The Newsroom “Bullies”

If you have read my post on The Newsroom episode about the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, then you should be familiar with most of the characters I am about to mention. In this episode, Don Keefer asks financial news reporter, Sloan Sabbith to fill in for 10:00 anchor, Elliot Hirsch. The main topic on that nights show is the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Sloan is a good friend of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) spokesman, Daisuke Tanaka. She interviews him before the show and gets him to admit off the record that the radiation level is likely to increase from a level 5 (Three-Mile Island level) to a level 7 (Chernobyl level).

Sloan asks Will for advice on how to get Tanaka to admit that level is increasing on the air. He then criticizes her for letting her guests off the hook on her show when she knows they are lying:

Sloan: “So I’m hosting Elliot’s show tonight.”

Will: “I know, I’m the one who suggested you.”

Sloan: “You really think I can do it?”

Will: “No, I have no idea. So we’re gonna find out.”

Sloan: “All right. Well, your exuberant confidence notwithstanding, I have the spokesperson…”

Will: “[interrupts] from TEPCO, I know.”

Sloan: “He just told me off the record, that reactor three is causing what is a level seven, not a level five radiation leak. What’s the trick to getting him to say it on the record?”

Will: “There is no trick. You just don’t stop until he tells the truth.”

Sloan: “What do you mean you don’t stop?”

Will: “I mean you don’t stop. Sloan, I watch your show at 4:00 and you’re brilliant. But you let guests say things that I know you know aren’t true. And then you just move on. Ask the damn follow-up and then demonstrate with facts how the guest is lying. You can’t just sit there and be a facilitator for whatever bullshit the guest wants to feed your viewers. They’re not coming on to plug a move. It’s not Jimmy Kimmel. You knowingly, passively, allow someone to lie on your air, and maybe you’re not a drug deal, but you’re sure as hell the guy who drives the dealer around in your car. Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t. Show me something.”

Sloan tries to follow Will’s advice, which causes her to accuse the company translator of misrepresenting her words and release the information that Tanaka told her off the record:

 

 

Sloan: “What’s the condition of each reactor?”

Translator: “[translates question into Japanese]”

Tanaka: “[Responds in Japanese]”

Translator: “All six reactors are in stable condition.”

Don [watching from control room]: “Great, let’s wrap up.”

Sloan: “What about the partial meltdown at reactor three?”

Translator: “[translates into Japanese]”

Don: “Wrap up for me.”

Sloan: “[Interrupts Tanaka] Excuse me, that’s not what I asked. I’m asking him specifically about the core damage at reactor three.”

Don: “What’s happening?”

Translator: “[Translates into Japanese].”

Tanaka: “[Responds in Japanese].”

Translator: “We know of no core damage at any of the reactors.”

Sloan: “That’s not what Mr. Tanaka just said. He said our engineers can’t get close enough to confirm that. Please translate exactly what I’m asking and exactly what Mr. Tanaka is answering, including what I’m saying now, because I want him to be aware that he’s being misrepresented.”

Translator: “Miss Sabbith, I am translating. He is not being misrepresented.”

Sloan: “Ask him if he believed the radiation levels are going to a seven.”

Translator: “[translates question into Japanese].”

Don: “Please, please don’t go rogue.”

Tanaka: “[Responds in Japanese]”

Translator: “The radiation was categorized at level four and then recategorized at level five. And that’s where it should remain.”

Sloan: “Ma’am, he didn’t say that’s where it should remain. You did. Furthermore, he told me…you know what? I’m just gonna…Tanaka-san [speaks Japanese].”

Don: “And now we’re doing the broadcast in Japanese…We’ll be right back after this. Just say that. Say it in English.”

Sloan: “[rips out ear piece] [continues conversing with Tanaka in Japanese].”

Don: “[screams] Put me back!]”

Sloan: “Mr. Tanaka, your company had this incident rated at level four, then adjusted to level five. How confident are you that that’ll be the highest level we see?”

Don: “At least we’re back to English.”

Tanaka: “[responds in Japanese]”

Translator: “At this point we see no reason that that level will need future escalation.”

Sloan: “Well, that’s simply not what Mr. Tanaka told me on the phone earlier today.”

Don: “No, no.”

Sloan: “When I spoke with him earlier, he said there’s enough evidence to raise the level to seven…”

Don: “Go back to Japanese.”

Sloan: “And now he’s not saying it, so I am.”

Don: “Oh, my God!”

