Yesterday, on NPR's Morning Edition, two stories aired about the Writers Guild strike. The first, by Kim Masters, was a detailed study - complete with numerous interviews and sound clips - of how effective the WGA's viral videos have been on the Internet, helping the Guild achieve a 63%-4% advantage in public support. It was oddly followed by an even-odder opinion piece, with the commentator wondering if winning the PR war mattered.
My fish could explain why it helps, but that's a minor issue and not my point here. The point is how words can be used to mislead. And what results from that.
In the op/ed commentary, listeners were told the following -
"The writers I've talked to are concerned about the way the picket lines and those videos have been portrayed in the wider media -- with a snarky undertone that has cast the writers as elitists in 'arty glasses and fancy scarves' and engaged in 'the funnest strike ever.' And that's a quote, too, 'cause I ain't having any fun."
Boy, howdy, that sounds expert. And pretty damning. If only there was any evidence - or truth - to support it, it would be really bad.
The commentator was John Ridley.
Alas, it's impossible to know who Mr. Ridley talks to, since all his sources - on the radio or at the Huffington Post - are always "anonymous," but after picketing for three hours every day all month, alongside many hundreds of fellow-writers, I haven't found a single one "concerned" about how we're being portrayed in the media. Concerned????!! Everyone is in awe - the public supports the WGA 63%-4%!
Oh, okay, so he left out the facts. Hey, it happens. I left my baseball cap at home last week. But it's just a warm-up from Mr. Ridley. The lesson on how to mislead continues.
To prove a "snarky undertone" that would supposedly show writers as being elitist, John Ridley quotes about scarves (honest, scarves!!) from a snarky NY Times article by the snarky Michael Cieply. One additional problem. The article was so lame that it was even ridiculed in the Times itself. Seth Meyers of SNL hilariously rebutted the quote in Maureen Dowd's column. In part -
"'Glamour show?' he asked. 'Scarves and glasses? Have those not always been the accouterments of the geek and not the runway model? That's how Harry Potter dresses, not Kate Moss."
To which Ms. Dowd responds - "Good point."
Yet even that's not the best part. Pull up your chair. It gets really egregious.
Mr. Ridley writes scathingly that the WGA is "engaged in 'the funnest strike ever.' And that's a quote, too, 'cause I ain't having any fun." Yipes! Pretty crushing. Ouch.
Are you ready?
The passage he quotes isn't from the original article at all! Even though Mr. Ridley emphatically writes, "And that's a quote, too." It's merely an outside reaction to the article on Portfolio.com. Nowhere in the actual NY Times story does the phrase, "funnest strike ever" appear. Ever.
No one thinks the strike is fun. No one. The viral videos are fun. The ridiculing blogs are fun. The strike? Quite awful. But John Ridley, for whatever unknown reason, wants you to think otherwise.
(For goodness sake, half the Writers Guild are comedy writers! How would anyone expect comedy writers to fight international mega-corporations???! With Powerpoint spreadsheets? You use the tools you have. It's that whole "the pen is mightier than the sword" thing.)
To be clear, I'm not bothered how John Ridley feels about the strike. To each their own. He says the issues are worth striking for, but writes profoundly against the strike. I leave him to unravel his convoluted views. That's fine. What's not fine is repeatedly being wrong about facts and misleading. There's no excuse for that.
There is no excuse for that.
And it's hardly the first time. I've noted many of these factual inaccuracies in his analysis previously of the Writers Guild strike. (An "analysis" based on an event he wasn't at - because he was attending a movie.) In fact, it's almost becoming an art form. Ridley's Believe It or Not. John Ridley is a bright fellow, which is high in his favor. Kudos! On the downside, it means he can't plead ignorance.
The strike is very serious. And remains so, particularly after the AMPTP made their bizarre offer on Thursday, which was actually a roll-back, including an insane offer of under $250 for a year's re-use of online material. That'll buy you eight months of Internet broadband service.
That's why there is no excuse for being wrong about facts and misleading. Facts always matter. It's what makes any opinion worthwhile. And to the contrary, in the end, it's the absence of which makes any opinion worthless.
Any opinion is based on trust. When you are that wrong on facts and that consistently, what trust is left - in anything you try to say?
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg