On Friday afternoon, WGAw President Patric Verrone and WGAE President Michael Winship sent out an email to members that embarrassed themselves and both organizations. In it, they slammed the “puny few” who bailed on the WGA to take fi-core status, thus allowing them to write for pay during the strike. They provided a link to the list of names — seven in the East, 21 in the West.
The email felt like it had been stuck in the Out box for several months, and had suddenly and unexpectedly been sent to membership. Some readers have speculated that the timing was somehow related to the SAG negotiation, but I can’t fathom how it was supposed to help. It was badly conceived and badly executed.
There are two issues involved, and it’s best to look at them separately.
The first is the decision to list the names. It apparently came about by a vote of the board(s) during the strike. I’m not privy to what the discussion entailed, but I have to assume the memory of the Hollywood blacklist came up as a significant argument against releasing the names. It’s a painful and dark mark in screenwriter history, and not easily forgotten.
The best rationale I can think of for naming names would be to end speculation and mythologizing about how many writers walked out on the WGA during the strike: it was in fact a very small number, consisting almost entirely of daytime serial writers. There was no great insurrection or profiteering by writers for film or traditional television.
I think there is a discussion worth having — whether making those names public helps or hurts the writers, the Guild and the industry. I can’t fault strong opinions on either side.
The second issue is the email itself, and that’s the real flashpoint of this debacle.
[T]his handful of members who went financial core, resigning from the union yet continuing to receive the benefits of a union contract, must be held at arm’s length by the rest of us and judged accountable for what they are — strikebreakers whose actions placed everything for which we fought so hard at risk. [...]
Without concern for their colleagues, they turned their backs and tossed the burden of collective action onto the rest of us, taking jobs, reducing our leverage and damaging the guilds for their own advantage.
Clearly, de-mythologizing was not the goal here. If anything, it’s a call to unsheath swords once again, this time to fight enemies among us. As the archives will show, I supported the strike strongly, both in miles walked and moments blogged. But guys? It’s over. And trying to reignite the flames of guild fury over 28 names is ridiculous. It makes the guild look as crazy as the AMPTP tried to portray us.
Over the past two days, I’ve heard the term “tone-deaf” a few times in reference to the email. But I think that’s too soft a criticism. A tone-deaf singer at least has some idea what the melody is supposed to be — he can hear it in his head, even if it sounds like cat disembowelment to us.
This email, however, is the wrong song at the wrong time. It’s Sussudio at a funeral. It feels like it came from a parallel universe in which the strike was still happening and Spock had a beard.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s this: If you were ever going to blunder, now is the time. For the first moment in quite a while, nothing’s at stake. The WGA is not in war mode — at least, it shouldn’t be. A frank discussion of how the guild conducts itself, publicly and privately, should be embraced. And emails like this should be the first topic of discussion.