?

          1. Only if you let me have a barf bag

  14. My wife and I have watched the first several episodes of Newsroom and found it to be intolerably politically liberal. It will be coming off our series DVR recording list.

    1. That’ll show ’em!

  15. Oh, BTW, I comment on this show at the AV Club under the handle “GonzotheGreat”. Fun times are had by… no one, and I have to deal with a lot of left wing douchebaggery (currently in a fight with a guy who claims the right wing will use violence to achieve its political ends with no back up and accuses me of a “false equivalency”). But, y’know, if you ever are in that neck of the woods…

    1. What is wrong with you? You could just sit in a nice, comfy chair at home and punch yourself in the balls, you know. Why torture yourself?

      1. I’ve been contemplating an experiment to see how long it would take me to get banned from Gawkermedia.

        1. These things are only fun if you try in good faith not to get banned, though. And that would be fucking impossible for a normal human.

          1. I would make it a point never to use the l-word, and stick to making substantive non-snarky points. I still don’t think I would last very long.

            I once posted a guest comment asking why it mattered if the US was a world leader in scientific research, and the mods sunk the whole thread.

    2. Oh, so you’re gonzo. Makes sense.

      I’m Close-watcher, by the way.

  16. Hvingjust turned 18, and living in Miami, I went to both conventions. To try to pick up chicks. I remember not getting laid. I remember being high. And I remember Jerry Rubin at the Doral n thie night that McGovern was nominated. Sander Vanocur was reporting from the Doral, but McGovern never came out to speak while I was there.

    Mostly, I remember being very bored. And high. Did I mention I was high?

  17. I couldn’t bare to watch more than the pilot for this show. It’s well below HBO’s usual standards in pretty much all regards.

    1. Below the standards of that show with the naked porn chick talking about the history of dildos?

      1. Umm, SIV, you got a name for that? I want to make sure I, err, don’t accidentally put it on my DVR.

        1. Katie Morgan on Sex Toys; Katie Morgan: Porn 101. She’s very educational.

          1. That almost makes me want to pay for HBO! When I first got my cable hooked up, they gave me 3 months free of HBO, Skinemax and some other shit. Anyway, I never saw a single decent thing in the listings on HBO. No Real Sex, no Taxicab Confessions. Just cheesy movies that no one in their right mind would pay a premium to see. Hell, not even Sex and the City was on, and it was supposedly still filming at the time.

          2. I couldn’t remember her name. I looked for the show under “documentaries” on the HBO site but couldn’t find it.

            She does the whole show full-frontal naked while sounding like a “morning chat” show hostess.

  18. Memo to Adam Sorkin: Adam – in 1968, the Democrats were the bad guys. The Vietnam was Kennedy’s and Johnson’s (both Democrats) war. There is a reason, if one actually bends his mind to the concept, why antiwar activists attended the DEMOCRATIC National Convention in Chicago instead of the Republican one in Miami in 1968. There’s a reason why people were chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids didja kill today.” But hey, details, details. What’s that book title about the period after the USSR: “It Was A Long Time Ago, and It Didn’t Happen Anyway.”

    1. Yeah, but it’s the Democrats that cut off funding the South Vietnamese. Once we were fully out of it I’m pretty sure it went swimmingly for the region.

      Meaning, if you could swim away you did. Unfortunately for the Cambodians, they were/are landlocked. Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, miscellaneous trash isn’t sea worthy.

  19. “Can you imagine Humphrey or Kennedy standing for a photo op with Bernardine Dohrn or Allen Ginsberg?”

    No, but I can imagine a future Democratic President holding a fundraiser at the home of Dohrn and her fellow-terrorist husband.

    But we’re not supposed to mention that, are we?

    1. Any research on the man in charge that goes beyond two thirds of his name is racist.

  20. Hoffman later ran into McGovern in Minneapolis, “but I was careful to stay out of camera range, not wanting to taint him.”

    So the left’s radicals of the late 60s and early 70s supported the establishment democrats by hiding and the left lost.

    The Right’s radicals (tea party) did not support establishment Republicans and they won.

    Anyway I wonder if Hoffman would support Obama’s position that Business owners did not create their business.

    1. 1968 DNC — Hoffman and Rubin were just there as a distraction for the news media as the party establishment cheated Eugene McCarthy out his rightful nomination victory:

      Despite strong showings in several primaries ? indeed, he won more votes than any other Democratic candidate ? McCarthy garnered only 23 percent of the delegates at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, largely due to the control of state party organizations over the delegate selection process. After the Kennedy assassination, many delegates for Kennedy chose to support George McGovern rather than McCarthy. Moreover, although the eventual nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was not clearly an anti-war candidate, there was hope among some anti-war Democrats that Humphrey as President might succeed where Johnson had failed ? in extricating the United States from Vietnam. McCarthy eventually gave a lukewarm endorsement of Humphrey.

      They pulled the same shit against Hart in ’84.

  21. I dont get it if this man is anti-American he should be banned. We don’t need him on the TV. TV is IMPORTANT.

  22. I like his work, but Sorkin isn’t about factual truth, only truthiness. I remember watching a West Wing episode (which probably wasn’t written by Sorkin, but he did create the show), in which a UK ambassador, with proper brit accent, talked about drinking a favorite whiskey of his, from “IZZ-lay.” The place name is spelled “Islay,” so it makes sense that any American who had only ever seen the word in writing, would pronounce it as the actor in the episode did. But anyone FROM there, or even a knowledgeable fan of Scotch, pronounces it “EYE-luh.” What puzzled me was that the actor’s bio lists him as a Brit (Welsh), so I would have expected him to correct mistakes made by the American director. In vast America, of course, not every citizen knows how to pronounce the names of places on the other side of the country, much less around the world. But I would think that people in the tiny UK would be less likely to get such things wrong. I guess I would be wrong about that. One of my favorite American mispronunciations is “Lompoc,” which should be said as “LOM-poke,” but for years was famously mangled by cartoons and TV shows originating in Los Angle-us, as “lom-pawk.” I saw a recent episode of the TV series, “Touch,” in which another central coast town name was mangled: “Saint Louie Obispo,” if I recall correctly. Locals say “San Lewis,” and only use the “Obispo” when necessary to help out-of-towners find the city on a map or distinguish it from other “San Luis” place names.

  23. I don’t care which way the show leans politically. It’s unwatchable either way. My wife loves it, but it comes off as parody to me.

  24. in the interest of historical accuracy please note that Archie Bunker did not exist until 1971. Perhaps ur confusing the 1972 election with 1968.

    1. No, I’m explicitly writing about the 1972 election.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.