Irate staffers at Atlantis Cable News openly rebel against their Internet-obsessed owner — and a veteran journalist dramatically dies on the job — in “Oh Shenandoah,” the penultimate Episode 24 of HBO’s “The Newsroom.”
Now that abrasive billionaire Lucas Pruit (B.J. Novak) has acquired ACN, he’s determined to attract younger viewers by airing dubious stories because they’ll generate social media buzz. Epitomizing this disturbing trend is the network’s slick promo announcing a new Twitter hashtag: #uracn.
“The next one’s going to show citizen journalists filing stories from the Coffee Bean,” laments “News Night” executive producer Mackenzie “Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer).
However, old school journalist Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) staunchly defends Lucas and his misguided ideas — if only to keep the staff employed. That’s why Charlie orders producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) to bring a rape victim and her alleged assailant into the studio for a verbal smack-down on live TV.
Don reluctantly contacts Mary (Sarah Sutherland), a Princeton University coed who was assaulted at a party after succumbing to drugs and tequila. When law enforcement declined to pursue the case, Mary bitterly launched a website that outs sexual-predator suspects.
While Don believes Mary’s story and empathizes with her trauma, he begs her not to seek justice on a television show, warning that it could degenerate into a “lawless food fight with irreversible, irreconcilable consequences.”
In such an uncontrolled environment, Don cautions, there’s no due process, no lawyers, no discovery and no rules of procedure designed to protect an innocent person from being destroyed.
“The law can acquit,” Don emphasizes. “The Internet never will.”
Also fighting back against Lucas and his pandering gimmicks is financial analyst Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), who strongly objects to an ACN app that encourages viewers to report celebrity sightings. While this popular feature generates money and Web traffic, it also promotes dangerous stalking.
To mercilessly “vivisect” the app’s creator, Bree Dorrit (Jon Bass), Sloan lures him onto a “News Night” broadcast.
“It’s the price of fame, isn’t it?” Bree smugly asks Sloan when she accuses him of empowering celeb-chasing sociopaths.
“No, it’s a punishment for it,” Sloan insists.
Then she renders Bree speechless by demanding he justify the news value of a recent, unsubstantiated post about a talk show host getting drunk at a bar.
“Pruit’s going to kill you for this,” Bree blurts out when the interview ends.
“Did you put her up to that?” Charlie yells at Mac, accusing her of insubordination. “Is this a mutiny?”
“It’s an intervention,” Mac responds as Lucas bursts into the newsroom and calls for immediate terminations.
Charlie refuses to ax Mac and Sloan, however. Then, shockingly, he collapses from a stress-induced heart attack and dies soon after.
Unaware of this tragic development is ACN anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), who’s been imprisoned for nearly two months for refusing to identify a confidential source. This federal whistleblower stole thousands of classified files detailing a covert Pentagon operation that sparked deadly riots in Africa.
Even though the leaker, Lilly Hart (Clea Duvall), has committed suicide outside the U.S. Department of Justice, Will sticks by his journalistic principles and thereby risks an even longer confinement.
Fortunately for Will, Assistant Attorney General Barry Lasenthal (Brian Howe) and the FBI uncovered enough information about Lilly to determine that she’s the treasonous leaker.
Now Barry delivers some welcome news to ACN First Amendment attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden), announcing he’ll join her in asking the judge to set Will free.
So after being married to Mac for just 11 minutes before surrendering to authorities, Will can sleep in his own bed once more.