Aaron Sorkin Responds to Newsroom Writer’s Campus Rape Plot Reaction


Last night’s penultimate episode of The Newsroom’s third and final season, which contained a subplot about campus rape accusation just as the Rolling Stone article about a similar situation at the University of Virginia came under fire for its accuracy problems, drew some incredibly strong reactions from TV critics and viewers alike.

The reaction prompted one writer on the show’s staff, Alena Smith, to send out a series of tweets expressing her disagreement with the direction the episode took and revealing that creator Aaron Sorkin had kicked her out of the writers room after she voiced those objections.

Mediaite reached out to Sorkin on Monday morning, and he provided the response below. He said he expected to receive questions about the dispute in HBO’s Monday morning forum on the show’s website, and that the network actually asked him to have a response ready, but the inquiries never came.

Sorkin does not deny that he “excused” Smith from the writers room after she refused to drop her objections. But then, he expressed his own disappointment in her for publicly airing the dispute on Twitter, saying she “casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality.” Ultimately, he said he was “saddened that she’s broken that trust.”

Read Sorkin’s full response below:

Let me take a moment to say that I understand that the story in last night’s episode (305–“Oh Shenandoah”) about Don trying to persuade a Princeton student named Mary (Sarah Sutherland) not to engage in a “Crossfire”-style segment on his show has catalyzed some passionate debate this morning. I’m happy to hear it.

It catalyzed some passionate debate in our writers room too. Arguments in the writers room at The Newsroom are not only common, they’re encouraged. The staff’s ability to argue with each other and with me about issues ranging from journalistic freedom vs. national security to whether or not Kat Dennings should come back and save the company is one of their greatest assets and something I look for during the hiring process. Ultimately I have to go into a room by myself and write the show but before I do I spend many days listening to, participating in and stoking these arguments. As with any show, I have to create a safe environment where people can disagree and no one fears having their voice drowned out or, worse, mocked.

Alena Smith, a staff writer who joined the show for the third season, had strong objections to the Princeton story and made those objections known to me and to the room. I heard Alena’s objections and there was some healthy back and forth. After a while I needed to move on (there’s a clock ticking) but Alena wasn’t ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn’t let me do that so I excused her from the room.

The next day I wrote a new draft of the Princeton scenes–the draft you saw performed last night. Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story. But I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That’s what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust.

[Photo via screengrab]

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