By editing out one key word from an interview, hotshot producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) damages ACN's journalistic credibility -- and exposes the cable network to staggering legal expenses -- on "One Step Too Many," Episode 16 of HBO's "The Newsroom."
Jerry has visions of winning a Peabody Award as he probes Operation Genoa, a Special Forces rescue of two Marines in Pakistan. If a tip Jerry received is true -- that the U.S. sprayed a village with lethal sarin gas -- high-ranking officials could go to prison.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. Stanislaus Stomtonovich (Stephen Root) seems a promising insider to corroborate the nerve gas story, given his belief that America should retain its chemical weapons arsenal.
Interviewing the general with no one else in the room, Jerry asks: Did Special Forces resort to "exceptional measures" in extracting the captives?
"If we used sarin, here's how we used sarin," Jerry is told by the general, whose face is darkened and voice altered to disguise his identity. But when Jerry edits the tape, he intentionally removes the word "if," making it seem that the general said, "We used sarin."
Jerry conceals his appalling ethics breach when grilled by the "red team," colleagues who provide a fresh perspective on seven months of investigative research.
News executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) believes war crimes were committed but doesn't think Stomtonovich's comments provide the clinching evidence.
"We're not there yet," says Charlie, who wants to find another witness.
Jerry then erupts in anger, accusing "News Night" staffers of protecting the Obama administration because of their personal regard for the president.
ACN eventually broadcasts the story to nearly 6 million viewers. And as Charlie explains to 1st Amendment attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden), it didn't take long to realize they made a horrible mistake.
"By 10:05 I knew we had a problem," Charlie says of that Sunday night when the slanderous story aired. "None of it was true."
Also in this episode, senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) eagerly reunites with new love interest Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer), who's reporting on a New York fundraiser for Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
Jim books an expensive hotel suite where they can enjoy some "discretionary time." But first Hallie wants her reporter friend Aubrey Lyons (Melanie Papalia) to join them for dinner and meet ACN Web guru Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) on a blind date.
The meal doesn't go well.
Aubrey channels the Libertarian views of Republican candidate Ron Paul -- we don't need government, we need freedom -- provoking Neal into a heated rebuttal.
And crashing the dinner is Romney spokeswoman Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer), who ratted on Jim when he gave away an exclusive interview to competitor Hallie. Jim tries to ease the tension by offering strategies for improving Romney's election chances.
Those ideas have been suggested, Taylor responds, and then drops a bombshell: "I was fired tonight."
"We need to rebound from dinner," says Hallie, alone with Jim at last. As they begin to embrace in their candlelit room, however, Hallie learns she must board a plane in 90 minutes to cover an added campaign stop.
So much for discretionary time.
Finally, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) confides in his latest girlfriend, gossip reporter Nina Howard (Hope Davis), that he's worried about ratings. Nina urges Will to soften his image by going on a fluffy morning talk show and discussing his farm boy upbringing.
Unfortunately, the TV hosts humiliate Will by coercing him into wearing a football helmet and throwing a pass. Will's aim is as bad as Nina's advice.
"I embarrassed the whole team this morning," Will admits. "It won't happen again."