Aaron Sorkin says the staff writer on his HBO drama The Newsroom who has distanced herself from last night’s controversial episode about campus rape with tweets about being kicked out of the writers room when she argued against the storyline, had given “enthusiastic support” for the version of the episode he wrote in response to her debate.

TV critics have been bashing Sunday’s episode of Sorkin’s cable-news drama series, which is not news, since lisademoraescolumn__140603223319The Newsroom is the series they most love to hate in all of TV. But with last night’s episode, which included a timely storyline about campus rape (though it was written long in advance of Rolling Stone’s now crumbled blockbuster article about an alleged gang rape at a UVA frat house) the critics seemed to really draw themselves up to their full height and let Sorkin have it in the neck. One scene in particular —  in which Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) tells a Princeton student who claims she was raped that, as a journalist, he is “morally obligated” to believe her alleged attacker’s innocence until the man is proven guilty — had critics flinging themselves on their crunchy chairs and gnawing at the cushions in an ecstasy of outrage.

This seemed to inspire show staff writer Alena Smith to begin tweeting Sunday night, by way of distancing herself from the episode, while citing in particular New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum-penned critique of the episode, ‘The Newsroom’s Crazy-Making Campus-Rape Episode:

https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541801655897817088
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802313799585793
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802481869524993
https://twitter.com/internetalena/status/541802772086001664

This morning, Sorkin acknowledged Smith had objected to the storyline during the writing process, and that “there was some healthy back and forth.”

“After a while I needed to move on (there’s a clock ticking) but Alena wasn’t ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn’t let me do that so I excused her from the room,” he said.

Sorkin said he wrote a new draft of “the Princeton scenes” which is the version HBO telecast last night. “Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story.”

Sorkin said he was even more surprised to learn Smith “had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That’s what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust.”

In New Yorker’s review of the episode, Nussbaum notes Don tells the student he’s obligated “to believe the sketchy guy’s story. She’s stunned. ‘This isn’t a courtroom,’ she points out, echoing the thoughts of any sane person. ‘You’re not legally obligated to presume innocence.’ ‘I believe I’m morally obligated,’ Don says, in his sad-Don voice. WTF LOL OMFG, as they say on the Internet.”

Here is Sorkin’s statement in full:

Let me take a moment to say that I understand that the story in last night’s episode (305–”Oh Shenandoah”) about Don trying to persuade a Princeton student named Mary (Sarah Sutherland) not to engage in a “Crossfire”-style segment on his show has catalyzed some passionate debate this morning. I’m happy to hear it.
It catalyzed some passionate debate in our writers room too. Arguments in the writers room at The Newsroom are not only common, they’re encouraged. The staff’s ability to argue with each other and with me about issues ranging from journalistic freedom vs. national security to whether or not Kat Dennings should come back and save the company is one of their greatest assets and something I look for during the hiring process. Ultimately I have to go into a room by myself and write the show but before I do I spend many days listening to, participating in and stoking these arguments. As with any show, I have to create a safe environment where people can disagree and no one fears having their voice drowned out or, worse, mocked.
Alena Smith, a staff writer who joined the show for the third season, had strong objections to the Princeton story and made those objections known to me and to the room. I heard Alena’s objections and there was some healthy back and forth. After a while I needed to move on (there’s a clock ticking) but Alena wasn’t ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn’t let me do that so I excused her from the room.
The next day I wrote a new draft of the Princeton scenes–the draft you saw performed last night. Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story. But I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That’s what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust.