In a recent “Snide Remarks” column entitled “I Was a Junket Whore,” I cited one instance of a fellow junketeer stretching the truth in his blog. From my column:
Let me jump forward in time a couple days to quote what one of the Web site writers posted on his site’s gossipy blog regarding this roundtable with [Oliver] Stone: “[I] just finished up lunch with the director — a plate of fruit and cheese, and crackers — none of which Stone touched, he just wanted his coffee — and learned that Stone has decided to release a director’s director’s cut of ‘Alexander.'” “Lunch with the director” makes it sound like he sat one-on-one with Stone and chatted over lunch, doesn’t it? And I’m sure that was the point: to make it sound like this guy had lunch with Oliver Stone, to impress you. When in fact this guy shared a table with a half-dozen other people, and the only one having lunch was Stone. (It’s true Stone didn’t actually eat anything; that part wasn’t a lie.)
I didn’t name the writer in question (nor any of the others on the junket) because I didn’t intend for the article to be a declaration of war on anyone. But I’m naming him now — Tim Nasson, of Wild About Movies — and I’m doing it because I have more to tell you about him. It’s more or less journalism at its very worst, and it deserves to be exposed.
While reading Nasson’s feature recounting his “World Trade Center” interviews, I discovered two alarming things:
1) He is one of the worst writers I’ve ever read. I mean truly, just a miserable grasp of the English language. Try to make sense of this tortured paragraph:
“World Trade Center” tells the story of the two PAPD (Port Authority Police Department) cops who were buried alive, when one of the towers collapsed on top of them, and who were dug out and rescued a day later — all while enduring a gun that went off was shooting at them, accidentally, from one of the other PAPD cop’s guns, also buried (dead) with them. (Yes, that really happened. When you see the movie, you’ll know what I am talking about.)
At least he offers hope that at some point in the future you will know what he’s talking about.
2) Not a single one of the quotes he attributes to the celebrities involved is an actual quote.
This is by far the more serious charge. What he has done is to paraphrase the people and put quotation marks around it. He doesn’t change the IDEA of what the people said; he just rewrites it in his own words.
Now, the top three rules of journalism, even entertainment journalism, are Don’t Plagiarize, Don’t Make Stuff Up and Don’t Put Quotation Marks Around Something Unless It’s the Person’s ACTUAL EXACT WORDS.
So how do I know he’s misquoting everyone? Because I was in the same interviews he was, and I had a tape recorder. (I thought he had one, too, but either my memory is mistaken or he chose not to use his recording.)
I wrote to Nasson to give him a chance to fix things. I thought maybe he had the tape and could refer to it now that he’d been called out on his lazy quoting methods. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, said I didn’t know what his background was, maybe it was an honest misunderstanding of journalism protocol, etc., etc. He responded with this:
Thanks for your email. I am have been attending junkets for fifteen years, and interviewed the entire [“World Trade Center”] cast on set, in NYC, twice, in addition to being in Seattle. The Seattle trip was one of three times I spoke to each of the cast about the movie. What I chose to write in my feature from whichever time I spoke to them, was up to me.
If I may pull a Nasson and paraphrase his e-mail, he was saying this: “The quotes are all accurate. They came from the OTHER times I interviewed everyone. Not in Seattle, with you, but other times. The times when you weren’t there.” (See also: Bart Simpson, “I won it in a truth-telling contest two towns over.”)
I thought: Maybe that’s true. Maybe he interviewed everyone in New York, too, and maybe everyone got asked the same questions they were asked in Seattle, and gave similar answers. And maybe he chose not to use ANY quotes from the Seattle interviews. Not a single one. (Any quote claiming to be from the Seattle interviews would be a lie, because nothing in the story matches what anyone said in Seattle.)
But while scanning Nasson’s feature again, I found this paragraph:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A lot of people, most people,Ã¯Â¿Â½? says Stone, sitting in a suite at Hotel 1000 in downtown Seattle, a hop skip and a jump from The Space Needle, one of the possible American landmarks targeted by terrorists on September 11, 2001, Ã¢â‚¬Å“think I am this left wing nutcase. And when they hear that I chose to direct this picture [Ã¢â‚¬Å“World Trade CenterÃ¯Â¿Â½?] all the bells and whistles start sounding. Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat agenda is he going to bring to this picture?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ they ask. And what I say is Ã¢â‚¬ËœThis is America. Every citizen, of which I am one, has the right to speak up, whenever he wants to. The fact is, in between my pictures, my political comments may be picked up and played out in the media. But my comments have nothing at all to do the way I direct any movie. I dare anyone to watch Ã¢â‚¬ËœJFKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and find anything in it that would remotely paint that picture as an agenda picture. I took no sides. It just so happens that a lot of the stories I am attracted to, most, in fact, are based on true events and real people.Ã¯Â¿Â½?
Did you catch it? Oliver Stone said the things in this paragraph while sitting “in a suite at Hotel 1000 in downtown Seattle.” In other words, during the same interview I was present for, and which I have a tape recording of.
Here is a breakdown of what Nasson has Stone saying and what Stone ACTUALLY said:
NASSON’S VERSION: “A lot of people, most people, think I am this left wing nutcase. And when they hear that I chose to direct this picture all the bells and whistles start sounding. ‘What agenda is he going to bring to this picture?’ they ask.
STONE’S ACTUAL STATEMENTS: Actually, Stone didn’t say any of that. In regard to his politics, he said: “I consider myself an independent, a radical independent if you want, or whatever you want to use. Centrist. I’m a conservative in some ways, I’m a liberal in others.” The stuff about “bells and whistles” and “agenda” — not in the interview. Pure fabrication.
NASSON’S VERSION: “It just so happens that a lot of the stories I am attracted to, most, in fact, are based on true events and real people.”
