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Everyone's a Critic... When it Suits Them.

by {{{OZ}}}

It's funny how the level of quality in journalism has sunk like a stone since the last bastion of journalistic integrity on TV, CNN, became AOL News. It used to be that news was something you went out and found, stories were something you broke and an 'exclusive' didn't mean that you got the press release faxed to you first. But now it does. And the proof in the pudding is the lack of props this fine website is getting for being the catalyst for an American government probe into 'truth in advertising' with regards to critic blurbs. We've been running our 'Criticwatch' column for nearly two years now, with Erik The Movieman painstakingly collecting every movie ad blurb he can find and keeping a running count on which critic is quoted more often than others, but despite this information being used and presented by a litany of news outlets, nobody seems to bother crediting the originator. In older times, this would be seen as a form of plagiarism, but to 'journalists' who need to find a topic to write about every 24 hrs to justify their paychecks, it's easy pickings. Oh well, at least we know where the REAL journalists are...

Those that have been on this site for a while know our track record when it comes to true entertainment journalism. Not the fluffy kind of entertainment journalism where you ask a celebrity easy questions on the mutual understanding that they'll give easy answers and you'll portray them in a good light or the movie company won't fly you to Hawaii anymore, we're talking REAL entertainment journalism. The kind where you put the fire to someone's ass for doing something wrong.

A few months back we objected to anonymous messageboard posts that hyped upcoming studio flicks in a manner that only studio employees would try. These scripted messages from people pretending to be film fans were a constant source of annoyance across the internet for years until WE found evidence that the practice was indeed coming directly from studio computers.

Then we spent a month trying to find someone who would actually publicize the finding. The Hollywood Reporter feared a loss of ad revenue. Other trades weren't interested. Finally the LA Times came to the rescue and presented our evidence, and the studios duly admitted their dubious practices.

Nobody was fired, nobody was sued, but at least the practice stopped. We haven't seen a single post of this nature since - on any website, let alone ours. We made a difference to the world of film, and we're proud of it.

So now we're not going to sit back and be the silent benefactors to the film community. We chased the quotewhores for two years, naming them on radio appearances, damning them in print, proving what we believed to be true with complete data and horrific statistics. We pointed our meaty finger right at Peter Travers and yelled "WHORE." The Rolling Stone critic had long been the number one sell-out when it came to providing blurbs for film ads, but strangely he seems to have slowed down in the last few months. Could we have made yet another difference in the world of film? Could we finally have shamed Peter Travers into behaving himself?

And could we do the same to Joel Seigel? Could we get Bill Zwecker to lighten up on the insincere praise for whatever movie Rob Schneider is in this week? Could we snowball this thing to an industry wide 'cleansing' of film critics?

Yeah, we could. First Richard Roeper put out an article that sounded suspiciously like our Criticwatch column. When we called him on it, he promised to make good on the lack of credit by mentioning us in his next book. Since then Roeper has drawn from our site a few times, but always given credit where it's due.

Where do we draw the line on plagiarism? Is it an unforgivable crime, or one that is becoming more and more prevalent as journaists are pushed to hit harder deadlines, fight for readership, and jostle for position alongside many thousands more competitors in the field than ever before? Can a person who breaks the golden rule of journalism - thou must not steal - do their pennance and be absolved of their crimes?

Many journalists have rifled through our Criticwatch data at this site and found plenty of gems for their readers, providing 'comedy' lists of bad movie quotes without having the courage to actually point out where they came from, or hold those journalists accountable. That's seen by them as 'borrowing', or even 'paying homage' it would seem, but over recent years the lines have become blurred over what is considered fair journalism and what is considered a crime.

Thankfully, the government seems to have figured that side of things out with news that the Federal Trade Commission will be casting a hairy eyeball at the murky world of review blurbs. They'll look at the use of largely unknown (or even fake) critics to hype bad movies, as well as the practice of hyping a movie in return for junket spots, star access, and more.

They'll also investigate the use of 'mis-quotes', such as when Newsweek's David Ansen was quoted as calling the Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn comedy Foul Play "good fun", when in actual fact the writer admitted to the New York Times that he what he actually said was “though it was all intended as good fun, it’s about as much fun as getting hit by a bus.”

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Daily Variety's head honcho Peter Bart decried this government action as a waste of time and money, surmising that nobody really pays attention to the blurbs anyway and that there's no way to police them even if you wanted to. We'd disagree - we've been policing film critics since 2001.

It's probably no surprise as to the real reasoning behind Variety's words - the trade paper brings in a hefty chunk of the money they need to survive from ads placed by the same distributors that are under investigation. And just weeks prior, Bart had written an editorial that damned critics for being out of touch with the moviegoing audience, because they included films like The Fast Runner and The Pianist in their top ten lists of the year. He opined that it's no wonder people pay no mind to critics when they're all trying to out-snob each other.

What he SHOULD be saying is that it's an outrage that movies such as these weren't put into wide release. But he's as big a whore as anyone in the industry and knows who to keep happy - not the government, not even his own writers, but the studio executives that fill his paper with pointless 'for your consideration' ads.

So what can you, the average Joe do to help our quest of cleansing the film industry? Well, for a start you can QUIT SEEING KANGAROO JACK, you goofballs.

We'll do the rest. Watch this space.

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originally posted: 02/06/03 06:32:22
last updated: 01/03/09 14:30:23
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