Sloan: “So there it is. The Fukushima nuclear power plant is saying that the level four radiation leak that was raised to level five has a chance at being raised to level seven, which is the difference between life and gruesome death. We’ll be back after this with Sarah Bernhardt.”

Don: “Sandra Bernhard, you idiot! Oh, what the hell does it matter?!”

I worked as a reporter for several years, so I am familiar with what happens when you present information that you have received off the record. In fact in many cases you can get fired for such an action, which is almost what happened to Sloan. However, in this case, I think exposing what Tanaka said off the record is the right thing. Though the show implies that the reason Sloan did this is because she wanted to impress Will, I think that reporters have a duty to report danger even if they do not get it on the record. However, reporters typically find ways around reporting off-the-record information by talking to other sources or using logic to show that the source is not describing the whole pictures and these options are not really portrayed in the show. Ultimately, though, Sloan did the right thing. While TEPCO does releases the information that reactor three reached radiation level seven later in the episode, Sloan’s exposing of that information may have saved some people from danger, especially since in reality, some of the radiation levels in villages surrounding the Fukushima plant have been confirmed to be greater than those caused by Chernobyl.

 

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, convenient racism.

Advertisements

Cloud Atlas: Fiction is Immortal

The third story in the Cloud Atlas sextet is “Half Lives: A Luisa Rey Mystery,” which the reader later finds out is a work of fiction being read by one of the later characters in the novel. Luisa Rey is a serious reporter who is stuck working for a tabloid in the fictional Buenas Yerbas, California, 1975. Luisa meets Rufus Sixsmith by chance one night. Sixsmith was formerly a scientist at the Seaboard HYDRA nuclear power plant on nearby Swannekke Island. Sixsmith tells Luisa that he was fired from Seaboard for expressing his belief that the plant is not safe. Luisa attends the unveiling of the plant at Swannekke and listens to a speech by Seaboard CEO, Alberto Grimaldi. Grimaldi claims the Swannekke plant will help end the United States’s dependence on oil for fuel:

“Our great nation suffers from a debilitating addiction.”

Alberto Grimaldi, Seaboard CEO and Newsweek Man of the Year, is king of the dramatic pause.

“Its name is Oil.”

He is gilded by the podium lights.

“Geologists tell us, just seventy-four billion gallons of this Jurassic ocean scum remain in the Persian Gulf. Enough, maybe, to see out our century? Probably not. The most imperative question facing the USA, ladies and gentlemen, is ‘Then what?’”

Alberto Grimaldi scans his audience. In the palm of my hand.

“Some bury their heads in the sand fantasize about wind turbines, reservoirs, and”— wry half smile—” pig gas.”

Appreciative chuckle.

“At Seaboard we deal in realities.”

Voice up.

“I am here today to tell you that the cure for oil is right here, right now, on Swannekke Island!” He smiles as the cheers subside.

“As of today, domestic, abundant, and safe atomic energy has come of age! Friends, I am so very, very proud to present one of the major engineering innovations in history … the HYDRA-Zero reactor!” (103)

Sixsmith watches the same speech from the television in his home and feels even more compelled to expose that the Swannekke plant is unsafe:

Frustrated and weary, Rufus Sixsmith addresses the TV.

“And when the hydrogen buildup blows the roof off the containment chamber? When prevailing winds shower radiation over California?”

He turns the set off and squeezes the bridge of his nose. I proved it. I proved it. You couldn’t buy me, so you tried intimidation. I let you, Lord forgive me, but no longer. I’m not sitting on my conscience any longer. (107)

Shortly after his vow, Sixsmith is murdered by Bill Smoke, an assassin for Seaboard.

Luisa begins to investigate Sixsmith’s murder and realizes that he had written a report with all of his findings and was going to go public with it just before his death:

“He was murdered, Jakes.”

Jakes represses a here-we-go-again face.

“Who by?”

“Seaboard Corporation. Of course.”

“Ah. His employer. Of course. Motive?”

Luisa forces herself to speak calmly and ignore Jakes’s mock conviction.

“He’d written a report on a reactor type developed at Swannekke B, the HYDRA. Plans for Site C are waiting approval. When it’s approved, Seaboard can license the design for the domestic and overseas market— the government contracts alone would mean a stream of revenue in the high tens of millions, annually. Sixsmith’s role was to give the project his imprimatur, but he hadn’t read the script and identified lethal design flaws. In response, Seaboard buried the report and denied its existence.”

