The Newsroom: Forever and Ever, Amen

The Newsroom S01E05: "Amen"

"Amen" is by leaps and bounds the most interesting, thoughtful, and exciting episode of The Newsroom that Aaron Sorkin and company have yet produced. It took two major 2011 news stories—the Egyptian revolution and the teacher protests in Wisconsin—and managed to shape them around the hustle and bustle of the titular newsroom in a way that felt neither preachy, nor overtly self-congratulatory. In effect, it was the closest this show has come to being the serious-yet-entertaining portrayal of news production that I thought it was going to be at the outset.

Which, yes, I realize goes against much of what I said last week, when I'd effectively resigned myself to 10 episodes of Sorkin using the power of hindsight to crusade against the evils of TV journalism. I'm admittedly having a hard time keeping up with exactly what this show wants to be, but if it wants to be more like "Amen" from here on out, I absolutely would not complain.

Of course, there was the usual slate of internal romantic drama, not to mention ample amounts of tabloid skulduggery. This week, however, the tabloid focus shifted to Mac, and her boyfriend Wade. It seemed that TMI had somehow picked up the story that Wade is planning a congressional run somewhere down the line, and may have been using his relationship with Mac to weasel his way into some talking-head air time on News Night. Mac didn't believe it, until she found out he'd been making more serious overtures toward his election push than he'd told her about.

Elsewhere, the Jim/Don/Maggie thing continued to play out about as obnoxiously as it has been, making no real forward progress while constantly reminding us that yes, Jim really likes Maggie, but Maggie is with Don, and Don, again, really isn't that bad of a guy. Because this week's episode fell on and around Valentine's Day, we found Maggie desperately trying to push Jim into a romantic Valentine's date with her roommate, who he had evidently been "casually" dating (read: sleeping with) on a semi-regular basis. Jim was deeply uncomfortable with this, which didn't necessarily say much regarding his intentions toward Maggie's roomie.

Don, meanwhile, had other things on his mind (thankfully). He was far more focused on his 10pm news anchor, who at the beginning of the episode was in Cairo trying to cover the protests against Hosseni Mubarak's regime, and mostly failing. He was trapped in his hotel room trying his damnedest to report what was happening, but due to the danger to foreign journalists outside, couldn't escape the confines of the hotel. This frustrated Don to no end, because he thought Elliot needed to get out there and brave the crowds to get the story. After a little pep-talking off camera, we found out that Elliot did indeed attempt to go out and get the story, and got the piss beaten out of him with a rock in the process.

Don was, of course, mortified, and left feeling extremely guilty about the situation. I haven't said much about Thomas Sadoski's work as Don on this show, because Sadoski's mostly been pushed to the background as Jim and Maggie do their flirtation dance. In "Amen," Sadoski got to break out a little bit and flex Don's muscles as a relevant character on the series. It was some of the best work he's done, and hell, it made me like Don a lot more.

With Elliot out, the team was forced to look for a new man on the ground in Cairo. Neal suggested an unaffiliated blogger who has been covering the story via social media under the alias "Amen." The team was wary, but after Skyping with the boy (who was no more than 18 or 19 years old), Neal convinced them the kid was the right man to get them the footage and coverage they needed. The catch, unfortunately, was that he couldn't continue to be anonymous. He would have to give his real name and remove the handkerchief he wore around his face in his video blogs. He reluctantly agreed, and for at least one show, News Night had some of the most in-depth, up-front coverage of the protests found anywhere on American television.

And as with all stories that feature such catches, everything went a bit haywire. After being asked to investigate a military station where records and documents from the Mubarak regime were reportedly being destroyed, Amen went missing. Neal spent days trying to locate him, even having the network track his GPS to try and locate him, which didn't work.

The only thing that really, truly bothered me this week was how this particular plotline eventually played out. Seeing Neal get a little bit of time to do something other than act like a ludicrous goofball was great, and his outburst over Rush Limbaugh's taunting over journalists being kidnapped in Egypt led to one of the only justifiable staff injuries of this week's episode (Elliot's being the other). But when we discovered that Amen had been taken hostage by a "fringe" group that wanted $250,000 (which the network wouldn't pay), Will did a crazily generous thing and paid the ransom. That's not my problem with what happened. My problem is that Sorkin felt it necessary to tie all that drama into a hokey, desperately unnecessary Rudy moment.

