Federal law enforcement officials ratchet up the pressure on ACN anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to reveal the identity of a crusading whistleblower in “Main Justice,” Episode 22 of HBO’s “The Newsroom.”
The intimidation begins when FBI agents seize hard drives at the cable news network to determine the leaker of classified Department of Defense documents.
The reports illegally obtained by ACN detail how a Pentagon misinformation campaign sparked riots in Africa that left 38 people dead, including three Americans.
Adding to the pressure is Barry Lasenthal (Brian Howe), assistant attorney general for national security, who threatens Will with a contempt charge and ACN with criminal fines that could bankrupt the network.
Barry is determined to prove that newsroom techie Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) received the top secret files on a flash drive, coached the whistleblower on how to retrieve additional documents and then fled to Venezuela to avoid extradition.
Barry also aims to prove that Will is orchestrating ACN’s defiance of government demands.
“So what I think,” Barry tells Will, “is to either protect Neal or be a hero or both, you engineered this whole thing so that Neal was cleared out and you were left holding the bag.”
But Will has no intention of identifying the confidential source, who happens to be a mysterious young woman named Lily Hart (Clea Duvall).
“Your jaw-dropping government overreach simply won’t extend to putting a TV star in jail for contempt,” Will calmly responds to Barry. “You bungled this and I can’t help you anymore.”
Barry isn’t about to back down, however. He sends Eli Shapiro (Nick Kincaid), a nervous Department of Justice staffer, to serve Will with a subpoena while he’s attending the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Now Will must name the leaker in court or risk imprisonment.
“You think it’s possible I’m not as big a TV star as I thought?” Will asks his startled colleagues.
In other developments, Atlantis World Media CEO Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) attempts to thwart a hostile takeover bid by spinning off ACN as a separate company.
If Savannah Capital acquires ACN, the investors will presumably shut down the news network and sell off its assets. That means another potential buyer, Lucas Pruit (B.J. Novak), represents ACN’s best hope for survival.
But this abrasive billionaire has a distinctly different vision for the network than does veteran news executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).
“Let me tell you what I’m about: disruption,” Lucas says to Charlie, insisting that the network crowd-source the news by relying on user-generated content. Lucas also floats the wacky concept of devoting one channel to people who stalk actor Danny Glover.
Charlie remains polite but is obviously horrified by Lucas and his nutty ideas.
Finally, associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) secures an embargoed copy of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on global warming. But no one in the newsroom is prepared for the doomsday scenario described by Richard Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein), an EPA deputy assistant administrator.
So, Will asks Richard on live TV, what’s the prognosis for Mother Earth?
“A person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet,” Richard says matter-of-factly. As sea levels rise, massive human migrations will ensue, along with freshwater shortages, the spread of deadly diseases and killer storms that level cities and blacken skies.
“You sound like you’re saying it’s hopeless,” Will remarks, trying to elicit a glimmer of optimism from Richard.
Human life will continue, Richard predicts. But it will be a “dystopian, post-apocalyptic life.”
If that’s the case, a jail sentence might be the least of Will’s worries.