Operation Genoa has hit the fan.
If the preceding story opened the gate just a bit on the erosion of ACN’s report about the alleged use of sarin gas by U.S. troops overseas, “Red Team III” — Sunday’s (Aug. 25) episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” written, as all of the show’s teleplays this season have been, by series creator Aaron Sorkin — swung that gate wide open, as network lawyer Rebecca (Marcia Gay Harden) played hardball in determining what went wrong.
Don (Thomas Sadoski) started the hour in the hot seat, squarely putting the blame on Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) for the circumstances that had brought ACN “to its knees.” Jerry’s wrongful-termination lawsuit against the network was a prime reason behind the staff depositions, and Don appealed to Rebecca to put an end to the “insane” proceedings.
She couldn’t, because of what Jerry claimed was an “institutional failure” for which he was made the scapegoat. Rebecca wanted Don’s confirmation that there were “holes in the [Genoa] story,” and while he said there were, he conceded it would have helped if they’d been found before the story hit the air.
Seated next across from Rebecca and her team: Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), who explained he “wasn’t in the loop” on Genoa because he’d been covering the Romney campaign in New Hampshire. Ultimately, he confessed he basically had given himself that assignment to get away from Maggie (Alison Pill) because of his feelings for her, though she was living with Don.
Neal (Dev Patel) took the chair next, recalling what he thought of the initial presentation of the Genoa information to the Red Team members — including an early hint that Jerry had tampered with the crucial recording of an interview with a retired Marine general.
The next witness was Sloan (Olivia Munn), who recalled Will’s (Jeff Daniels) reaction to the evidence. Will surprised the room of colleagues by revealing he’d already heard the Genoa story, which others — particularly Mac (Emily Mortimer) — had taken great pains to keep him away from, wanting him to be as objective as possible if called for Red Team duty.
During a long flashback, Jim expressed doubts about the Genoa story because Jerry was leading the probe. “I don’t know you,” Jim told Jerry. And Don worried about possible danger to American soldiers by running the story, adding “there could be riots here at home, too.”
After a lengthy silence, a clearly troubled Will gave his pronouncement on what had been offered: “I trust Charlie and Mac.” To which Charlie (Sam Waterston) declared to everyone present, “OK, we’re going [with the story]. Lock it down.”
The “ACN Reports” special on Operation Genoa, anchored by Will, mirrored CNN’s similarly controversial 1998 Operation Tailwind report (on which Sorkin based Genoa). A highly dramatic music score accompanied visuals of the ACN employees watching and in certain cases — Charlie! — pacing as the story went out to the masses.
Regular viewers of ‘The Newsroom” already knew what was in the report, so there was little need to hear it all again. And as the related montage sequence ended, Will closed the Genoa telecast by mentioning, “The Pentagon declined our request for an interview:”
It didn’t take long for Charlie to get a phone call from the interviewed (and edited) general, who was “screaming” about his words being used out of context. Charlie initially chalked it up to “cold feet” on the part of the general, and Mac maintained there was nothing to worry about since they had the general “on film.”
The morning after the Genoa telecast, Mac nervously awaited a response — any response — from the Pentagon. There was tempered joy in Charlie’s office as he and Will celebrated overnight ratings for the program that Will termed “an ‘I Love Lucy’ number,” indicating a huge viewership. But Charlie remained worried that a shoe was about to drop.
While Maggie was being deposed again, Rebecca informed her that the Pentagon was taking so long to respond because the attorney general was being brought into the matter. Sloan then recalled a staff meeting called by Charlie to ensure that everyone still stood by the story, and they did.
“Right Now” anchor Elliot Hirsch (David Harbour), just about the only person at ACN still untouched by Genoa, was enlisted to conduct an follow-up interview with one of the sources, meant to reinforce ACN’s position. And when the source revealed on the air that he had suffered a “traumatic brain injury” while on active duty, sudden panic about his reliability swept through the building.
A deceptively calm Mac told Will, “There’s a problem with the story.” To which he only could reply, “I know.”
Yet another Red Team meeting followed, with Jerry trying to counter the concerns of others. And once Maggie stated that Jerry had been the only one in the room with the general during the interview, the concern grew that much bigger.
After Will said his source had told him to stand by the story, Charlie paid a D.C. visit to his own Deep Throat: purported government spy Shep (Frank Wood), who had visited him earlier with worries that the Genoa investigation was even happening,
Though Charlie wanted confirmation on Genoa, Shep had his own story to tell … about his son, who had gotten a job as an ACN summer intern, but later was let go. He then went to rehab, and the last photo an enraged Shep showed a shocked Charlie was of the son’s funeral a year earlier.
Charlie explained the son had been posting opinions of ACN operations on the Internet while working there and, despite Neal’s warnings, had continued to. “He deserved to be fired,” Charlie stated — earning him a sharp slap across the face from Shep, who admitted he vengefully had help set Charlie up for a fall, the means of which was Genoa.
Rebecca suggested to Jim in the deposition room that Mac ultimately may have been at fault for the Genoa report, based on her having possibly asked the final military witness leading questions “based on the information that came before.” And Mac realized she might be culpable, inspiring Will to try to help her let herself off the hook.
In the control room soon after, the delivery of a new digital clock prompted Mac to check the timing on the tape of the general’s interview. It didn’t take her long to determine an anomaly in the “shot clock” of the basketball game shown in the background.
She told Jerry she saw it jump “from :19 to :03 to :02 to :14.” The jig was up for Jerry, yet he remained staunch about what he’d done. When Mac clearly didn’t accept that (“Who’s ever going to believe us again?”), he said, “I think I shouldn’t say anything more until I’ve talked to a lawyer.”
The controversial movie “Innocence of Muslims” also caused a newsroom stir because of the forceful demonstrations it was sparking in Egypt and Libya. The attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi heightened the alarm, but everything else came to a literal halt when a tearful Mac announced, “We have to retract Genoa tonight. All of it.”
“That was our top story, not Benghazi,” Will told Rebecca later, noting ACN’s trust in outside sources had been shot. And he added that in a subsequent meeting (depicted in the story), Charlie told network owner Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) that he, Will and Mac were going to resign. “It’s what has to happen,” Charlie reasoned.
But Leona, preoccupied with not having been able to meet Daniel Craig at a benefit screening of “Skyfall” that night, would have none of it: “You will resign when I fire you out of petty malice, and not before.” And stating her love for ACN, she told those present that despite the network’s unprofitability, “You make me so proud.”
Rebecca suddenly popped in and advised against accepting the resignations, prompting Leona to command the lawyer not to “horn in on my honorable thing.”
“We don’t have the trust of the public anymore!” Charlie retorted. And matching his volume, Leona gave very direct marching orders: “Get it back!”
Cut to black — and to an extended break. “The Newsroom” returns Sunday, Sept. 8, with the start of its two-part season-ender keyed to Election Night 2012.