I knew early in the episode when Will began painstakingly explaining the plot and ending of the film Rudy to his staff that it was all going to come back around at some point. What I wasn't expecting was a cloying montage of staffers walking in and depositing their own checks to help cover Will's ransom payment, nor a standing ovation from his entire staff as he walked out into the adoring newsroom. It was one of those Sorkin-cute moments that maybe isn't unexpected, but still feels like a minor betrayal to the otherwise mostly measured and intriguing tone set by much of the rest of the episode.

Still, "Amen" was as engrossing an episode of The Newsroom as there's been yet. Save for a few eye-rolling moments, it kept its momentum going nearly from start to finish, managed to include one great moment of Sorkin-brand speechifying (Will taking Hope Davis's TMI reporter to task on what "real journalism" entails was pretty fantastic, I must admit), and delivered two important news stories in a way that felt reasonable, fascinating, and entertaining. This is an episode where News Night reported the facts without spending a lot of time talking about why it's so important that they report the facts. It lost the self-congratulatory bullshit, and just went about its business. If The Newsroom can keep that sort of thing up for the rest of the season, then I'll forgive all the silly romantic subplots and endless pratfalls taken by what may be the clumsiest news staff in human history. For once, I'm really excited for next week's episode.

And I swear, it's not just because Terry Crews debuts next week.

Random Thoughts:

– I know I bitch about MacKenzie every week, but I largely enjoyed her presence throughout this week's episode. Emily Mortimer has done a lot of heavy lifting to try to make this character into something other than a manic tear factory, and she won me over this week, especially in her scenes with Olivia Munn (where Sloan tried to explain economics to her)—yes, even when she broke down sobbing. I don't know how I feel about her and Will having their big "hug it out" moment so soon, but whatever. I want to see where this goes.

– Did I call it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes? Or did I call it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes? I think I definitely called it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes.

– I really hope we get more of Hope Davis peppered throughout this series. She's reveling in the opportunity to play an opportunistic bitch, and she's doing it well. As long as she avoids devolving into cackling villainess territory...

– Sorkin's beef with the Koch brothers looks like it's going to be a recurring theme until either The Newsroom gets cancelled (which won't be for a while since it's been picked up for another season) or the Koch brothers die.

– When this season ends, I'm formally requesting a YouTube montage of every fall, slam, punch, hit, bonk, and other physical injury suffered by a character on this show. Someone needs to baby-proof that office, pronto.

– Now that Sorkin has fired his Newsroom writing staff—I know I'm not the only one shocked to learn he had a writing staff to begin with—I'm curious as to whether we'll see any kind of tonal shift in Season 2. Then again, considering that this show has jumped all over the place in tone from episode to episode, perhaps there's simply no way to tell.

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I'm quite late to these reviews, but just wanted to say that I, for one, am glad they're somewhat critical of the show. It's not really that good, and it is really confused about whether it's a comedy, drama, or soap. I would think you had no idea what you were talking about if the reviews were super positive. Just adding my opinion, since there seem to be a lot of people annoyed at your criticism.
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Love this show! I agree about the door running and the rudy moment....it just didn't work for me. Other than that I loved the episode. The scene with Will and the TMI reporter was phenomenal!



And am I the only one who loved Studio 60...I think that is the most underrated show. Love me some Danny Trip and Matt Alby!
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I'm really split between this being great and awful in equal measures and that's within every episode. Some of the plot ideas are dreadful, Bigfoot ... prime example. Will is excellent and his long meandering speeches are excellent. Overall glad they sacked the writers and perhaps awful is just edging it !
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This was a pretty good episode. The Rudy moment at the end was obvious and sappy... but it was still touching... I guess. I'd hate to be the prick that doesn't want to give a check. I also don't much care for the Jim-Mags-Don-slutty roommate storyline either. But overall, I like most of the characters -- I'm still surprised at how much I like Munn's robotic character... the humorous moments, so far, hit about half of the time... and I like most of the stuff that goes on regarding the actual news show portion of the show.
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I disagree with your opinion on the Rudy moment. I LOVED IT... totally wept. Sure, maybe it was a little contrived, and overtly formulaic, but so are a lot of great moments in television. I was so into the episode by that point a slow clap wouldn't have phased me. Great Episode.
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I'm not sure why Sorkin felt it was necessary to include not one, not two, but three different door-related injuries, to go along with a monitor-related injury and a rock-related injury, other than he must love to hit us over the head with something until it loses all meaning or just isn't funny anymore. Like the "Bigfoot" stuff last week, these "eye-roll" moments don't serve as comedic foil against the more dramatic moments, but instead serve to pull me out of those more engrossing dramatic moments entirely.



