Thursday, May 29, 2008

Frank Rich finds his price, loses his voice


Frank Rich, a cultural and political columnist for the New York Times, has recently announced that he has signed on with HBO as an advisor, of sorts, his task being to aid them in creating new programming. A plum engagement in addition to his NYT chores, and the Times, so recently burned with too many reporter scandals, has slapped Rich with a restriction that he may not write about his work with HBO, or about HBO at all. Avoiding a conflict of interest is prudent, yes, but the situation effectively neuters Rich as a critic, even on those cultural products he has no financial interest in. A nominal critic, I think, ought not be accepting any money for any work from any entertainment combine. Whatever safeguards The Times sets in place to keep Rich's intergrety in tact, it's become clear that the man is willing to accept funds and so have his voice modulated, if not muted outright.

I'm of the mind that Frank Rich must choose one or the other , be a critic not beholden to anyone who can say as they please, or be a cultural entrepreneur , delivering arts-related programming to the marketplace and subject to honest commentary. I've never been comfortable with the idea that Time magazine reviewers, for example, are charged with critiquing the worth the movies , television shows and books published by the subsidiaries of its parent company, Time Warner, even if the magazine editors made it a point of including unfavorable reviews among the estimations.The point is that a corporation like Time Warner , in effect, is controlling the conversation of their product by having both film makers and reviewers on their stuff, a situation that mutes negative remarks and converts merely into the buzz that excites potential viewers to buy tickets.

Lacking an independent voice outside the the Corporate culture that produces the products diminishes the reliability of the reviews as honest appraisals. Worse, though, is that the situation of corporations having studios , publishers and reviewers on the payroll makes the task of speaking a brutal truth to power--our entertainment industries produces crap and little else-- too daunting a task, and produces, in effect, a collective feeling to merely allow the mediocrity continue . Rich, in any case, is about to become a compromised presence on the pundit scene, and that's a shame.