Peter Bart, who is accustomed to delivering unrequited
admonishments in his weekly column for Daily Variety, is taking rare
shots on the chin for his stunning remarks in a profile about him in the
September Los Angeles Magazine. Written by Amy Wallace, the story
contains numerous quotes from Bart that can be construed as sexist,
racist, anti-Semitic or just complete fabrications. But the most
damaging statement is one in which Bart tries to explain his refusal to
be typecast by religion or ethnicity by drawing a comparison between
successful, educated blacks and poor, uneducated blacks. The latter, he
allegedly claims, have a greater need to be identified with their ethnic
subculture in order to feel deserving of special treatment or
That provocative comment appeared in the "City of Angles" column in the
Los Angeles Times on August 17, tossing the first match on kindling that
quickly became a firestorm, resulting in Bart taking a leave of
Gina Piccalo, a "City of Angles" contributor, says she extracted the
remark on her own volition, but these kind of juicy quotes are sometimes
hand-fed to journalists as a publicity stratagem. Did Los Angeles
Magazine do that? I tried to get some answers from editor-in-chief Kit
Rachlis, but he didn't return my call.
Bart broke a couple of important PR rules in his interviews with
And since he often writes his Variety columns in the form of "Memo To,"
Allow me to emulate:
To: Peter Bart
From: Lawrence Mitchell Garrison
Re: Foot in mouth
My dear fellow columnist, making stereotypical comparisons is not the
best way to combat being stereotyped. No one, not even as skilled a
political and social operative as you, Mr. Bart, editor-in-chief of
Variety and former movie studio honcho, can finesse his way through the
politically correct land mine of racial didactics. Don't dangle your
toe, sip the glass or so much as glance sideways at this kind of thing.
It's tempting to swing at bees that buzz too near, but you'll only get
stung for the attempt.
The biggest mistake Bart committed was allowing Wallace access over a
period of months. That's a no-no. It causes the subject to become overly
comfortable with the interviewer and eventually speak too freely, as one
would to a friend. Never confuse friendliness with friendship.
All of us say things to intimates that would make us aghast were they to
become public. That's why I share with clients a favorite adage: A
gentleman thinks twice before saying nothing. Too late for Bart, whose
otherwise compelling profile by Wallace was tainted by his enormously
insensitive remarks. Which reminds me of another favorite adage, one I
humbly attribute to myself: No one cares how tasty the soup is if
there's a fly in it.