On a positive note, Olivia Munn was exceptionally good in this episode. Her performance has been a delightful surprise thus far.
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I have not watched West Wing, but I watched Sports Night and have heard enough about Studio 60 to ask this question: is perhaps Sorkin's reputation overrated? He has done fabulous work on movies when there has been a legitimate director with a complete vision, but his only great work on tv was the West Wing (which by all accounts I've heard is the best thing to ever happen in the universe). Even there his created universe is overly idealistic and intelligent. He seems to struggle staying away from his own formulas of preachiness and naivety in characters, while unable to properly write a dark tone.
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Maybe he is overrated, but you heard right. The West Wing IS the best thing to ever happen in the universe. :)
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I see some people unhappy with the light and unrealistic tone of the show, and I totally empathize. The news is such an interesting subject, I feel like Aaron Sorkin is belying his own potential. None the less, the show is not bad. I would definitely classify it as a romantic-comedy that really really wants to be a drama, but doesn't know how to balance the tone.



I enjoyed the lack of preachiness in this episode. And the black guy got some more lines this week! I still have no idea what he does on the news show, though...



I would kind of like an episode in which there isn't any real news to cover. Every episode so far has covered a huge news story from the past 2 years, but sometimes there isn't anything big to report on.
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I had never even heard of "Rudy" before this episode.
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Olivia Munn looked damn good in this episode :)
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That was the worse episode so far, felt like a bad christmas episode from the 90's with the totaly unrealistic happy end. I think Sorkin have to decide betwin making a fantastic serious intense darker political HBO show, or a mediocre soapy clownish mainstream network show taking place in a fantasy world of news, he can't make both, and this is taking the wrong way... I wan't to love this show, just apply what you preach in it, a little bit more truthfulness and quality.
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I had that same feeling that the ending lacked realism and the ransom thing was solved too easily to start with. Sorkin had once written a two-hour episode os Studio 60 concentrated on a similar situation - only that time it wasn't a journalist that was kidnapped but a couple of American soldiers. And that time he's done everything perfectly - the suspense, the fear of not getting the guy back, theendless discussions of reasons why it's wrong to bail out people like that, but most importantly - the way it was difficult to find the organization responsible for kidnapping, and only _hoping_ that paying the ransom will eventually buy the guy freedom and not get him killed anyway. While in The Newsroom all of that was successfully ignored, with only Neal caring about guy's fate. Or so it seemed.
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You mean in The West Wing, not Studio 60, i guess ;)
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No he means in Studio 60... the episode was called K&R and it was a three episode story arc that led into the series finale. It was compelling television and it was a shame that most of America had stopped watching by that time.



I see that you put a winking face at the end of your post so maybe, MAYBE, you were being sarcastic. Still Dharmist is completly correct in his summation of the Kidnapping and Rescue (K&R) being way too easy on the Newsroom. While I'm glad they didn't basically rehash the plotline from Studio 60, I wish that they had at least given Amen's story a little bit more meat than Neil being upset.
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My least favorite show so far. I'm baffled how someone as emotionally unstable as MacKenzie seems was able to land such a position. The staff seems to spend more time bickering over their love lives than do their jobs, except Neal. I'll hang around because I want to see Will and Fonda's character maneuver against each other, and hope the new writing team will cut down on the office romance soap opera shenanigans.
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I love this show more every week. Please tell me the Season 2 renewal features more than just 10 episodes.
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First,it's spelled Ameen and not Amen, then being from the Middle East and having gone through wars, hostages are never freed and certainly not for 250 000 dollars. If that were the case, then at least five of my friends would be alive today.`I am always shocked at the lack of understanding of the US to the Middle east, and specifically to the Arab Spring revolutions and general movement. But then again this is a tv show and it gets to have some leeway.

As for the holed up journalist, agreat number of them never really try. I am not saying that they would succeed, but at least an attempt would have been expected. Then again, there are the brave reporters who get the adrenaline rush needed to take immeasurable risks, and unfortunately, they make up a very large percentage of those who end up paying a steep price. The individuals who take risks and are the genuine heros,because like Ameen, they sometimes get very hurt, even end up dead, which hopefully was not the case here. The reason that ransoms don't work is once you are marked as that type of hero, mostly the internal intelligence services will have a file on him and his family, and if they are released that time, this does not mean that they will not pay the price at some other time, or one of their kin.

As a tv show, it has taken on a middle New Left slant that really disappeared in the end of the seventies. Whether this will serve the show is yet to be seen; but a the same time it must become more than anti-Fox News and come to its own terms as what genuine journalism would have been without the Reagan years and on. I will feel excited and enthusiastic if they can come to depict a fictional time of what journalism would have turned out if the Kennedy brothers were not assassinated.But I realize this is wishful thinking and too much to ask for.

