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Comments: Week of August 2, 2010

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1. In this magazine’s previous issue, Joe Hagan detailed John McCain’s shift from an unpredictable “maverick” to a senator still angry over his 2008 loss and scrambling to hold on to his seat (What Would a Maverick Do?,” July 19–26). Political writers noted their apprehension at reading another story about such a familiar subject, but then lauded the profile anyway. “Joe Hagan keeps up New York’s remarkable record of turning every profile into a mini–Game Change of revealing quotes and moments,;” wrote Dave Weigel at Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog. “There’s hardly a dull graf in this thing.” “Full of telling little bits of detail,” wrote Matt Welch at Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog. “It’s hard to imagine that another John McCain profile could be interesting—by this point the man’s character and ideology seem completely transparent—but Hagan pulls it off,” noted Jonathan Chait at his New Republic blog. “The definitive account of John McCain’s last eighteen months,” wrote Michael Scherer at Time’s Swampland blog, only to then note: “If there is a fault to the well-reported story, it is that Hagan falls back on an old trope, trying to personify the two sides of McCain’s political identity in two of his top aides. It’s an oversimplification, which helps in the storytelling but gives McCain himself too little credit.” “Hagan does something more with McCain than the criticism suggests,” rebutted Joel Meares at the Columbia Journalism Review. “His McCain is not merely the product of two associates with different plans, but a man who cogently chooses between them based on his own long-hewn survival instincts, and a fear of the political cold … It’s an interesting if still familiar-feeling take, made fresher by the sheer rigor of the reporting.”

2. When David Edelstein’s review of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (Dream a Little Dream,” July 19–26) was posted online, it was the first negative critical response to the film, thus ruining the movie’s then-perfect score on the metacritic website Rotten Tomatoes . This lit a firestorm of recrimination online from irate fans—a “cyber lynch mob” as Edelstein referred to it in a subsequent post on his nymag.com blog—and launched a two-week-long conversation among movie critics and cultural commentators over the nature of fandom and the role of the critic. In a long article in the New York Times titled “Everybody’s a Critic of the Critics’ Rabid Critics,” A.O. Scott wrote that Edelstein and two similarly disenchanted critics “were treated like advocates for national health care at a Tea Party rally, their motives, their professionalism, their morals and their sanity questioned, and not always politely.” Some of Edelstein’s detractors included fellow critic types. “I give Edelstein points for lively writing, but in an era where critics have enough credibility issues as it is, the last thing we need is a critic thrashing a film because, in part, he’s chagrined to see it get so much open adulation,” wrote Patrick Goldstein at the L.A. Times’s Big Picture blog. “Apparently, there is no greater sin than for a filmmaker to make a movie that some people just like too much.” But other journalists came to Edelstein’s defense. “This is not what discussions of film are supposed to be about,” argued Linda Holmes at the Monkey See blog on NPR.com regarding the outrage. “Not only is there no reason to prize perfect scores, there is every reason to be suspicious of them … Castigating dissenters is unambiguously and brutally anti-art. It is anti-independence, and it is anti-creativity.” Roger Ebert also stepped up in defense of (though not agreement with) Edelstein. “I understand where Edelstein is coming from,” Ebert wrote on his blog at the Chicago Sun-Times (where he received 472 mostly negative comments in response). “His review is justified and valuable, more stimulating to a lover of the film than still more praise. It helps you to see it. If you don’t agree with his litany of faults, you have to ask yourself, why not?” And there was at least one convert among the online commenters: “David Edelstein was right! I wanted to like Inception. In fact I was one of the early haters of this review before I saw the film, but I just could not get over the fact that this movie was not interesting. I did not care about any of the characters and the supposedly complex story was fairly straightforward and predictable. Mr. Edelstein, I offer my apologies.”


3. In response to Jonathan Van Meter’s article exploring the rise of hotel nightlife (Checkout Time Is 4 A.M.,” July 19–26), hotelier Ian Schrager wrote to contest the characterization of him as a business partner of Richard Born: “My old company, Morgans Hotel Group, may have jointly owned a piece of unimproved real estate with Born for a short period of time, but his position was quickly bought out.” Born refuted that, noting that while they are not partners currently, they were involved in a project together for two years in the past. One correction: The design of the interiors of the Standard Hotel in New York should have been credited principally to Roman and Williams.

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