Senator Takes on HBO over 'Newsroom' Allegation

Jeff Daniels stars in "The Newsroom" on HBO.

Aaron Sorkin's take on the Tea Party movement in the latest episode of "The Newsroom" has come under attack from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who takes issue with the series' portrayal of his 2010 campaign.

The show said that Lee wanted to do away with the 14th Amendment. Lee said he only wanted to reinterpret it.

In last Sunday episode, the show's main character, news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), claimed that the centerpiece of the Republican senator's stump speech was repeal of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship to anyone born inside the United States.

"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?"

Right off the bat, the show does take some liberties. Bob Bennett, for instance, was not considered the most conservative member of the Senate. In annual ratings, the American Conservative Union gave him an 84 rating, while it gave Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch a 100 rating.

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But it is the portion of the show about the 14th Amendment that has Lee frustrated.

His office says the senator has never called for outright repeal of the14th Amendment. In addition to citizenship, the 14th Amendment, which was enacted in 1868, addresses U.S. debt and the apportionment of members of Congress. What Lee does support, according to his spokesman, is legislation that would clarify Congress's intent on the amendment's application so that the birthright citizenship clause would not apply to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.

It is Section 1 of the amendment that Lee wants to see clarified. It reads like this: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Read the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and Amendments

Here's a video of Lee explaining his position on the campaign trail in 2010, when the show is set. He says in the clip that he supports a law that would clarify the amendment to give citizenship to children born in the United States only if their parents are citizens, permanent legal residents or in the military.

"We understand it's a fictitious show, and the senator recognizes he is a public official and he is open to criticism,"says Brian Phillips, communications director for Lee. "But with this specific issue, to claim that someone with the senator's background would call for the repeal of constitutional amendment, he felt he needed to address that."

Phillips said that after reaching out to HBO, the senator is satisfied with the conversation and believes the channel will take his complaints seriously.

"The Newsroom" is the brainchild of Sorkin, who also created the popular NBC show "The West Wing." The new show centers on a fictional newsroom but incorporates recent events into the story, sometimes blurring the line between the real and the imagined.

In the most recent episode, the show retold the story of the 2010 Utah Republican primary as a race between Lee and incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett.

In reality, Bennett never participated in the primary because he placed third in the state nominating convention, behind Lee and Republican Tim Bridgewater. Lee would go on to defeat Bridgewater in the primary election and Democrat Sam Granato in the general.

At time of publication, HBO had not responded to requests for comment.

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