Utah's Mike Lee takes on HBO over 'Newsroom' jab
Politics • Freshman senator says TV show got his position on 14th Amendment wrong.
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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee reached out to an HBO executive this week after an episode of the new hit show "The Newsroom" portrayed the Utah Republican as an extremist hellbent on tossing out a constitutional amendment.

The fictional show, created by award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, is about a crusading nightly TV newscast stepping away from "objective journalism" to call out public officials on their actions and half-truths.

But Lee says the show needs to fact check its own half-truths.

In Sunday night's episode, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) goes after several well-known figures in the tea party, starting with Lee and his 2010 race against then-Sen. Bob Bennett.

"Bob Bennett, the most conservative member of the Senate, is going to lose his primary race to a guy named Mike Lee, because Lee found room to the right of Bennett," McAvoy says.

"You wouldn't think that was possible," responds the news division chief, Charlie Skinner, played by Sam Waterston. "How is there room to the right of Bob Bennett?"

"For starters," McAvoy answers, "the centerpiece of Mike Lee's stump speech is repealing the 14th Amendment. It's an applause line, and he's going to win his primary by double digits."

Actually, Bennett lost his re-election hopes in the Utah Republican Convention, not in a primary. Lee eventually won his seat after defeating Republican Tim Bridgewater and later Democrat Sam Granato.

But Lee says "The Newsroom" is making up material to use against him, and he wanted HBO to know that moving forward.

Lee's office argues the senator never said he wanted to repeal the 14th Amendment, though he has supported "clarifying" the interpretation of its language that grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born within its borders. (The amendment also protects due process and equal protection under the law.)

Utah's freshman senator had campaigned on the idea that children born of foreign citizens on U.S. soil shouldn't automatically be U.S. citizens, referring to such offspring as "anchor babies."

He phoned HBO Co-President Richard Plepler on Monday to press his case, says Lee spokesman Brian Phillips.

If HBO wants to skewer the senator, Phillips says, that's fine but be factual.

"Lee obviously understands he is a public official and open to criticism," Phillips adds, "but this particular mistake was especially egregious and deserved to be corrected."

HBO officials did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Sunday's episode has riled up conservative websites and supporters of the tea party on social media for painting the movement as radical.

At one point in the show, the fictional news director, Skinner, compares Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to redbaiter Joe McCarthy and calls out several conservative darlings, including Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sorkin, who also wrote the popular "West Wing" series for NBC, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes in recent years.

tburr@sltrib.com