David Niven would understand, Howard.
The Daily Beast has canned Howard Kurtz, the only current official news media critic in captivity, and now CNN, long the home of Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” panel show that reviews the media’s choice and manner of news coverage during the week, is “reviewing” his status with that show as well. The sudden downturn in Kurtz’s fortunes is, we are told, the result of an accumulation of mistaken stories, missed facts and sloppy reporting of his own. I’ll buy that explanation, but there is more here too.
Kurtz’s departure was overdue. I have followed him for years, and his coverage, as I have pointed out periodically, was unacceptably politically slanted for a quasi-journalism ethicist. A typical performance was when he recently criticized —correctly—Republicans who were (and are) trying to twist the Boston bombing tragedy into an argument against immigration reform. In a reply to a comment on the recent Ethics Alarms post on the same topic, I noted that media commentators who saw nothing wrong with the Democrats using a Newtown massacre that would not have been altered in any way by background checks to push for more gun controls were suddenly applying the correct standards to a similar conservative manipulation of the Boston Marathon attack: Continue reading
WordPress, for only the second time in three years, was kind enough to include my recent post about Stephen Sondheim’s footnote lament that musicals were the only art form largely reviewed by incompetents. This has brought a lot of new visitors to Ethics Alarms, and I hope they are interested in ethics as well as musicals. One such new reader is a Prof. Ratigan, who apparently does some reviewing himself. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the Jan 3, 2013 post (Here’s something weird—last year’s Jan.3 post was also about Sondheim!) Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?…
Two points. The first is the literacy issue. I think it’s interesting that it would appear that a good reviewer is either a novice or a master where everything in between is amateur. I’ve been reviewing movies for the past year (on a blog) and I’ve definitely felt that in my own stuff. The more movies I watched and connections I could draw, the more it became apparent how much I really needed to do to become proficient. I needed to read a lot more literature, read a lot more scripts, and watch a lot more movies. Otherwise, I would start to create a context but have a nagging feeling that the director/writer/actor (who are often scholars of film) might/probably know more than me and were doing something else. It seems that these musical reviewers aren’t expected to take the next step from reviewer to analyst. Continue reading
OK, but Stephen: compared to you, everyone is an ignoramus!
Stephen Sondheim completed his personal memoirs about his career in American musicals more than a year ago, but they are so thoughtful, detailed and dense that I keep discovering new treasures, provocative observations by a first-rate mind. Yesterday, I found one that was buried in a footnote, in the middle of a technical tangent that most readers, like me in my first tour through the books, probably skimmed.
Sondheim pointedly did not use his erudite analysis and reflections in his two retrospectives (“Finishing the Hat” and “Look! I Made a Hat!”) to settle scores with critics, a group that obviously annoyed and to some extent handicapped him over the course of his long career. In this brief footnote, however, the composer/lyricist delivers a withering verdict:
“The sad truth is that musicals are the only public art form reviewed mostly by ignoramuses.”
At the end of the note, he repeats the indictment, this time changing the description to “illiterates.” Sondheim is accusing theater critics of engaging in professional conduct they are incompetent to perform, rendering expert opinions that are not really expert, and as a result, misinforming the public and undermining the efforts of serious artists, like him. If he is right, not only are the critics unprofessional and unethical, the media organs that hire and publish them are unethical as well. Continue reading
On this date in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt made his famous “Man in the Arena” speech, one of the most inspiring calls to courage and personal character ever spoken. Its most quoted passage is this:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.“
It’s an important quote, and not only because it carries the essence of a great man and leader. Teddy’s words should be revisited regularly by all those, including me, who stand on the sidelines passing judgment on the words and deeds of men and women who devote themselves to public service and elected office. It is not that we should not hold them to high standards and subject them to just criticism, for we should. We must always remember, however, that they have had the courage to undertake great responsibility and personal risk to accomplish what they believe is right, and though they may be misguided, mistaken, flawed or unsuccessful, they deserve our respect for that.
[Many thanks to my friend, Tom Vesper, a great trial lawyer and legal ethics specialist, for reminding me of the date and the speech.]
I would not have been able to resist giving the the Unethical Website title to Gizmodo [see previous post] unless there was a more typical candidate (as in “not criminal”) available. Thanks to a tip from Ethics Alarms quote-maven Tom Fuller, I give you Eater.com. It hasn’t stolen anything. It just sold out the interest of its own readers—lovers of fine foods and patrons of excellent restaurants—for a splashy feature destined to attract a flood of traffic, and to stick a knife in the backs of its competition. Continue reading
When Variety recently announced that it was firing its in-house film and drama critics, there was much tut-tutting and garment-rending over the impending demise of professional reviewing in magazines, newspapers and TV stations. The villain, the renders cry, lies, as in The Case of the Slowly Dying Newspapers, with the web, which allows any pajama-clad viewer of bootleg videos to write film reviews, and any blogger who cares about theater to write a review of a play. “I think it’s unfortunate that qualified reviewers are being replaced,” said one movie industry pundit, “but that’s what’s happening.”
I say, “Good. It’s about time.” (And also: “QUALIFIED?”) If there has ever been an excessively influential non-professional profession that caused as much damage as reviewing, I’m not sure I want to know about it. The end of full-time film and drama critics as we know them can only prove to be a boon for artists and audiences alike. Continue reading