1/28/2008

Elisberg: Cieply View Of WGA "Different Than The Reality"

Robert J. Elisberg, who writes the regular WGA Strike Primer columns on The Huffington Post, responds below to Michael Cieply's recent article in the New York Times entitled, Writers Strike Tests Mettle of 2 Outsiders.

Last week, Michael Cieply wrote once-again about his perception of “fissures” in the Writers Guild. It’s a theme of his. Back during the 1988 WGA strike he specialized in writing about such “fissures” for another paper. There was a very organized, though small group then, Union Blues: they made a great deal of noise, and in the end, that’s all they did. Mr. Cieply then took time off to become a producer at Sony Studios. And now, he is again writing about his perceived fissures in the Writers Guild.

Most recently, on Friday, he took it from a different angle, describing the “outsiders” leading the Writers Guild, president Patric Verrone and executive director David Young. The clear implication being that “outsiders” are out of touch with Real Writers.

Mr. Cieply disparagingly paints the successful Mr. Verrone as a “sporadically busy comedy writer” whose law degree “has seen him through the rough spots between jobs.” Firstly, all writers are sporadically busy with rough spots. All. (Okay, except Stephen King.) Second, being Guild president is a full-time job – imagine it during a strike. And third, that Patric Verrone juggles TV writing with the law should be a badge of honor. Would Mr. Cieply tar Scott Turow for being a “writer with a law degree that has seen him through the rough spots”? Mr. Turow hasn’t had a book published in over a year. Thank goodness he has his law job to fall back on.

As for David Young, Mr. Cieply dismisses his expertise by a patronizing description as a former “plumber.” (Actually, it’s worse – a “plumber turned hard-bitten labor organizer.” Like he was so embittered working on toilets, he decided to rile up the hordes.) David Young has built a credentialed, admired 20-year career and is a labor leader. No doubt Mr. Cieply would not expect to be himself described as a “grocery stock boy turned cynical muckraker.”

Worse though was when Mr. Cieply went to psychologists and sociologists to actually analyze Mr. Verrone and Young. It was shameful, playing into the AMPTP strike tactic of painting the opposition as crazy. If Mr. Cieply wanted to at least be fair and wanted to analyze someone to discover if they're actual sociopaths, honestly he should have tried the CEOs of the AMPTP companies. Imagine the field day analysts could have had with Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone.

Yet it was all just the latest in Michael Cieply’s ongoing career-pattern of trying to show fissures in the Writers Guild. As noted, it was the specific topic in his article the week before. Yet there is no organized vocal dissent in the WGA as I write this. None. Let him point it out. The best Mr. Cieply could do to show this supposed-“fissure” in the 12,000 member Writers Guild is to quote from one email sent to 30 people from someone working towards his first credit. Yipes, horrors. He also quotes from the only screenwriter in the entire WGA who has gone financial-core during the strike.

But he reached journalistic depths by referring to 50 anonymous “prominent” screenwriters who have formed a “network of dissent.” This old rumor is a long-known hoax. A highly-credited WGA board member laughingly notes that he doesn’t even know of 50 A-list writers – adding that every one he’d contacted had never heard of any organized dissent group.

It would be foolish to say there is no dissent during a strike. There should be. And writers dissent for breakfast on a good day. But the WGA world continually painted by Michael Cieply, from “fissures” and “outsiders” to his infamous depiction of writers in scarves and designer glasses, remains different than the reality. It’s a reality of angry support based on the understanding by most writers that to accept what the AMPTP corporations initially offered would destroy the Writers Guild, ultimately destroy the Screen Actors Guild, and in the end destroy Hollywood.

13 comments:

People please... said...

Ecellent piece!

Thank you for taking the time to tell the truth.

We must all stay strong, stay calm and STAY UNITED. We'll get our deal.

4merBTLer said...

Um, what's wrong with being a plumber? :)

Nice piece, Mr. Elisberg! I doubt that I'm the only one who appreciates articles that bolster faith in the WGA.

I expect that those who side with the AMPTP will continue their campaign to divide and smear the WGA, and articles like yours are necessary for those of us "outside the room", but still very much affected.

Thank you.

Not An said...

LOL.

I had forgotten Mr. Young was a plumber - hope he doesn't run into that writer on the other blog who said he shouldn't have to walk the line, after all it wasn't like he was a plumber or something.

It is an honor to walk the line and it is an honor to be supported by our brothers and sisters in the other unions.

Respect to all as it is merited.

helen said...

As someone who grew up reading the New York Times, it has been hard to follow their cringe-inducing coverage of the strike. Cieply's constant use of unnamed sources (i.e. anonymous bloggers) is simply bad reporting. But I suppose it's to be expected from a newspaper that just hired Bill "Are you never right?" Kristol.

Cieply and Kristol are a perfect match.

hoopcooper said...

