of the
funniest episodes of one of my favorite shows of all time – The West Wing —–
is “The U.S. Poet Laureate,” from the show’s third season. I like to call it
“Aaron Sorkin Vs. The Internet.”

The episode goes a
little something like this: Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) finds out there is a
website devoted to him on the internet. He logs on under an assumed name and
engages the posters. When Josh’s predictable ineptitude for internet etiquette and
his desire to prove that he is, in fact, Josh Lyman invokes the ire of the
message board, hilarity, of course, ensues – Josh shoots his mouth off, the
press picks up on, Lyman is eventually made to look like a fool by C.J. but not
before he manages to paint the internet with one of Sorkin’s huge brushes,
throwing around phrases like “Parliament smoking” and “mumu wearing.” Because
they decided to voice their opinion on the internet among colleagues, they were
pathetic losers who lived at home with their cats, went the implication.

This story had its
basis in real life, where Aaron Sorkin posted under an assumed name on the
message boards of the Television Without Pity website, shooting his mouth off
about the show and how people took it too seriously and how he was just writing
“entertainment” and wasn’t trying to make a statement on anything. This fracas
got picked up by the press and added to Sorkin’s many media woes at the time.
(It was the first time a television creator got press for arguing with TWOP,
but the site is still provoking television writers – last summer, Rescue Me
co-creator Peter Tolan engaged TWOP readers over that show’s controversial “was
it rape or wasn’t it” sex scene, eventually accusing them of beating a dead

Still the scene in
that West Wing episode is funny stuff, played brilliantly by Whitford
and Alison Janney, but it’s also the kind of old-school elitism that ran
throughout The West Wing. There were many times – Toby Ziegler’s rant
about the state of the modern protest group is another – where the tone was if
not outright derogatory – “How dare these people try to experiment with
different forms of communication, of dialogue,” it seemed like Sorkin was
saying. “Don’t they know there are channels for this sort of thing? You
don’t have an Ivy League degree – you didn’t get this job – therefore, who
cares what you have to say?”

I bring this up
because at the Television Critic’s Association recent winter press tour, Sorkin
went on a tear to reporters while promoting the new round of episodes for his
NBC show Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Sorkin, who I think is a
brilliant writer, said a lot of ridiculous things during his interviews with
the press, including implying ex-girlfriend that Kristin Chenowith was a liar
for saying some of their conversations appeared verbatim on the show. (Probably
shouldn’t have implied she was a whore for posing in FHM, there,

the topics of Sorkin decided to shoot his mouth off about was the rise of
amateurism and a favorite target, bloggers. Here’s what he said as written by
Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune:

“Oh, well, that’s a constant theme of
mine. … I do believe that we’ve seen an enormous rise in amateurism. One of the
things I find troubling about the Internet, as great a resource tool as it is,
and as nice as it is that we can all communicate with each other, and that
everybody has a voice – the thing is, everybody’s voice oughtn’t be equal.

“You people are credentialed journalists in here… There’s a
certain understanding that you had to be good to have gotten that job. You had
to have done something. If I start the Sorkin blog and if that opinion by your
newspaper is raised to the level – when the New York Times quotes a blogger,
saying ‘Pastyboy2000 says this,’ suddenly you give it the imprimatur of the New
York Times – that’s, first of all, lazy on the part of the New York Times,
second of all, incredibly misleading.”

You know where I read that? On
Maureen Ryan’s blog.

Aaron, with the newspaper industry in the toilet and more and more Americans –
especially young Americans – getting their news from the internet, your storied
halls of reporting have embraced the blog and the podcast as a way to keep
their industry alive.

This has been discussed on CHUD
before in regards to film, but the idea of the internet as the future is just
as relevant to television reporting. The blog allows those credentialed
journalists to expand upon their thoughts as more and more pages get cut from
their papers and their television criticism jobs get folded into larger “pop
culture” jobs during budget cuts. Their credentials haven’t gone away. Sorkin
is attacking the provider rather than the content itself – because in recent
months, the content on those blogs when it comes to Studio 60 has been
increasingly negative.

