'The Newsroom'

John Gallagher Jr. and Emily Mortimer in a scene from "The Newsroom" on HBO. (Melissa Moseley / MCT / January 30, 2013)

“Willie Pete,” Episode 13 of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” refers to military jargon for white phosphorous, a substance that obscures troop positions and inflicts horrific burns.

Nasty as WP is, a special ops team allegedly used a far deadlier weapon -- banned sarin nerve gas -- when rescuing Americans from a remote village in Pakistan. At least that’s what a retired Marine tells ACN’s MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and on-loan producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater).

News Division head Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) seriously doubts the accusations. Still, if sarin were used, ACN has uncovered a scandal of Watergate proportions.

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“Obviously you have to follow up,” Charlie says. “Just do it quietly and carefully.” That’s what Jerry does, directing the newsroom staff late at night as they try to contact anyone who’ll talk about “Operation Genoa.”

ACN also turns to social media, figuring if a village was attacked by nerve gas, someone reported it on Twitter. A translator begins faxing tweets into the newsroom, telling of unmarked helicopters and burned bodies.

“He's describing Operation Genoa,” Mac says breathlessly.

Mac is also keeping tabs on Occupy Wall Street, even while mocking the movement's leaderless dysfunctionality.

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“They’re making the Tea Party look good,” she says to Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), who stubbornly believes OWS will grow in size and relevance.

Mac agrees to book a protest organizer on the “News Night” cablecast, but only if the person is articulate and braced for tough questioning by anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).

Posing tough questions but getting evasive answers is senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), who’s on the road in New Hampshire covering Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Jim irritates his embedded bus mates by repeatedly asking spokeswoman Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer) for specifics on Romney proposals. Taylor unfailingly responds with general talking points.

Newswoman Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer) needles Jim for challenging the status quo. Why such rancor?

“Because we live here and you’re visiting,” she says, knowing Jim took an assignment far below his pay grade.

“Are you really OK with not doing any reporting?” Jim asks his colleagues in frustration. “It’s not a press bus,” he fumes. It’s a vehicle for free media exposure.

Jim’s plea finally resonates with Hallie, who asks a pointed question about women’s rights. Another reporter boldly speaks up.

The result? All three rebels are tossed off the bus in the middle of the night. It’s a victory for journalistic integrity but a nightmare for travel arrangements.

At ACN headquarters in New York, an insider blabbed to gossip reporter Nina Howard (Hope Davis) that Will was not taken off 9/11 anniversary coverage because he had the flu. He was sidelined for being too controversial.

Financial reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) confesses she may have inadvertently leaked the story to Nina's booking agent. But Will and Charlie soon discover and confront the real culprit -- unapologetic Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), head of parent company Atlantis World Media.

“I’m the president of AWM,” barks Reese, long annoyed at Will’s lack of deference. “You don’t meet me half way," he warns. "You meet me the whole way.”

Ignoring Charlie’s advice, Will admits the truth to Nina, appealing to her better nature not to run the embarrassing story. Impressed by such rare candor, she agrees. Nina declines a date request, however, because she discovered from a hacked voice mail that Will still loves Mac.

While combing her hair after a shower, Nina receives a “thank you” call from Mac for not reporting the flu story. But Nina doesn’t tell Mac about Will’s feelings. And Nina has just stepped out of Will’s bathroom.

Seems Nina changed her mind about that date. And seems she wants Will all to herself!

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