The Washington Post, Faking it.

This one’s for you, Bob Hoskins.

You deserved better.

Who-framed-roger-rabbit-Jessica-RabbitIf you come here frequently, you know that I deeply resent lazy, inadequate or inaccurate obituaries of famous and accomplished figures. Obituaries are the beginnings of their legacies, and set the foundations for how, and even if, they will be remembered. Not fairly representing these lives is lousy and lazy journalism, and worse, it is disrespectful to the deceased and contemptuous of history.

Bob Hoskins, the superb and versatile British actor, died this week. He was one of my personal favorites—a better, cockney version of Joe Pesci—but even if he meant nothing to me, the Washington Post’s sloppy and factually wrong obituary today would have been inexcusable. I liked Hoskins’ various tough guys and mobsters, but the film role that blew me away was his amazing portrayal of the human detective trying to unravel a cartoon mystery in the 1988 Disney classic, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Hoskins, in addition to wielding a perfect American accent (he was really a Cockney), was intense, funny, moving and entracing while interacting with characters that were drawn into the scenes long after he performed them. He made the complex conceit of the movie work, and I would rank it among the most impressive acting turns of all time.

Here is how obituary writer Adam Bernstein described Hoskins’ most famous role in the print version of the Post today:

“(He) won over American audiences as a detective who falls in love with a voluptuous cartoon character in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”‘


“Mr. Hoskins was a boozing detective who falls for Jessica Rabbit, a cartoon human of pneumatic proportions who can’t help but bewitch men. “I’m not bad,” insists Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner). “I’m just drawn that way.””

Absolutely, 100% wrong. That’s not the plot of the movie, or even a sub-plot.  Eddie Valiant, Hoskins’ character, doesn’t “fall for” Jessica Rabbit. He doesn’t even like “toons;” he hates them, including the voluptuous wife of Hoskins’ client, Roger Rabbit. The two are only in two scenes together, and there is no romance hinted at, suggested or in evidence.

You see, the Post’s writer, Bernstein, wasn’t familiar with the movie, classic though it is, and didn’t bother to look it up on the web, or consult the Post’s movie critics, or talk to someone literate about cinema, even though he was supposedly paying tribute to the actor whose greatest lasting achievement was this very film, making it essential to know what the hell he was writing about. Bernstein didn’t care. He didn’t care about Hoskins, or his career, or his life, or his fans, or Post readers; he didn’t care about film history, or the archival record, or spreading misinformation. The Washington Post’s editors didn’t care either. They are also culturally illiterate, and don’t care enough to get the facts right; they are as irresponsible as the writer. (The obituary still isn’t right: in the online version, the Post removed the “falls in love” from the first description, but left the second, still flat-out wrong, uncorrected.)

Oh, come on, what’s the big deal, right? It’s just a movie, just an obituary, just a life.

Just a life.

If Bernstein, in his lifetime, creates one sliver of art as unique, brilliant and lasting as Hoskins’ performance as Eddie Valiant, I think he would want it accurately and fairly described for posterity. Since he appears to be a careless hack, that is unlikely. Nonetheless, he should know enough to show appropriate respect when called upon to play a small part in giving Bob Hoskins a proper good-bye.  He failed, and there is no excuse for it.

29 thoughts on “The Washington Post, Faking it.

  1. Boy, this really pisses me off. Every time I consider it impossible for the press to further lower my opinion of their competence, they manage to do even worse at their jobs. Bob Hoskins was absolutely brilliant in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. An unbelievable artist. The movie itself may well be the last truly original idea to emerge from Hollywood.

  2. to paraphrase former White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor “Dude, this was like years ago,”

    History is easy to fake if you just don’t give a damn.

  3. … a better, cockney version of Joe Pesci … Hoskins, in addition to wielding a perfect American accent (he was really a Cockney) …

    Um… do you know what a Cockney is? He wasn’t a Cockney. He wasn’t even a Londoner. He was from Suffolk. All you are noticing is the same versatility that allowed him to play a Cockney.