“And your Dr. Sixsmith did what?”

“He was getting ready to go public.” Luisa slaps the newspaper. “This is what the truth cost him.” (p. 114)

Luisa befriends Seaboard scientist Isaac Sachs who gives her a copy of Sixsmith’s report: “some five hundred pages of tables, flowcharts, mathematics, and evidence” (140). However, before she can use it to expose Seaboard, Bill Smoke pushes her car containing both her and the report off a bridge. Luisa manages to the escape but is unable to save the report. Meanwhile, a plane with both Grimaldi and Sachs as passengers explodes mid-flight, killing everyone onboard. Seaboard’s head of security, Joe Napier, seeks out Luisa after she is attacked by Smoke. He pleads with her to drop the story and save herself. Federal Power Commissioner, Lloyd Hooks takes over as CEO of Seaboard. It becomes apparent that Hooks hired Smoke to kill Luisa, Sixsmith, Sachs and Grimaldi to ensure the success of his coup. Luisa receives the location of another copy of the report in a letter from Sixsmith delivered after his death. She is able to get it but Smoke and Napier kill each other in the process. Luisa is able to expose Hook and the following article is printed about him:

LLOYD HOOKS SKIPS $ 250,000 BAIL PRESIDENT FORD VOWS TO “ROOT OUT CROOKS WHO BRING IGNOMINY TO CORPORATE AMERICA” A BYPD spokesman confirmed the newly appointed CEO of Seaboard Power Inc. and former Federal Power Commissioner Lloyd Hooks has fled the country, forfeiting the quarter-million-dollar bail posted Monday. The latest twist to “Seaboardgate” comes a day after Hooks swore to “defend my integrity and the integrity of our great American company against this pack of nefarious lies.” President Ford entered the fray at a White House press conference, condemning his former adviser and distancing himself from the Nixon appointee.

“My administration makes no distinction between lawbreakers. We will root out the crooks who bring ignominy to corporate America and punish them with the utmost severity of the law.”

Lloyd Hooks’s disappearance, interpreted by many observers as an admission of guilt, is the latest twist in a series of revelations triggered by a Sept. 4 incident at Cape Yerbas Marina Royale in which Joe Napier and Bill Smoke, security officers at Seaboard Inc.’ s controversial Swannekke Island atomic power stations, shot each other. Eyewitness Luisa Rey, correspondent to this newspaper, summoned police to the crime scene, and the subsequent investigation has already spread to last month’s killing of British atomic engineer and Seaboard consultant Dr. Rufus Sixsmith, the crash of former Seaboard CEO Alberto Grimaldi’s Learjet over Pennsylvania two weeks ago, and an explosion in Third Bank of California in downtown B.Y. which claimed the lives of two people. Five directors at Seaboard Power have been charged in connection with the conspiracy, and two have committed suicide. Three more, including Vice CEO William Wiley, have agreed to testify against Seaboard Corporation. The arrest of Lloyd Hooks two days ago was seen as vindication of this newspaper’s support for Luisa Rey’s exposé of this major scandal, initially dismissed by William Wiley as “libelous fantasy culled from a spy novel and wholly unworthy of a serious response.”  …   Cont. p. 2, Full Story p. 5, Comment p. 11.  (434-435).

This part of Cloud Atlas is yet another example of the life and energy equivalency. Hooks has chosen his human sacrifices to pay for energy, very similar to what the Capital does in The Hunger Games. However, he is unable to murder Luisa and so his plan for that energy fails.

Also, I like to think that the reason that “Half Lives” is described as fiction in Cloud Atlas (character Timothy Cavendish receives a “Half Lives” manuscript later in the novel) is the same as my own reason for reviewing works of fiction about energy. It is far more likely, however, that the work is fictitious so that the audience will consider whether souls can just as easily be contained in characters in fiction as they can in live persons. Stories may in fact be alive, in a sense. Regardless, the fictitious nature of “Half Lives” allows for later characters such as Timothy Cavendish, Somni and Zachry to interact with the story on some level. Cavendish reads “Half Lives” and then his memoirs are made into a film about his life. Somni watches that film and then Zachry’s people deify Somni. Major events of human history are hidden from Somni and Zachry but both are able to interact this text. Fiction is immortal. If this is true, than fiction is great rhetorical tool for moving ideas throughout history.

 

Energy narrative characteristics found in this novel: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, exaggerated inequalities, impedes labor unions/civil rights campaigners, segregation, insurrection