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great post and great points, but his name is "Amen" that is why the episode was titled Amen. Its Ancient Egyptian for the invisible one. Which I know because Neil said it in the episode
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Neil was right if he meant "Amon", just google both words and you'll get my point. Then this would be a sarcastic title episode because it took almost nothing to have him reveal his face and identity.
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Google says it could be Amun or Amoun as well. Fact is when Mac comes in the room she spells it A-M-E-N and Neal goes yes and says what it means in Egyptian. And its not sarcastic because he revealed himself. His is invisable because he moves amongst them in secrecy... you know until he's caught
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I was wondering exactly how irresponsible it was of the show to gloss over the $250k ransom being paid and resulting in a journalist being freed. Apparently the answer was "very."
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Pat, the whole subplot was wrong.First, how irresponsible it is to send a civilian to a secret location to get documents against Mubarak all by himself. Then, even if he had pulled it off, they should have planned for him to leave the country, which was the only way for him to remain safe.

Paying any type of ransom sends the message that this man is worth 250 000 dollars if harmed and that he is linked to the Americans, which whether we like it or not, is not a reputation one wants to have in these countries.
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I thought the reason for firing his writing staff was to make the show less of a liberal wet-dream. I know reality has a well-known liberal bias so maybe that's not the intention of the show, but if it is, it definitely makes me wet. I'm just afraid that there won't be enough hindsight to really stick it to other news networks in the future. I feel the show will have to flesh out the interpersonal relationships if the show wants to have any longevity. I think it needs to find balance between "Sports Night" and in "Studio 60". Both shows dealt with current events, and that just seems to be an Aaron Sorkin thing, but while dealing with current events both of those failed to give convincing and satisfying character developments. So far, in The Newsroom, we've only gotten background on characters, I'd like to them start growing, sooner rather than later.
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unless "Aaron Sorkin" is their collective name, I was surprised to learn Sorkin had a writing team too, since I only see "written by Aaron Sorkin" in the credits lol



overall, a good episode. I've never seen Rudy as a whole, just bits and pieces, but that Rudy moment at the end made me tear up a little.. I'm not ashamed to admit it.
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I really enjoyed the "Rudy" conversation early in the episode. And I smiled at the line of staffers dropping off checks, but it didn't have quite the emotional impact given they were chipping in to pay back a multi-millionaire.
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I think the emotional impact went out the window when it was revealed that they were only doing it because Mackenzie set it up. Turned what could have been a nice moment of we are pitching in because he is one of ours into a forced false sense of comraderie. Either way I don't think he'll cash the checks it was their thought that really mattered to Will (even though it was manufactured)
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kinda expect the show to be what i saw last night. I have no real qualms with the way it's going with the romance and drama.



Alex Navarro just seems to have read all the critical comments of his reviews and is trying to tone it down a bit but in the back of his mind he still has these expectations that seem foolhardy and they still come through in his writing. "this week i didnt hate this as much", "I know i normally complain about this but this week i didnt"



It seems like a lot of backhanded appraisal and id still wish someone else who appreciates the show more would write these reviews.
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This week's review is much better as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Navarro. I guess you're letting yourself go and are starting to really say what you wanna say instead of perhaps pandering to an invisible audience.



I liked the episode, but I'm not going to lie. It helped with my previous feeling of seeing the firing of the writers as good news for the show. The dialogue is standard Sorkin and pretty swell, but the physical humour is appalling. Why does the show even need to do that? Can't Jim and Maggie have sexual tension without him banging on a glass door when she's holding it? Hard to grasp there. Another thing that does bother me is the characters being over emotional and out of nowhere. Makenzie stepping on a blackberry, and Dev Patel's both big foot mentions and punch through the monitor felt really forced. Maybe it wouldn't be so if we knew who this character is. If they want us to care for secondary characters when they do shit, then let us see them without them doing shit, no? It only feels unforced when it's Will doing it, and that's probably because Jeff Daniels is awesome.



The overall story was pretty good though, and Will being badass is just a joy to watch. He just dominates every scene he's in. I'm liking the character interactions more and more when they're not overthought, it's all very subliminally satirical when the characters go at each other. I do worry however that this show is heading to a very soapy direction. It could focus on the characters relationships without being so cheesy, which it has been a bit. Time will tell what the news writers will do with this show under Sorkin, but I'm optimistic.



