Howard Rodman responds to Anne Thompson's Variety blog

Reprinted with permission of the author (although, tragically, we cannot pay him for reuse.)

Dear Anne,

Allow me to beg to differ with the 'pox on both your houses' post on your blog. You seem to buy into the frame that the writers (crazy writers!) are asking too much, the companies are offering too little, and that if everyone would just calm down, the rest of us could live in peace.

For this to be true, though, you have to believe that the writers are tortured artistic souls throwing a tantrum here -- something that is demonstrably not the case.

Our president, Patric Verrone is a Harvard guy who wears blue blazers even when he doesn't have do. John Bowman, who chairs the negotiating committee, is a showrunner, a Harvard MBA, and a suburban dad. The negotiating committee is composed of showrunners like Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Carol Mendelsohn (CSI), Carlton Cuse (Lost), screenwriters like Bill Condon (Dream Girls), Susanna Grant (Erin Brockovich), Ed Solomon (Men in Black). Not a bomb-thrower among them.

The proposals of the WGA are pretty reasonable and long overdue. This week we took 9 proposals off the table and modified others. While we knew we weren't reaching all the way to the companies' bottom line, we were making a real offer, to induce real talks -- toetapping, if you will. The AMPTP response: we won't talk about anything as long as you don't agree to keep the current DVD rate as the rate going forward for internet downloads.

The way this has been reported in the trades, particularly in Variety, has been scandalous. The AMPTP statement of this week, saying that they would never give an inch on DVDs, and that oh, by the way, internet downloads are the same as DVDs, was a major piece of intransigence. [I would argue that DVD = internet downloads was more like carefully orchestrated misdirection, aka a Boldfaced Lie -- L.]

Variety Dave McNary reported the DVD part (those writers, again, wanting a bigger piece of an old pie) and buried the lead: internet wasn't even mentioned by him until many grafs down.

The effect -- and it plays into the companies' message handily -- is that writers are fighting the last war. In fact, even as we wholeheartedly fight for a fair share of the DVD bonanza (as well we should), we're also fighting for fair, reasonable recompense in the internet, just perhaps underrportedly.

William Gibson once famously said, "The future is already here -- just unevenly distributed." We agree wholeheartedly, which is why we're fighting for a toehold in the internet now. Because the profits from internet downloads and material created for the internet are also already here: just unevenly distributed.

The companies want the ability to run whole television episodes and whole feature films, with income from advertising, as promotion, without paying a cent of residuals or re-use fees. Why has no trade reported this AMPTP demand front and center? Why will no-one call it what it is: a land-grab of unprecedented proportions?

McNary''s reportage reminds me of the work of Judith Miller in the run-up to the Iraq war. There is over-reporting of AMPTP allegations, under-reporting of the facts.

While your post was certainly not a piece of company propaganda, I fear it falls into the all-too-familiar pattern of "balanced" reporting, i.e., there are two sides, so therefore the truth must be somewhere in the middle. Again, one recalls this kind of reporting from the heady days of the Iraq run-up and the 2004 elections. "Democrats, Republicans at odds over Iraq WMDs." "Kerry heroism challenged." The effect of this kind of "split the difference" reporting is to let the reader know -- sometimes subtly, sometimes not-so-subtly -- that the reporter is wiser, more mature, than the squabbling infants he or she is reporting on.

It may be that CEOs will tell you that we're impossible to deal with. That doesn't mean that we are. And to frame it as "he said/she said" does a disservice, I would maintain, to your readers. Sometimes halfway between the truth and a lie is a lie.

I would beg you, and your colleagues, to do your own digging--not just to report the positions of both sides with the assumption that wiser, saner folks would come to the reasonable conclusion that they are both wrong.

Warmest regards,


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