    And you know how I’m going to come back if you say that that is no big deal, after you yourself have been hammering at that very point.

    • I read two obits that I understood to describe him as having a natural Cockney accent. If that’s untrue, then it it carries on the theme of the post. He had a different accent in every film I saw—that was one of the things that was remarkable about him…until recently, Brits were generally lousy at doing American accents; they found a magic pill or something, because now they are amazing.

      There is no reason someone from Suffolk couldn’t have a Cockney accent, unless the rules of nature change when they cross the Atlantic. I have what was described by a linguist as a neutral mid-West accent, and I was born and bred in Boston, so no, the information, correct or not, that he had a working class London accent would not ring any bells with me.

      I appreciate the information; but as usual, you offer your correction in the most obnoxious, accusatory, demeaning and arrogant way possible. And 80% of the time, corrections with snark are all you offer. Are you like this to everyone all the time, or just here, to me? Because I am pretty sick of it.

      • Look at that last question, and see how you yourself chose to write it. Isn’t that provocative? And isn’t that how practically all your posts are written, as though you yourself have some special fount of insight and that those who disagree bear the burden of proof?

        Here – as in many other posts – you come in pontificating about how others do not know what they are talking about (note your recent post on botched executions, and how you dealt with someone who dared to bring out a different set of values by using him and his comments in a follow up post; perhaps I should prepare a measured comment there at my leisure). No doubt it is often the case that you do know better, and no doubt on many occasions when it is not the case I know no better myself. But, from time to time, I do know better, and it really gets up my nose to see you telling others how things are when you have your own feet of clay all the way up to your armpits. When that happens, I carefully avoid telling you directly, just in case I am wrong myself rather than you being wrong (the two are not mutaually exclusive, and of course the ideal is for us both to be right in different senses, allowing for a synthesis of thesis and antithesis). Rather, I approach the matter elliptically – this time, with a question that gave you the opportunity to declare your basis. Would you have preferred me to tell you that you did not know what you were talking about, rather than asking you so you had the opportunity to show that you did after all? You had every opportunity to carry out the research needed to verify Bob Hoskins’s place of birth, and every opportunity to see what makes a Cockney a Cockney (it would, I agree, have been gratuitously offensive to tell you, what with the implication that you don’t know). If you did do that research, and your authorities differ from my sources, well, my putting things elliptically allowed you to bring those authorities out more readily than if I had been more direct. If you did not do that research, you are guilty of the same lapse of which you accuse others. Yet you find it snarky if I do not come right out and accuse you of being wrong – even if there is the possibility that you are not.

        It appears from what you have just stated that you found that Bob Hoskins could play a Cockney, since obituaries told you that he could do an authentic Cockney accent, and you jumped to the conclusion that he was a Cockney – but isn’t jumping to conclusions about Bob Hoskins the very thing you are criticising as unforgiveable? Ordinarily I would find that very human and forgiveable, in those you criticise as much as in you – but it’s a double standard, the way you do it, and that is highly provoking; provoking me to call you out in much the way you are calling out others, that is. If you look back over previous instances of my presenting different facts to yours in comments replying to posts of yours, you should see a similar pattern. I am dealing out the coin you are dealing, and for you to object to that is either to object to what you do to others – here, your lashing out at a rushed and harried journalist – or for you to advocate a double standard, by which your own failing to verify is not to be judged – and remarked upon – as harshly as those you criticise for failing to verify.

        • To be a Cockney, you must have been born in a certain area of London, accent is not what defines the word, a common misperception.

        • My God, Man! “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

          Read Jack’s very first sentence again . . . and again . . . and again.

          I read two obits that I understood to describe him as having a natural Cockney accent.

          Then apologize.


          • Read Jack’s very first sentence again . . . and again . . . and again.

            “I read two obits that I understood to describe him as having a natural Cockney accent.”

            Then apologize.