CLOSEST THING I COULD FIND IN THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW: “I’ve generally worked a lot with real subjects, and I work closely with them, sit in the same room with them and listen. It goes back and forth on the set.”
NASSON: “And what I say is ‘This is America. Every citizen, of which I am one, has the right to speak up, whenever he wants to.”
WHAT STONE REALLY SAID: “I consider myself John Q. Citizen. I just don’t consider myself a director, I consider myself to have the rights of a citizen. I have the right to speak out as you do.”
NASSON: “The fact is, in between my pictures, my political comments may be picked up and played out in the media. But my comments have nothing at all to do the way I direct any movie.”
ACTUAL QUOTE: “I think my problem is I probably have been outspoken politically in between movies, and they confuse that with the movies.”
NASSON: “I dare anyone to watch ‘JFK’ and find anything in it that would remotely paint that picture as an agenda picture. I took no sides.”
ACTUAL QUOTE: “If you look at ‘JFK’ and ‘Nixon,’ they defy type. ‘Nixon’ was attacked by the right wing before they saw it, but in fact it’s very empathetic to the character, the humanity of Nixon. ‘JFK’ is neither left nor right, it’s a question mark, it’s a radical question mark.”
Elsewhere in his article, Nasson asks everyone where they were on 9/11. He gives Stone’s response as: “I was in bed. My wife woke me up. I was in Los Angeles. It was about 9:00 AM. I was shell-shocked.”
In our roundtable interview, Stone actually gave this answer: “I was asleep in L.A. My wife woke me up. It was early, it was 5:30. My wife woke me up, put on the TV, and the rest you know.”
Now, maybe when Nasson interviewed Stone those other times, Stone gave a different answer and that’s the one Nasson quoted. And maybe Stone really did get the time wrong when he talked to Nasson the first time, saying it was 9:00 in L.A. when in fact it was more like 5:30.
At the end, Nasson “quotes” Stone as follows:
“‘Nixon’ was painful. ‘Heaven and Earth’ was painful. “Alexander” was the biggest disappointment for me. I had the attitude of ‘[expletive] it.’ I am doing the third version of “Alexander” for DVD, a 3 3/4 hour version. The Cecille B. DeMille version. I shot a million, two hundred thousand feet on ‘Alexander.’ But that was the most I have ever shot on a film. I recently heard of a director, of a one and a half hour comedy, that shot one million feet! I can’t waist film. I am going to put every inch of ‘Alexander’ to good use.”
This is obviously from the Seattle interview. The news about the “Alexander” DVD was new, and Stone’s discussion of how much film stock he uses was in response to a direct, specific question about it.
So here’s another breakdown of Nasson’s version vs. what Stone really said:
NASSON: “‘Nixon’ was painful. ‘Heaven and Earth’ was painful. ‘Alexander’ was the biggest disappointment for me.’
REAL QUOTE: “‘Nixon’ was painful, ‘Heaven and Earth’ was a tremendous setback for me, because that was a lot of work on that, a lot of energy. 1993. ‘Alexander’ was probably the biggest visible blotch, in America and England only. I have to say that it was top 20 abroad, which is significant.”
NASSON: “I had the attitude of ‘[expletive] it.’ I am doing the third version of “Alexander” for DVD, a 3 3/4 hour version. The Cecille B. DeMille version.”
REAL QUOTE: [answering why he didn’t release the director’s cut of “Alexander” in theaters] “I had the attitude of [expletive] it. I just, I don’t want to fight this war anymore. I’m going to put it out, because I did feel it was a structurally correct version. And I’m doing a third version, by the way, on DVD, not theatrical at all, so it’s not made for theatrical. I’m gonna do a Cecil B. DeMille, Oliver Stone, three hours 45-minute thing.”
NASSON: “I shot a million, two hundred thousand feet on ‘Alexander.’ But that was the most I have ever shot on a film. I recently heard of a director, of a one and a half hour comedy, that shot one million feet! I can’t waist film. I am going to put every inch of ‘Alexander’ to good use.”
REAL QUOTE: “The most I ever shot was a million two or three on ‘Alexander,’ and that’s a big story. But usually I try to keep it down. I mean, this movie [‘World Trade Center’] we shot with 300,000 feet, which is — I heard about one director recently, did a million feet on a domestic comedy or something. I mean, there ought to be a rigor to this thing. But I’m a film school student, so we had to struggle in those days to get our stock, and I never lost that sense of, you know, ‘A thousand feet is a thousand feet!’ I make my camera crew — I don’t shorthand, I say, ‘Make sure you roll it down to the very end, and tell me if you’re going to lose more than two, three hundred feet, or even a hundred feet, tell me, because I may do the take differently.’ I don’t want to waste — I just can’t waste film. It’s a habit.”
Notice the real quotes are actually more interesting than the made-up ones Nasson uses. That stuff about Stone not wanting to waste film, how it’s a habit from his film-school days — that’s fascinating to a film buff! It gives you some small insight into Stone’s personality and character, and it contradicts many people’s preconceived notions (i.e., that he’s a bombastic, extravagant filmmaker).
I don’t know why Nasson didn’t use the real quotes. Maybe his tape recorder malfunctioned and he had to go by his notes or memory. Maybe he didn’t have a recorder to begin with. When I wrote back to him with my refutation of his “the quotes were from different interviews” story, he never responded. I suggested he either take the story down or replace the fake quotes with real ones, figuring if he did one of those two things, I’d leave him alone. Since he didn’t, though, here it is, for everyone to see.
If he’s a junket whore, fine. I was once a junket whore, too, for a day. And we’ve all made errors in judgment before. But shoddy journalism — especially being unapologetic about it when confronted — makes us all look bad.