The final season of HBO’s “The Newsroom” — an Aaron Sorkin-penned, hourlong drama featuring tousle-haired reporters intently thumbing their BlackBerrys during world events — has an Edward Snowden-esque plot line for its last six episodes. When we are not committing fearless acts of journalism, e.g. covering up what REALLY happened in Benghazi, we watch premium cable like everyone else. Nobody loves Lena Dunham’s Girls like Glenn Greenwald (he’s a total Marnie!).
So we tuned in, not only because we are huge Olivia Munn fans, but to witness the Sorkifying of our origin story. Here’s our hot take:
Natasha Vargas-Cooper: When the episode opened on the Boston marathon, I thought, “This is exactly what this tragedy needs, more romantic comedy beats.”
Peter Maass: Btw, the show literally stole a line from a story I wrote. My NYT Magazine story about Laura and Glenn, from the summer of 2013. Second graph, actually: “Promising sensitive information, the stranger told Poitras to select long pass phrases that could withstand a brute-force attack by networked computers. “Assume that your adversary is capable of a trillion guesses per second,” the stranger wrote. I know, I was both flattered and creeped out.
I mean, nice to know that Sorkin reads my work.
Peter Maass: Something I didn’t realize until watching Newsroom–there are waterproof thumb drives.
Margot Williams: It was in a Plastic Bag.
NVC: Micah, how many toilet tanks did you have to fish through before your computer was encrypted?
Micah Lee: 16.
Maass: Micah’s correlate in Newsroom (Neal, played by Dev Patel, but I think you could do a better job) uses AES Crypt. What do we think of that? Who uses AES Crypt and why?
Lee: Well AES is the Advanced Encryption Standard, one of the most popular and widely used ciphers. PGP uses AES, and often SSL does too, and so does TrueCrypt. When people are building crypto into software and they need to pick a symmetric cipher, AES is a popular choice
Maass: Okay, and please don’t go quantum theory on me, but we only saw Neal using AES. Are we to assume that he’s also using GPG/PGP?
Lee: No it doesn’t mean he’s using GPG/PGP. When you talk about AES you’re normally talking about crypto where you use one key to encrypt and the same key to decrypt (PGP is public key crypto, where one key encrypts and a different key decrypts) . “Please confirm that no one has ever had a copy of your private key and that it uses a strong passphrase. Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second.” That’s what Snowden sent to Laura. For specific capabilities like that no one outside of NSA really knows, there are only estimates, but I think Snowden said how many guesses per second they could do in Citizenfour (at least according to what he knew) and it was a fuckload.
NVC: If only David Mamet had written this episode.
Maass: For me, the big cliffhanger for the next episode of Newsroom is whether they will go from “encryption key” and take the leap to say “PGP.” And explain PGP–wow, if Sorkin could explain to America how PGP works, he will deserve an Emmy or two.
NVC: I remember the first day I came to First Look and Pierre pulled out his own wallet and said, “Buy yourself an Airgap Computer (TM), it literally comes on an aircloud that protects it from the outside world.”
Maass: Wait, he told me to buy a thumb drive and put it in the women’s room. I don’t suppose…
NVC: The ultimate Meet Cute!
NVC: I wonder why NSA spying doesn’t meet the Sorkin level for primetime. Neal’s classified documents from the leaker are all about riots and murders. What about PRIVACY AND GOVERNMENT OVERREACH DAMNIT, ISN’T THAT SEXY ENOUGH FOR YOU, SORKIN??
Williams: I think the leaker is Carrie Matheson.
NVC: My favorite aspect of this episode is how staunchly all the journalists are against journalism. They don’t believe tweets, they slag on citizen journalism and insist that the noobs leave the “news” to the “professionals;” Will accusing Neal of assisting in espionage for downloading the Toilet Archive.
Maass: The Espionage Act stuff at the end of the episode was promising. Relates to government throwing legal shade on journalists who receive classified info from sources. Neal apparently asked for specific classified documents and seems to have provided some tech support to his leaker (which is one of the things that the government apparently wants to pin on Assange wrt to Manning).
Maass: But (and I’m not being entirely facetious here) the deconstruction of the spread of bad info on Twitter, though old-man grouchy, was pretty clear. Sorkinizing PGP might not be so bad. Sorkinizing™.
Williams: I bet Sorkin has just put Sorkinizing into the script for next week. I don’t think Atlantis Broadcasting Corporation will run the story. Oh right. They *will* run the story for Nielsens. Jane Fonda will push for it.
NVC: And McAvoy will pushback! The Buzzfeed reporter has 81,000 followers maybe they will write about it.
Maass: Will be interesting, from the Sorkin oeuvre point of view, to see whether he does an anti-West Wing on Newsroom, making the White House be the devil for prosecuting journalists and leakers.
NVC: Do you think McAvoy will be pro-reporting on the archive or anti?
Williams: For that answer, you have to re-watch the rant from the opening scene of the first episode: “It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, that’s my answer…
“We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”
Williams: I think he wants to stand up for something rather than against. But i do think he will do it if he can get it confirmed, be sure he’s not being burned and the leaker has integrity. He goes on: “We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men, men who were revered…”. So that and ego.
Maass: That first rant is kind of like Obama’s first state of the union–great oration out of the gate, generally downhill since. And both are now in their prime-time twilights; may they return to brilliance before the lights go out. And may I never again write a sentence that has a half-dozen mixed metaphors.
UPDATE: Lena <3’s Glenn