            I have nothing to be sorry for, at any rate nothing arising from what you just quoted (though I do see what our host is driving at). Do you see how there is no solid way to get from “I read two obits that I understood to describe him as having a natural Cockney accent” to “… a better, cockney version of Joe Pesci … Hoskins, in addition to wielding a perfect American accent (he was really a Cockney) …”? A Cockney originally meant someone who was “born within the sound of Bow Bells” (a church in the East End of London). It has since broadened somewhat, but it still does not include most of London, let alone Bob Hoskins’s native Suffolk, which is a county that does not even border London (not quite, anyway). If you or I met someone with a natural Cockney accent, we would be fairly safe in treating him like a real Cockney at the time, but we should still remember that what he sounds like isn’t the test, birthplace is (I suspect Charlie Chaplin was a Cockney, though I don’t know that, but he certainly didn’t sound like one). So I owe no apology for not accepting “but he sounds Cockney!” as a warrant for calling Bob Hoskins one, even though he did (often) sound like one, at any rate not after I had pointed out where he was really from and that what he sounded like was actually a testament to his adaptability.

            “Apologise” originally meant “give a full and complete explanation”. You have that, and if you only wanted a short answer you didn’t really want a proper one.

        • “Look at that last question, and see how you yourself chose to write it. Isn’t that provocative? And isn’t that how practically all your posts are written, as though you yourself have some special fount of insight and that those who disagree bear the burden of proof?”

          I have no idea what question you are talking about, not that I care. Neither my response to you nor the original post ended with a question. If you have a specific example, write it–I’ve got better uses for my time than deciphering your pedantry.

          The post was about a professional journalist with a duty, who was not doing it. He is obligated to be correct and fair in writing Mr. Hoskins’ life story. My mission is to flag unethical professional conduct, and, when possible, do right by people such as Hoskins, who are harmed by it.

          I am not a professional journalist. I’m not a professional blogger. My mission is to point out and spark debate about ethics issues, and to do that I rely on secondary sources. I have no editor, or staff or researchers. If I make an error in ethical analysis, that’s serious, because that IS my job. If I make a typo, or a factual error, or get fooled by a web hoax…well, unless it affects the validity of the ethics issue involved and my analysis, I don’t regard those as a fatal sins, but rather as unavoidable consequences of the task here, as I have defined it and attempt to accomplish it. Most of my readers appear to grasp that, and send in corrections routinely without accusations of a “double standard.”

          There are 15,000 tags on this site. You know what those are, right? Topics and issues. I confess: I am not an expert on all of them, but they all have been involved in ethics issues and controversies, so I do the best I can learning what I can in teh time allotted me to discuss what I am qualified to discuss. So no, I don’t think the fact that I am unaware of the regional origins of all British accents, and made an error tangential to the point of the post involved—that a paid and professional Washington Post journalist didn’t use the processes, staff, and resources at his disposal to check a CORE fact in the important piece it was his job to write—is in any way hypocritical, a breach of care, or remotely deserving of your snotty response to it.

          And what do you mean, “rushed and harried”? You do know that obituaries are regularly updated and written well before the deaths of those involved, right?

          I guess you still don’t comprehend the blog—why don’t you read the description again? I make my best call on a wide variety of ethics issues as they arise in the media and elsewhere. I make them, most of the time, forcefully. That does not mean I am cutting off dissent or proclaiming that my view is the only view. I think wishy-washy analysis, especially about ethics, is useless and discourages engagement. If that were true, if I thought my view was the only valid one, I would close commentary.

          But the topic is ethics, and related ones, like leadership, civility, and culture. Your approach to dissent, as I read it, is exactly like the web commenters on lesser sites that point out typos like “your” for “you’re” as definitively discrediting the writer. It isn’t that the derivation of Cockney isn’t important; it’s tangential to the topic under discussion, just as if I had listed Hoskins eyes as blue when they were really brown. I would not have written the post about a mistake in an obit about Hoskins’ accent—first, I wouldn’t have picked up on it, and second, it’s not core to his achievements as a man and an artist. Even then, such a mistake is a professional breach by someone whose profession is accurately conveying FACTS to the public.