It breaks my heart that people who are supposed to be journalists have taken the very presidential tack of saying something patently false...just to get it out into the public.

Thank you for correcting what was an unwelcome and uninteresting piece of tired corporate propaganda.

jason said...

I have worked with both of these men at the WGA. It is sad to say that the guild is run without respect for the writer. All internal systems are devised and operated without consideration for the writer. In fact, it would fume me (I'm a writer) when employees repeatedly said, "The hell with the writer. As long as the systems works for us." Verron and Young would look away, could care less, which is why negotiations are protracted. And, since these men are on the guild's payroll they are in no hurry to get things done. That is the absolute truth. It's a shame we have to rely on their misguided leadership.

Geo Rule said...

When was that Verrone coup d'etat, anyway? Have spouses/children of a cross section of WGA members been renditioned to an undisclosed third world nation to make sure they stay in line?

I particularly love how they compare him to a CEO hired by a company. Can someone please go over to the NY Times and explain Democracy and the consent of the governed to them, being careful to use small words?

About 90% of the press should be deeply mortified at how they've covered this strike.

jenn said...

I think your supporters all across the country are more than well aware of the tendency of too many in the media to spin and twist facts to suit their own ends. We're used to the fact that none of the significan issues, the problems the people are struggling through are NEVER reported.

We've been writing letters, making calls and spreading the word. Keep the faith! I'd like to ask a favor, when the strike gets resolved, please, all you writers and others in the entertainment industry, please write about, direct, produce and perform more things about the serious problems facing average Americans across the country. 1,000 people per week, in my state alone lose their jobs in this lousy "new" economy, families lose their homes, become evicted from apartments because corporate interests either outsource the jobs, or find some way around hiring Americans and paying American wages.

jenn said...

I think your supporters all across the country are more than well aware of the tendency of too many in the media to spin and twist facts to suit their own ends. We're used to the fact that none of the significan issues, the problems the people are struggling through are NEVER reported.

We've been writing letters, making calls and spreading the word. Keep the faith! I'd like to ask a favor, when the strike gets resolved, please, all you writers and others in the entertainment industry, please write about, direct, produce and perform more things about the serious problems facing average Americans across the country. 1,000 people per week, in my state alone lose their jobs in this lousy "new" economy, families lose their homes, become evicted from apartments because corporate interests either outsource the jobs, or find some way around hiring Americans and paying American wages.

Rocky said...

Geo Rule,
90% of the press should be ashamed of how they cover every story. It's not about fact. It's about what sounds good or what makes a good headline. Journalism is dead. The New York Times is a disgrace. Why are we surprised? They have a previous conviction for fabricating stories. Getting to the truth is difficult. It takes time and research and analytical skills. Who wants to do that?

Laeta Kalogridis said...

jason --

You say you've "worked with both of these men at the WGA." So have I, and I'm a writer as well. And I can say with absolute certainty that your statement "[a]ll internal systems are devised and operated without consideration for the writer" is simply untrue.

There are moments when I've disagreed with these guys, and moments when I've argued and fought with them. Believe me, if the WGA were run "without consideration for the writer" none of us at UH would still be doing this. The respect, responsibility and dedication I see in Verrone, Young, the Board and the NegComm is an amazing thing, considering the fact that they do the exact opposite of ignoring writers -- they listen to everyone, and they weigh and consider everyone's concerns.

Like I say, I've had moments of fighting with them -- but I've had many more moments when I've felt, as many writers I know have, that the plumber-turned-labor-leader-turned-writers'-advocate has given all of us a sense of community and pride in both the value of our work, and the importance of standing together with our fellow creators of content (from Teamsters to craft unions to other guilds)that we haven't had in a very long time.

Fred said...

It must be so lonely at that table in that dark little restaurant where John Ridley and Michael Cieply are waiting for the other members of their little coterie to join them.

Despite all the snarky remarks of the troll (I'll bet there's only one-or-two Red Bull fueled interns writing all those pro-AMPTP blog postings using names such as "just a WGA supporter" for their studio head bosses, the Guild will not fracture this time.

We'll all be in to celebrate our victory around the bar. Eventually.

Until then, John and Mike, the next round's on me.

Glenn said...

I love how David Young is always referred to as an outsider without any experience in the entertainment industry and therefore as some kind of disadvantage. The moguls can't deal with him because he doesn't understand the business. He needs to be replaced by a Hollywood insider.

Back in 1966, Marvin Miller, the negotiator for the United Steelworkers took over as head of the players' association. Needless to say all the owners insisted that since he had no baseball background he was at a disadvantage. They couldn’t deal with him because he didn’t understand the business. He needed to be replace by a baseball insider.

I can only hope that David Young is as disadvantaged and bewildered by the entertainment business as Marvin Miller was by the baseball business.