The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin series under fire over campus rape storyline

The widely-criticised episode implies a man's story should be believed over the woman he is said to have raped

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The Independent Culture

The Newsroom has been accused of having a “women problem” before, but now Aaron Sorkin has come under fire for a rape storyline that implies male perpetrators are to be believed over female victims.

The latest episode has been criticised for its portrayal of female rape victims after TV news producer Don Keefer said he felt morally obligated to believe the man’s side of the story because he had not yet been convicted of rape.

The episode’ storyline followed a Princeton student who starts a website allowing women on campus to out their rapists after the city justice system failed to prosecute two fraternity members who she claimed raped her.

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The student is tracked down by the fictional news network ACN for a debate with her alleged attacker live on air. Don had also interviewed the man she claims raped her and when she asks him who he believes, the producer says he felt obliged to take the man’s side over hers.

The storyline has been criticised by The Newsroom’s own writer Alena Smith, who tweeted to say she felt uncomfortable with the storyline and had been “kicked out of the room” by Sorkin when she protested against it.

Sorkin has since responded to her claims, saying he was short on time and “needed to move on” to finish the script so "excused her from the room".

Elsewhere in the media, the episode has been widely-panned, with Time magazine’s James Poniewozik criticising its reliance on “terrible straw-man arguments” and default assumption that “all men are innocent and all women are not only lying, but evil”.

The New Yorker’s TV critic Emily Nussbaum said it was disappointing that Don, who is normally a sympathetic character, doesn’t push for more incisive coverage of sexual violence.

“Instead, he argues that the idealistic thing to do is not to believe her story. Don’t fighting for no coverage: he’s so identified with falsely accused men and so focussed on his sorrowful, courtly discomfort that, mainly, he just wants to issue to go away,” she wrote.

The episode was also broadcast in the US at an insensitive time amid an ongoing public debate about the veracity of an article published in Rolling Stone about a gang rape at the University of Virginia.

Despite being written and filmed months ago, its airing also follows the numerous allegations of sexual assault made publicly against Bill Cosby.

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