Saturday, June 14, 2008

the contrarian: Misquoting/Demonizing Katherine Heigl

Having spent a long time as a working journalist - far too long than is reasonably healthy - I developed something of an aversion to the species.

Show me a journalist who isn't self-important or self-righteous and I'll show you a dead journalist.

That may sound like a wild generalization but, believe me, spend enough time in the vicinity of one and experience the puffed-up self-quoting and you'll know what I mean.

Case in point: The media's lip-smacking dissing of actress Katherine Heigl for doing the decent thing and rejecting a potential Emmy nomination for her work on ABC's pansexual soap opera, "Grey's Anatomy."

"I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention," Heigl told Gold Derby writer Tom O'Neil at the L.A. Times Envelope Web site.

Entertainment Weekly immediately posted this headline on its icky website: "Katherine Heigl Out of Emmy Race, Blames Writers." Huh?

Exacerbating matters, Dave on Demand, an unctous, self-consciously snarky weekly column in The Philadelphia Inquirer, drooled:

"You have to wonder if she knows how pretentious and petulant this announcement makes her sound.

"First of all, it's not like she was a lock to win this thing. When she took Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series last year, it was her first Emmy. In fact, it was her first nomination.

"And even that was a huge upset. Not only was she not the best supporting actress, she wasn't even the best actress from her own show in the category. (Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson were also nominated.) So for her to act like this Emmy stuff is old hat to her is wildly arrogant."

First off, a journalist is the last person who should use words such as "pretentious," "petulant" and "arrogant," particularly within the confines on a single article. (The column's author, who writes in a way-too-eager-to-impress-his-editors style, adds insult to injury by referring to Heigl as "honey," a well-worn, nay, dated piece of sexism which said editors, people ostensibly paid to edit the Inky, found bizarrely acceptable.)

Secondly, you have to wonder about the motivation when a journalist resorts to selective editing because Heigl also went on to say:

"In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials."

This part of her statement, in which Heigl explains and justifies her controversial stance, has been conveniently overlooked.

Instead the media is looking for easy ulterior motives on Heigl's part, the easiest being that she has stars in her eyes and would prefer to have a movie career. And what performer in Hollywood wouldn't?

But that's a distraction, shading what Heigl really said, namely that she did not give an award-worthy performance this year - that the material didn't lend itself to a golden statuette - and that an undeserved nomination would deny another, more worthy actress.

That's not arrogant or pretentious, honey; that's character. Furthermore, she said nothing negative about her writers or their work.

Also lost in the fray are these facts:

1. Heigl was arugably the most supportive player on “Grey’s Anatomy” of the recent strike by television and film writers. She was an active presence on the picket line, a staple, and went on record, several times, saying that she would not violate any picket line to attend any ceremony.

2. Heigl was the most vocal member of her TV cast to defend co-star T.R. Knight against the sexist insults of Isaiah Washington.

3. She had the veracity to call a spade a spade, referring to her break-out film, the hugely overrated "Knocked Up," as being "a little sexist." (I've a hunch that she was being coyly diplomatic here.)

Heigl has emerged as something refreshing on the moldy/creepy Hollywood landscape - an outspoken woman with uncompromising principles and beliefs. If George Clooney is "the last movie star in Hollywood" (as Time magazine recently pontificated), then Katherine Heigl is easily the last honest person there. It's not a matter of ingratitude.

It's a matter of having cojones, scruples.

Anyway, I'm hoping that Heigl doesn't succomb to what has become the newest all-American bad habit - hastily wimping out.

You know, being intimidated into apologizing. Apologize? For what?

(Artwork: The gloriously, incorrigibly truthful Katherine)


Melody Warner said...

Right on, Joe! I think you're onto something here... she seems like a REAL person to me and a good role model for other young Hollywood actresses...not like the other trash we see.

Anonymous said...

There's a reason why people aren't reading newspapers anymore... and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe this guy is just trying to get himself some publicity. What a jerk!

Andrea Vincent said...

She's too beautiful and smart for today's standards -- she's an "old fashioned movie star." What role(s) would you suggest for her?

Jim Barton said...

Katherine Heigl has been the Golden Girl for about a year now, what with a beloved TV series, two hit movies and her dream wedding to a dreamy guy. I think the media decided it was time to burst her balloon, bring her down. So they took her words and turned them into venom. It's called hero reduction. I don't like it.

