A basketball shot clock, of all things, proves the undoing of an ethically challenged TV journalist on “Red Team III,” Episode 17 of HBO’s “The Newsroom.”
ACN senior producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), determined to win a Peabody Award for investigative reporting, deviously “cooked” an interview with a retired Marine Corps general (Stephen Root).
By editing out one key word, Jerry made it appear the general said U.S. Special Forces sprayed lethal sarin gas during “Operation Genoa,” a daring rescue mission that saved two Marines from public beheadings.
Jerry might have gotten away with his deception if not for a televised March Madness game that’s visible on the interview video. Executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) takes a close look and discovers the shot clock jumps forward and back in time – damning evidence that Jerry doctored the tape.
“You forgot about the shot clock,” Mac exclaims to Jerry. “Who’s ever going to believe us again? You’re fired!”
Mac then breaks the devastating news to staff that they aired a libelous, reputation-ruining story watched by 5.8 million viewers.
“We have to retract Genoa tonight,” she says, tears welling in her eyes. “All of it.”
Jerry doesn’t go quietly. He files a wrongful termination suit seeking $5 million in damages, claiming he was scapegoated and rendered unemployable. The debacle wasn’t his fault alone, he argues. It was “institutional failure.”
Now ACN has lawyered up, bringing in four high-powered, high-priced attorneys led by Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden).
Among those Rebecca questions is executive producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), who opposed airing the Genoa story out of concerns that such inflammatory accusations would endanger American lives. Don pins the crisis solely on Jerry.
“He digitally re-mastered an interview. That was the all of it,” Don states emphatically. “There was no institutional failure.”
The fateful decision to air the investigative bombshell occurred at the third meeting of ACN’s Red Team, colleagues tasked with finding gaps in 11 months of research.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” cautions senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), provoking a defensive retort from Jerry.
Agreeing with Jim are financial reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) and techie Neal Sampat (Dev Patel). Siding with Jerry are Mac and news executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). Casting the deciding vote is anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).
“I trust Charlie and Mac,” Will says after a long pause.
Pushback erupts immediately after the story airs when Charlie gets a furious phone call from the general, rightfully insisting he was edited out of context.
Charlie convenes an emergency staff meeting that quickly devolves into tense finger pointing. Then he clandestinely consults his Deep Throat-like contact in Washington, Naval Intelligence liaison Shep Pressman (Frank Wood). Shep earlier gave Charlie a munitions manifest that seemed to indicate sarin was used during the black ops mission.
“Is there a problem with the story?” Charlie asks worriedly. Instead of answering, Shep displays photos of his drug-addicted son David, who died at age 19 after being fired by ACN.
Then Shep dramatically slaps Charlie in the face, blaming him for David’s untimely death.
And that munitions manifest? Fake! A vengeful “screw you” designed to trick ACN into broadcasting a false story.
With their credibility in tatters, Charlie, Will and Mac go to parent company owner Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) and submit their resignations. But Leona surprisingly reveals her pride in ACN, even though the money-losing network is often out of step with her conservative values.
“You will resign when I fire you out of petty malice and not before,” Leona orders Charlie.
“Leona, we don’t have the trust of the public anymore,” he angrily replies.
“Get it back!” Leona yells.