‘Newsroom’ misrepresents Americans for Prosperity

Levi Russell Director of Public Affairs, Americans for Prosperity
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For the past two weeks, Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers have been a featured theme on HBO’s “The Newsroom,” a new series created by Aaron Sorkin and loosely based on Keith Olbermann’s career at MSNBC.

Let’s just hope that viewers of “The Newsroom” recognize the show not for how it’s packaged, but for what it really is — a source of entertainment that occasionally dabbles in reality.

“The Newsroom” bills itself as a gritty, true-to-life depiction of a real cable-news program covering actual news stories. The problem is, the show ends up taking frequent detours from reality to journey through the fantasy land of Sorkin’s imagination.

While crafting compelling scenes and clever dialogue do not appear to be the writers’ strength (last week most of the “The Newsroom” writers were fired), neither is accuracy. The show suggests that AFP and others worked to influence the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and are now benefiting from it. But anyone with a basic understanding of the ruling could tell you that AFP has never been affected by the ruling one way or another. The show also refers to AFP President Tim Phillips as David Koch’s attorney. Mr. Phillips does a fantastic job leading AFP in the fight for free market ideals, but he isn’t Mr. Koch’s attorney; he isn’t even an attorney. (Although on the flip side, Mr. Phillips can now confidently say, “I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve played one on TV!”)

By now it’s well known that the tea party movement encompasses hundreds of groups and millions of individual Americans. But that reality is inconvenient and too complicated for 60 minutes on Sunday night, so one of “The Newsroom” characters says, “If you follow the money [in the tea party] nearly all of it leads to AFP.” I can’t decide whether this is just sheer laziness or a deliberate attempt to portray AFP as the bogeyman du jour, but either way it’s a work of fiction.

Insomuch as “The Newsroom” appears to mirror Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC, it is at least an accurate portrayal of a news network that produces coverage from a far-left ideological vantage point and spins the news to support a predetermined narrative. The irony is that “The Newsroom” works so hard to convince us otherwise, asking that we buy the packaging and ignore the contents.

The facts about Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers have been spun into a scary campfire story by Sorkin and his remaining writers, the result of which is a cobbled-together Frankenstein that is almost painful to watch.

If you’re a fan of the show and don’t mind following Sorkin down well-worn paths of liberal talking points, more power to you. Just remember to distinguish between TV shows and real life.

Levi Russell is the director of public affairs at Americans for Prosperity.