The Sketchy 'Newsroom' Rape Episode Pointed Out a Huge Hollywood Problem

Source: AP
Source: AP

HBO's The Newsroom found itself in hot water after featuring a subplot in Sunday's episode about campus rape and the media's often ineffective and inappropriate response to it.

The episode garnered a lot of attention Monday morning for the way it handled the topic — especially in light of the recent scandal revolving Rolling Stone's problematic story about campus rape at the University of Virginia — but the biggest issue may lie elsewhere: namely, the lack of diversity in the people actually writing these stories.

Here's what happened: In the episode, a Princeton student tells Don, the show's news producer, about her alleged rape after he contacts her about doing a story about her blog. After she shares her story, Don tells her that he has also spoken with her alleged attacker, whose story he believes. "I'm obligated to believe the sketchy guy. I believe I'm morally obligated," Don said.

Source: YouTube

The backlash: The Internet erupted in outrage and criticism after the episode aired. By trusting the alleged rapist over the victim, Don paints the victim as a liar. Doubting and distrusting a victim's story, whether it's in a fictional series or a real-life investigation, has devastating consequences for victims of sexual violence everywhere. 

The deeper issue: In watching the episode, one might hypothesize that the script was written by disillusioned men, and men alone. But unfortunately, this is far from the case. According to IMBD, several women, including Alena Smith, have been on the show's writing staff since its inception. However, just because women are on the staff doesn't mean their voices were always heard. 

According to Smith, here's what happened when she spoke up in the writers' room about the rape plot:

Aaron Sorkin, the show's creator and main writer, disagreed. He responded to these tweets, saying he believed Smith had given "enthusiastic support" for the episode. While Sorkin acknowledged "there was some healthy back and forth," he argued Smith was not moving on in a timely fashion, so he "excused her from the room."

Whether you believe Sorkin or Smith, the incident highlights the ongoing lack of diversity and respect Hollywood writers' rooms can often have, and the importance of reversing that trend. Last year, Think Progress reported that out of "1,722 writers who wrote for 190 shows, 519 or 30.5% of them were women, and 269 of them were people of color."

If writers all come from the same cloth, the art of storytelling loses its potential. While talented writers can depict meaningful experiences regardless of whether he or she experienced them firsthand, ensuring that writers' rooms have people who have authentically diverse experiences is a must if we want to absorb rich, compelling narratives in any medium. 

But by permitting men to dominate a subject like rape and campus rape specifically, we ironically undermine the point. Don didn't believe the girl's story, and, as it turns out, neither did the writers. But, as it seems, maybe they were never going to.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Becca Stanek

Becca is a Mic Editorial Fellow writing for the news section. A recent graduate of DePauw University, she has previously written for TIME and The Oregonian.

MORE FROM

What does consent look like on a show like 'Bachelor in Paradise'?

Warner Bros. has cleared the allegations involving Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, leaving many questions about consent on the show in its wake.

Bill Cosby juror didn't believe Andrea Constand because Constand wore "bare midriff" to Cosby's home

This juror's response to Constand's testimony is victim blaming 101.

In North Carolina, women can't withdraw consent after giving it

The state's consent law says that once someone gives consent, they can't revoke it.

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was catcalled on stage and it didn't go well

Hall of fame hockey player Marcel Dionne yelled "Look at those legs!" while onstage with Raisman at the 2017 NHL Awards.

How the Senate's draft health care plan could affect reproductive services

It is very close to the House's version of the bill, and would block federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a year.

Jury in Bill Cosby case voted 10-2 in favor of conviction, according to juror report

2 jurors prevented the unanimous vote prosecutors needed to convict Bill Cosby of criminal charges, according to an account given to ABC News.

What does consent look like on a show like 'Bachelor in Paradise'?

Warner Bros. has cleared the allegations involving Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, leaving many questions about consent on the show in its wake.

Bill Cosby juror didn't believe Andrea Constand because Constand wore "bare midriff" to Cosby's home

This juror's response to Constand's testimony is victim blaming 101.

In North Carolina, women can't withdraw consent after giving it

The state's consent law says that once someone gives consent, they can't revoke it.

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was catcalled on stage and it didn't go well

Hall of fame hockey player Marcel Dionne yelled "Look at those legs!" while onstage with Raisman at the 2017 NHL Awards.

How the Senate's draft health care plan could affect reproductive services

It is very close to the House's version of the bill, and would block federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a year.

Jury in Bill Cosby case voted 10-2 in favor of conviction, according to juror report

2 jurors prevented the unanimous vote prosecutors needed to convict Bill Cosby of criminal charges, according to an account given to ABC News.