Friday, May 11, 2007

Flowers? For ME?

I'm not a huge fan of Roger Ebert's film criticism. I'm not saying he's bad, but I rarely read the Sun-Times and the last time I saw his syndicated broadcast from start-to-finish, the late Gene Siskel was still hosting.

In recent years, Ebert has been battling cancer, and he's currently recovering from another operation. Well, a couple of days ago, he received some flowers and a handwritten card. They were from Rob Schneider.

Schneider, of course, is a former writer and cast member of "Saturday Night Live." Since then, he's made plenty of comedies, none of which are critically acclaimed. They've all been panned by numerous critics, and for the most part Schneider never made a fuss. However, for some reason, Schneider took offense in 2005 to Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein's pan of "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," responding with full-page ads in Hollywood trade papers. He took a shot at Goldstein, pointing out he never won any journalistic awards and basically called him a "third-rate, unfunny pompous reporter who's never been acknowledged by his peers." Ebert took it upon himself to respond, pointing out in his column that Goldstein had won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a award, and the Publicists' Guild award for lifetime achievement. Furthermore, Ebert wrote, "as chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize...Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks." Not surprisingly, the two kind of went back and forth until both fell into chilly silence.

Then all of a sudden, he gets these flowers.

It's kind of refreshing to see this happen between two people who've shared a good deal of professional animosity. Journalism's obviously a tough career. It's tough to move up, and until you do, the pay's usually lousy, you're overworked, and when you've got a small check and enormous stres working against you, the only thing that keeps you going is probably job satisfaction, but nothing on earth can guarantee that for everyone. So you do what you have to do to succeed, which probably means getting tough interviews, and to get consistent access, you've got to play ball.

It's probably been that way forever, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to see it everywhere. You see it in certain White House reporters who are never heard at press conferences because of the questions they ask. You see it with certain Sunday morning news shows that get better guests because the host has no problem killing time asking about football instead of tougher questions one might get from another host on another channel. You see it in local television shows too, probably small town have to have a smooth way with words or good diplomatic skills, but it gets very frustrating when a reporter's getting too cozy, too close, too friendly with their subject in exchange for exclusive access.

Granted, Roger Ebert is basically a film columnist/critic/buff and Rob Schneider isn't exactly an important figure in the world, but you can still appreciate what Schneider's done. Critics ought to be honest about their opinions, regardless of what it'll do to their professional relationships with certain artists, and while Ebert's honest, direct opinions have obviously ticked off Schneider, the flowers acknowledge Ebert's responsibility as a critic (not unless you believe a bouquet of flowers will somehow turn Ebert into a fan of his work). Imagine if Vice-President Cheney did the same for Seymour Hersh. A ridiculous pipe dream, but everyone's entitled to romantic delusions now and then.


At Saturday, May 12, 2007, Blogger MK said...

I think the lesson here is that we are all people, even if there is a "media feud" going on. We talk about this a lot when discussing if we'd act like a journalist or a human being to save lives, etc., but this is an opportunity to think about it through a different lens. The flip of this scenario is interesting. Instead of someone sending flowers to the journalist, think about if someone that you cover regularly is sick or grieving, isn't it alright to send a note or flowers? Does that harm our journalistic integrity to admit we are human and say "I hope you get better" or "I'm sorry for your loss." I don't think it would be unacceptable, I think it would unacceptable not to act that way.

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