          There is no double standard.

          Here’s the deal, PM: if you offer substantive commentary on the ethical issues and discussion involved, your comment is welcome; you are intelligent and analytical, and write well. Comments like the last one, that sneeringly flag tangential errors or offer nothing but pedantic nitpicking will not be published here, or in other words, will be taken down as soon as I see them. If you have a factual correction to offer, you can send it to me at, like so many others do, in good will. If the tone is acceptable, I’ll OK it to be posted. I don’t mind correction: I am grateful for them.

          This rule is for you only; you’re the only one who regularly abuses the privilege. And as I said before, I’m sick of it.

          • I recognise that it is for you to set the ground rules on your own site, so I shall act according to what you have just stated for everything arising in future.

            However, I shall consider commenting on your earlier post about botched executions, since it strikes me that you dealt very unfairly with someone (else) there. Would you like me to run that past you first? Also, I shall correct someone who just replied to me here, who obviously didn’t get the point I made in my first comment here.

            • If it is related to the post and the thread, and not random nit-picking, the comment, critical or not, is always welcome here. You still haven’t enlightened me about what question you were referring to.

              • Oh, I thought your remarks just now barred my replying like that, here. You asked “Are you like this to everyone all the time, or just here, to me?”, which struck me as requiring a full and complete explanation as to why I preferred an indirect approach to outright confronting you, when I saw or appeared to see you in an error of much the sort you were or appeared to be condemning in others. I would, of course, reply like that to someone I saw acting like that, but your question itself carries a freight of its own that I didn’t want to confront you with.

                • “Bob Hoskins, a British actor whose powerful screen presence earned him a reputation as “the Cockney Cagney” and who, at 5 feet 6 and with a face he likened to a squashed cabbage, gave the short, bald men of the world a reason to swagger, has died. He was 71.”


                  From this, and similar published statements, I discerned that “the Cockney Cagney” was, in fact, a Cockney, as I would conclude that “The Scottish Cagney” was, in fact, from Scotland and “The Toledo Cagney” was born in Toledo. And I would regard YOUR question, “Do You even know what Scotland IS?” as unprovoked nastiness. You call that an “indirect approach”? I call it “being an asshole.”

                  You then claimed that my making the obvious and fair assumption from published accounts is the equivalent of the Post journalist publishing a false description of Hoskins’ best work that is not in any printed source anywhere, because he, pardon my French, pulled it out of his ass. Then you made excuses for him, and impugned my integrity. oddly, I take offense at that. I’m hyper-sensitive, I guess.

                  “Are you like this to everyone all the time, or just here, to me?” is a fair question, one, because you are ALWAYS like this here, and two, because if you are like this all the time, I’m surprised you aren’t a fugitive.

    • You, P.M. Lawrence, are a moron. Your comment is ridiculous, a waste of my time, and your ongoing argument with Marshall is a waste of everyone’s time. Don’t you have anything better to do? As a Cockney cabbie in London taught me, “Do you Adam-and-Eve it?”… meaning of course in Cockney rhyming slang, “Do you believe it?” No, I don’t believe it… that you would post such a self-congratulatory, nit-picking comment. Just stay off the website, would you? I don’t want to waste MY time reading or skipping any comment from you. Grow up. Find something important to think about. But keep your moronic — and I might say — ENDLESS attacks and self-defensive comments to yourself. Just look in the mirror and say it all to yourself, then congratulate yourself on your misused and useless (using the term loosely) erudition.

  4. Please, do not read between the lines. It is as sincere as a summer’s day is long. Keep up the good work. You inspire dialogue.

  5. (satire)
    I don’t think Bob Hoskins obit of Adam Bernstein in the Washington Times was too bad. No worse than much that is in MSM these days.

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