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.
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.