Kat said...

Hello? Do any of you think you would be able to go in to work on Monday, gather all of your co-workers and your boss together, and complain about another co-worker?

Of course not. It would not be seen as "refreshingly honest", it would be seen as unprofessional.

And as far as "Knocked Up" goes, I noticed that her distaste for the script did not keep her from doing the movie OR taking the cash.

tram said...

Oh, you should've frequented the gossip blogosphere late December.

There was venom for Heigl when she announced her boycott for the Golden Globes ceremony. How dare she take a stand for striking writers! How "self-important", her detractors scoffed.

But when George Clooney announced his refusal to cross picket lines, a few days later, nary a whisper of snark entered the forum.

Talk about double standards.

Lexie said...

Interesting that being publicly rude to ones colleagues is considered "refreshing" and "ballsy."

Heigl was being extremely presumptuous in thinking she would even be nominated. That said, there are far classier ways to remove yourself from a "nomination," and she chose the gutter route.

"1.Heigl was arugably the most supportive player on “Grey’s Anatomy” of the recent strike by television and film writers. She was an active presence on the picket line, a staple,"

The two times Heigl was on the picket line, as I recall, she later went on to say her boss Shonda Rhimes made her. Her honesty, wow, really REFRESHING!

Moviezzz said...

Great piece.

And even the quote about KNOCKED UP being "a little sexist" was journalistic misquoting.

She was read various negative comments to the female characters in the film and asked for her opinion. Rather than dismiss all the opinions, she was diplomatic and said they might have a point. She was responding to the journalist, not openly dissing the film.

joe baltake said...


Thanks for clairfying that point. There are so many media outlets these days, with so many opinions and distorted facts, that one is never sure what was really said. Much appreciated.

joe baltake said...

To Kat & Lexi--

To quote Nicholson in "A Few Good Men": "You can't handle the truth." So, get over it.

Now, maybe one of you can explain something to me - namely, why so many Americans these days are so thin-skinned, so easily offended and so darn judgmental. I guess that it's become so rare for someone to actually speak his/her mind that people now freak out about it, finding it, well, kinda weird and rude.

I'm also bored with the necessity we adopted to hastily brand someone enemy because they don't validate our own opinions. It's gotten old.

j kaiser said...

To bad John Lithgow never did this all those years he kept winning for "Third Rock from the Sun".

jbryant said...

I'm of two minds about the whole thing. Apparently, Heigl's statement was in response to Tom O'Neill after he learned her name was not on the Emmy consideration short list. The statement sounds like publicist-speak to me, though Heigl probably signed off on it. I don't doubt for a second that it's a passive-agressive way of saying, "The writing has gotten so bad on Grey's that I would be embarrassed to be nominated for my increasingly inane role, even though I did my best." Compared to something as honest as that, the actual statement is somewhat diplomatic.

But since there's no way to make that point without at least appearing to disrespect a lot of hard-working people, perhaps a simple "No comment" would've been prudent. Scripts can be crap for reasons that have little to do with the actual talent level of the writing staff, but Heigl's statement isn't nuanced enough to get that across.

So I understand why some are so upset. But I also think it's been blown out of proportion. Much of the negative commentary amounts to little more than snarky speculation about Heigl's level of bitchiness and divahood, or the kind of kneejerk celebrity-bashing that takes the same low road they accuse her of taking.

Plenty of blame to go around.

joe baltake said...


I agree. These days, as we've learned from the current political campaign, every word that one utters has to be carefully thought out because it will be closely analyzed. I'd like to think that I understood what Heigl said - or meant to say. I've seen her in too many interview situations to assume she'd be so insensitive. I'm with her.

Anonymous said...

It's not misquoting, it's reading the obvious into her statements. She has consistently used her statements to the press to center controversy around her, and there is no reason to think that it situation is any different. She easily could have said either "no comment," or "In an ensemble cast, you have to take turns. This was not the year for a big Izzie storyline, and I therefore feel that my work this year did not merit a nomination." Instead, she says that she was not "given" Emmy-worthy material. Who would give her the material? The writers. This means that she is saying that the writers did not write Emmy-worthy material for her, while saying absolutely nothing about the merits of her own performance, which should be the true test of a nomination anyway. That's a pretty clear insult to the writers to me. And heck, I agree that the material sucked, but there is no need to publicly insult your colleagues.