Aaron Sorkin is an acquired taste. I get that. But whether you like your Hollywood honchos to be red-meat Republicans, like Clint Eastwood, or dyed in the (blue) wool Democrats like Sorkin, you can’t help but admire Sorkin’s rare talent. “A Few Good Men,” starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, was his first paying gig as a screenwriter. He followed that by writing “The American President,” a movie starring Michael Douglas, and “The West Wing,” a TV drama starring Martin Sheen.
More recently, he was the wordsmith behind the movies “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs.” Sorkin has his quirks, and he doesn’t always hit home runs, but when he swings for the fences — and connects — the ball can leave the park in a hurry.
I’m riffing on Sorkin because I recently binge-watched “The Newsroom,” a TV drama that was one of his towering, no-doubt moonshots. Throughout the series’ three-year run, there was a lot of food for thought for those in the media or communications business. Jane Fonda played the chief executive of a media company which owned a cable TV network around which the series was built. Her character had a particularly telling bit of crisis-communications wisdom in the series’ final episode. After listening to another TV executive complain about how his image is taking a beating in the press, she retorted, “You’ve got a PR problem because you have a real problem.” In other words, before you blame the media for your PR problem, consider the possibility that you have an actual problem.
In some ways it’s sad that we need a writer as talented as Aaron Sorkin to remind us there is a difference between reality and perception, substance and spin. In today’s optics-obsessed culture, when images can be manipulated and facts often seem negotiable, it was worth being reminded — albeit in a fictional TV drama — that PR problems more often than not stem from real problems. Bad acts create PR problems.