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The Newsroom writer Alena Smith took to Twitter Sunday night to discuss how she was thrown out of the show’s writer’s room for questioning the campus rape plot on the Dec. 7 episode, “Oh, Shenandoah.” Then, on Monday, the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin gave his side of the story.
Last night’s episode included a plot in which Atlantis Cable News producer Don Keefer went to speak to a possible subject for a story—a rape victim who began a website where other victims could tell their stories. The website was intended for those who might not see justice committed for the crimes against them, however many critics and viewers took ire with Don’s defense of the men who might be written about on the website.
Among the episode’s many critics, The Newsroom writer Alena Smith wrote about her problems with the episode. Sorkin has issued a statement to EW explaining the story from his perspective.
Sorkin says he excused Smith from the room because, despite her unhappiness with the story, he had a deadline to contend with. Sorkin also noted that debates in the writer’s room were also a frequent occurrence, and something he encouraged when working out more difficult storylines.
To move things along, however, Sorkin says he asked Smith to leave the room. He then explains that he went off on his own to write the script. Sorkin says once he wrote this new draft, he presented the script to Smith with the scenes that made it to the final episode, and she “gave the new pages her enthusiastic support.”
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Below, find Sorkin’s full statement, which was obtained by EW and originally released to Mediaite, in response to Smith’s comments both about the episode and what occurred in the writer’s room.
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.