For a show that generally tackles events almost two years after they happen, The Newsroom's campus rape subplot really couldn't have been more perfectly timed. In the aftermath of an ongoing discussion over the fallout of a Rolling Stone cover story on campus rape, the latest episode of Sorkin's HBO drama could have been a thoughtful, measured discussion of an inherently painful and complicated issue.
It wasn't. The story, which centered on a college student who accused two other students of raping her at a party, has been roundly disdained. In the episode, when the student realizes her attackers are unlikely to be punished, she creates a website where women can post the names of men who assaulted them. Producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) is dispatched to find the student and invite her to debate her rapist on live television.
Despite his assignment, Don spends the episode trying to convince her not to appear on the show, in a series of ludicrous, tone-deaf arguments. He equates her website with revenge porn. He says he feels morally obligated to believe the man she says raped her. He worries that the website might be used to make a false accusation against a man, preventing him from getting into law school or being drafted into the NFL. In the end — though she insists she wants to appear on the show — he takes the decision away from her by lying to his boss, saying he couldn't track her down.
Critical reaction has been resoundingly negative. "The Newsroom was never going to be my favorite series, but I didn't expect it to make my head blow off, all over again, after all these years of peaceful hate-watching," said The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum. Vox's Todd VanDerWerff called the episode "the latest example of everything that has been so bad about this show, so often." Aaron Sorkin "is sorry that rape victims aren't given their due by police or campus authorities or district attorneys," said The AV Club's Libby Hill. "But since they can't, he'd really prefer they shut up about it."