One thing is for sure, this show is still very good.
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I agree with you on all points Alex. Especially the Rudy moment, it just didn't fit.
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I find these reviews so weird, because it seems like you expected a totally different show than me. I expected the romantic parts, because they've been in every Sorkin project so far, and they're never bad. (Even in Studio 60.) I expected occasional weird slapstick-y moments, because that's what happens in a Sorkin show, and I enjoy them because I enjoy Sorkin's style of comedy. And I knew this show would be preachy, because Sorkin loves yelling his opinion at people, but it works in this show, unlike Studio 60. (Which was great for other reasons)



Anyways. I think this episode was the best episode yet. I did get kind og annoyed when the Amen guy got taken hostage though, as it reminded me a lot of the episode of Studio 60 where Tom's brother got taken hostage and they demanded a ransom.
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I loved this episode. I've also never seen "Rudy", so that moment didn't come off as over the top to me. I am right there with you about Thomas Sadoski. His portrayal of Don this episode was fantastic, and you definitely like him more and more each episode. I thought the way that he took all the way to trying to break down the door because of the self-blame he was giving himself was fantastic. Wonderful. I still love the Jim and Maggie stuff, and I think that Allison Pill did a great job making the spastic door crashes very natural.



-Mortimer and Munn's scenes together were excellent. And I love the fact she's just been covering up that she knew nothing about Economics. Let's face it, we all have those one or two topics that, when they come up, we just nod along and let everyone else think we know what they're talking about when really we have no clue. It was a great way to get more out of both of these characters, and I loved it.

-You did, and I am also not surprised. Though I would not also be surprised if he comes up again in the context of a news story.

-She did a fine bit of villainy, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of her. But you're correct, it would have to be handled carefully. And Will's beratement of her calling both of them "journalists" was just plain awesome.

-YouTube montages can be fun, but generally I only enjoy them when they're funny. So, go that direction with it, YouTube montage person.

-Yeah, I was kind of surprised to find that he had a large staff, too. Not knowing who was on the staff, I can't say for sure where this will lead the show, but if I have to be honest, I think it'll help to tighten down the show. Sorkin didn't come up writing with a staff, and is probably much more comfortable writing with just one or two other people with whom he is comfortable.
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Eh, The Newsroom completely lost me when it got a news story wrong almost a year and a half after it happened...I just can't trust the show now.
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Which one was that?
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http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/feb/16/progressive-change-campaign-committee/group-says-gov-scott-walker-threatened-send-out-na/



I'm ok if the show plays a little fast and loose with half truths and things that are only true based on your perspective, but Will's first claim was just a flat out lie...and worse Sorkin had nearly a year and a half to fact check it.

For a news show that in its first episode claimed that they didn't want to play to the most dramatic spin on the news just for ratings...they wouldn't go with the most attention grabbing headline, they'd go with the fair one...I don't see how that can be considered anything but the most attention grabbing headline...
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AyeDub: Thanks for posting that link. The whole treatment of the Wisconsin protests struck me as "off" when I watched the episode, but I couldn't remember enough about the situation to figure out why. Sorkin then used it as a tie-in to the policial claim that Citizens United was a partisan decision to benefit Republican campaigns once the Republicans get rid of unions (i.e. similar to Wisconsin).



I'm loving the show, but I'm hoping the new writing team can help balance it a bit more to be what the show itself states is its aim: "just the facts" reporting. I'm so desperate for that right now with the daily onslaught of spin from all news sources. I'd take anything I can get, even if it's via a fake television show.
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The statement "Walker has threatened to call out the National Guard if workers protest against these cuts!" is true. For the specific protests of a work stoppage or a sit down strike. If the statement were "Walker has threatened to call out the National Guard if workers protest IN ANY WAY against these cuts!" it would be untrue. I know politifact is well-meaning and all, but they need to work on their reading skills and/or their logic skills.
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Sure thing. Live in your fantasy world where the words "threatening to" and "against" means same thing as "says he will" and "to fill in for workers".



Ridiculous that in the face of facts you would continue to deny there is any slant at all.
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I already provided two cases for which the statement is true. I don't feel the need to repeat myself.
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No. It specifically isn't true.



The statement "Walker will call in the National Guard to help run state prisons in the event of a strike by corrections workers."

Is true and, you know, exactly the sort of even headline the show VOWED to deliver in the first episode, but nothing like the line delivered.



The statement "Walker has threatened to call out the National Guard if workers protest against these cuts!" is inflammatory, attention grabbing, and misleading at BEST.
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