The other thing that cheeses me off
about what Sorkin says is his argument regarding The New York Times
quoting blogs and writers on the internet. (Although Sorkin’s real beef is with
the Los Angeles Times, who he accused of running three different stories
in as many months about how “people on the internet don’t like Studio 60”,
including his old adversaries at Television Without Pity.) Sorkin insinuates
that just because a person isn’t “credentialed” means they’re not qualified,
that because they don’t write for a major media outlet means that their opinion
doesn’t count.

The New York Times really were quoting “Pastyboy2000” on a regular
basis, I’d agree with him. But you know what? I don’t think they are. More
often than not, an internet critic quoted in the mass media has proven
themselves to be a talented one. They’ve written something at some point in
time that shows they know what they’re talking about.

use Television Without Pity as an example: There’s a reason why the those guys
get quoted a lot for these stories – it’s one of the oldest television sites on
the internet, and for all their pages and pages of snark, they’ve proven
themselves just as worthy of competing on the level, of say, TV Guide or
Entertainment Weekly. Rob Thomas and Jason Dohring of Veronica Mars
or Jane Espenson of Buffy fame or Will Arnett of Arrested Development
have given exclusive interviews to the site for a reason – they’ve proven to
have a love for television, the same love for television that Aaron Sorkin says
he has.

That’s just one example of the numerous
websites that go beyond
or (CHUD and
THUD, with their Battlestar Galactica coverage and Devin’s commentaries
on Lost and Heroes are another example.) Sorkin seems to think
it’s still 1999 and anyone can just say anything on the internet and it’ll get
run with by the media. He neglects the fact that these sites– from CHUD to the
Futon Critic to Television without Pity — are as credentialed and talented and
take as many precautions to ensure the professionalism of their sites as a
major media outlet.

I do agree with Sorkin that
amateurism and willful ignorance are at all-time highs in this country. I think
that everyone should have an opinion, but we should give more credence to those
who know what they’re talking about. Sorkin’s idea of credentials seems rooted
in a college degree or a job for a newspaper. It’s frustrating to think that
someone who wrote so eloquently on the need for a national discourse and the
transformative power of that discourse can’t reconcile that with his beliefs
about the internet, whether it’s because people made fun of him on it or
because people now are going after Studio 60 on it.

In the end, though, Sorkin is
forgetting a very simple fact, and that’s what the internet has done – and can
do – for him. I wonder if Sports Night would be nearly as beloved as it
is today if the internet didn’t exist. That was a show, like many others, that
found a second life through message boards and blogs, getting the attention it
so rightfully deserved.

Studio 60 was announced last year, the fans of Sorkin’s work – myself
included — online were at the forefront of the show’s buzz. We were the guys
trolling Yahoo groups searching for script pages and printing out our own
copies based on the sides. We were the ones who were convinced how awesome it
was going to be, because it was Sorkin. We hung on every cast announcement and
talked the project up to our friends. And that hype on the internet, in part,
was what contributed to the attention the show began to get as it got closer
and closer to airtime. Because it couldn’t be bad. It was the man who wrote
“Two Cathedrals,” it was the guy responsible for “As long as you have a job, I
have a job, you understand?” It was Sorkin.

Well, your show’s been bad, Aaron.
The plots, the acting, lines like “STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF AFGHANISTAN,”
which I gave you because we both have daddy issues, and “Are you crazy about me
or are you just crazy?”, which I didn’t, because that was too much – you’ve got
the same people who put Bartlet vs. God at the top of their greatest moments of
all time feeling let down and disappointed. You’ve got people who are watching Studio
and thinking “This is the guy my [friend, coworker, son, daughter, mom]
won’t shut up about?” You’ve got people like me who are hanging on, hoping that
your show will get better, who’ve stuck by your work and defended it with all
the passion of one of your characters. They’re doing it in the press, but you
know where else they’re doing it:

Blogs. The internet. People are
going after Studio 60, Sorkin, because they know how great you can be.
They know that you’re capable of true magic. They’re all quoting one of your
own shows back to you:

“Everyone’s waiting for you. I don’t
know for how long.”

So when you go to the press and you
insult and slam and degenerate large segments of the very people who love you
and your work because they’re writing for a website rather than for a
broadside, it makes us all wonder if we were wrong about you. It makes us all
wonder if Sports Night and The American President and The West
were as good as we thought. It makes me wonder if you’ve just been
fooling us all these years.

I never thought
I’d say this, but:

Aaron Sorkin,
please, for your own sake, shut the hell up.