Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our November / December issue

Good publicity

Re: “Rules of the Game: The sometimes nauseating, often fun, and always absurd life of a movie publicist” by Reid Rosefelt, CJR, November/December

Reid, I remember dealing with you in your start-up office and how cool and indie you were, the anti-PMK—not that I didn’t have some favorites there, like Lois Smith. Journalists always appreciated publicists who were actually film-literate and not bullshit artists, and we knew damn well we weren’t getting the whole story but were just trying to bring enough to the table that it wasn’t a glorified press release. Part of why I ended up stopping was that access got so dwindly that it didn’t feel genuine.

Now, the culture seems divided between celebrities who tweet and do every magazine cover and those who don’t do any, but I’m just not as interested in reading about them. Maybe the mystery is gone or the artistry is too hard to accomplish in a town that makes fewer and fewer pieces of art.

I hadn’t seen Lois in years, but she remains enshrined in my heart as not just a great publicist but as one of the people who make working in or covering the business feel a little less grubby. I never met Pat Kingsley, but you have painted such accurate portraits of everyone else that I trust you on her. I remember Peggy Siegal letting me into some screening [saying], “Are you gonna be nice?” and daggers in her eyes. I remember nicer dealings with Catherine Olim, Leslee Dart, Alan Eichhorn, Mara Buxbaum—it was like its own studio.

I was ready for this piece to go on much longer. I hope it’s part of a book proposal.

David Handelman
Harlem, NY

Great article, Reid. I’ll be passing on what you wrote about mystery and intrigue—mystery is at the heart of the creative process, and it’s a relief to hear you encourage artists to value it. So many of my generation of artists are overwhelmed by the promotional demands of the era; I think it’s because they feel a demand to be aggressively self-revealing. It’s a lot more powerful to offer fascinating work, yet remain intriguing. Thanks for the sagacity!

Zoe Greenberg
Brooklyn, NY

Take cover

The cover of your November/December issue is a disgrace. I refuse to have it on my coffee table or anywhere else someone should have to see. Shame on you.

Bill Du Bois
Marshall, MN

The Truman show

I, too, interviewed Marlon Brando (“In Cold Type” by Douglas McCollam, CJR, November/December 2012). It was in 1946. I was 22 and worked for George Davis, fiction editor of Mademoiselle magazine. George would send me to interview persons whom he had spotted as future stars in the Broadway firmament. Brando was then appearing in A Flag Is Born, which predated Streetcar. He did not say much during the interview. I was no Truman Capote.

I also met Truman through George—he published some of Truman’s early works in Mademoiselle. Truman would come and sit outside George’s office in the Chanin Building. It was George’s habit at that time to invite people to drop in Saturday nights for food and libation at his brownstone on 86th Street in Yorkville. One time, my husband and I were there with several other people, including Truman, when a guest arrived at the front door carrying a small monkey. Everyone rushed to greet the newcomer and his monkey except my husband and Truman. The latter was visibly annoyed at being upstaged by the monkey.

Elizabeth Moulton (Betsy Day back then)
Cambridge, MA

A time to die

Re: “What the NY Times obits say about America” by Stephen G. Bloom, CJR, November/December 2012

Your story prompted a flashback. In 1998, I had a dinner date with a certain New York Times bestselling author, who had spent tons of weeks on the list, but had recently been weighed down by a debilitating case of writer’s block. Among his many worries: How prominent would his Times obit be? Curious myself, I called a reporter/friend at the Gray Lady who told me the size of one’s obit had to do with the number of references in the paper and how recent they were. A list topper from two decades ago would warrant much less attention, he explained. In the case of my dinner companion, my Times friend counseled, “Now would actually be the most opportune time for him to pass away.” Fortunately, I can report that said author remains with us today. Now I am anxious about his future obit in the Times.

Steven Petrow
Chapel Hill, NC

Cut on the bias?

In your editorial, “Hard Truths,” Mitt Romney “lied” while President Obama was “misleading.” Paul Ryan, Republican, was “hypocritical”—zilch for any Democrat guilty of that sin. But forget the usual media bias against Republican politicians, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the article—“covering facts.”

You can opine all you want about factchecking, but it’s now plain to see how it was manipulated to insure Obamacare became law. Factcheckers evidently are just as prone to weighing conclusions according to their own mindsets; reporters selected those “facts” that supported their own inclinations.

Since the majority of reporters are liberal Democrats, the public was never adequately informed about Obamacare. The partisan media intended at all costs that Obamacare would pass.

Today, we are finally learning more details, to the chagrin of many. Yet the same information was available to the media before it became law. The media barrage for its defense, the suppression of negative aspects, the denials and obfuscation, the persistent calumniation of its critics, put Obamacare over the top. The hard truth was available; the media chose not to help citizens understand many crucial implications.

I have a suggestion for CJR editorial to help remand the situation. Evoke articles on objectivity. Initiate conversations on this lost criterion. How did we blunder from the standard of media objectivity to media partisanship?

If not recognizing and defending journalistic standards like objectivity, just what is the essence of the Columbia Journalism Review in the scheme of things? Merely to kibbutz? [sic]

Miriam Jaffe
Thousand Oaks, CA

Rules of engagement

It’s no wonder that Bruce Porter had a difficult time locating Marcy Bachmann (“Lost and found,” CJR, November/December) and failed to find her in a 1954 high-school yearbook. A 17-year-old girl in 1967 would have been four years old in 1954. No wonder “the yearbook gambit also proved a dead end.”

Max McElwain
Wayne, NE

The editors respond: McElwain’s right, and we regret the math error. It also has come to our attention that Marcy, the subject of Porter’s story, is unhappy about having her saga retold in CJR, and claims it repeats a number of factual errors from the original Newsweek piece. She declined to provide a list of her complaints for publication, but we asked Porter to respond.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.