Aaron Sorkin Responds to ‘Newsroom’ Writer’s Complaint on Rape Storyline

As “The Newsroom” marches onward to its third season and series finale, controversy has arisen outside of the show’s content, as one of the show’s writers, Alena Smith, has said that creator Aaron Sorkin kicked her out of the writer’s room for questioning the campus rape storyline of this Sunday’s episode. However, Sorkin responded on Monday, saying Smith was happy with the final draft of the script.

The episode, “On Shenandoah,” featured Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), a producer on the show’s nightly news program, debating with a Princeton student, Mary (Sarah Sutherland), who runs an anonymous website where victims of sexual assault can tell their stories. The plot generated controversy over social media, especially given the recent blow-up surrounding Rolling Stone’s UVA campus rape story, and its subsequent retraction and apology.

After the episode aired, Smith tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541801655897817088
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802313799585793
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802481869524993
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802772086001664

Sorkin responded to Smith’s tweets Monday, in a lengthy statement to Mediaite. Sorkin admitted that he “excused her from the room,” but said that following the argument, “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.”

See the full statement 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.

The final episode of “The Newsroom” airs at 9 p.m. on Dec. 14 on HBO.

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