The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Hollywood blogger vs. Aaron Sorkin: Dogged journalist or showbiz stalker?

February 23, 2011 |  6:45 pm

Aaron sorkin Sometimes when it's hard to get a showbiz celebrity to sit down for an interview, you have to act a little like a stalker. Let's just say persistence often pays off. So I sort of know how the Jewish Journal's Danielle Berrin must have felt trying to pin down Aaron Sorkin for an Oscar season interview. After all, the always-engaging and hyper-articulate Sorkin has been everywhere in the past six months, promoting his much-talked about, best picture nominated film, "The Social Network." It seemed logical to assume that a nice Jewish boy like Sorkin could make a little time for Berrin, who writes the incisive "Hollywood Jew" blog for the Journal.

But as Berrin reveals in this fascinating, tell-all post, celebrity journalism is a complicated affair, especially, as Berrin discovered, when it involves a celebrated screenwriter and a movie studio like Sony Pictures that is teeming with protective publicists. The nagging question is whether Berrin pushed the envelope too far. To hear her tell it, it took about 20 e-mails between her and Sony last fall before she was "approved" for even a 20-minute chat with Sorkin. The interview was supposed to happen at 1 p.m., via phone, since she was in Miami, tending to a sick brother, while Sorkin was in New York, doing his movie junket. First Sorkin was running 15 minutes late, then 45 minutes late, then the interview was canceled.

Berrin finally submitted some e-mail questions about a subject that intrigued her -- the film's treatment of Jewish women -- and never heard back. That's when it got really interesting. Figuring no interview would ever happen, she wrote a column headlined "Who Does Aaron Sorkin Really Hate?" that excoriated Sorkin for his treatment of women in "The Social Network." It was so inflammatory that even one of Berrin's friends, who had initially given her Sorkin's e-mail address, wrote a letter to the Journal's editor, calling her piece "half-baked and bizarre." Berrin insists that she wasn't acting like a journalist scorned -- she says she would have preferred to hear Sorkin's side of the story. But when you rip someone after they've bailed out on an interview, it's always hard to tell the difference between pique and provocative opinion-making.

Nonetheless, most writers would have figured that after a frontal attack like that, all their bridges were burned. Not Berrin. When the Journal was preparing its annual Oscar issue a few weeks ago, she wrote Sorkin again, acknowledging his displeasure over her column -- he'd written to another blogger to register his complaints -- but asking again for an interview. Amazingly, Sorkin wrote her back. Berrin says it was a "heartfelt, thoughtful response." Berrin's post includes a batch of quotes from Sorkin's rejoinder, but the part I found most interesting was his admonition to her that she shouldn't assume that his portrayal of some Jewish women in "The Social Network" was in any way a description of all Jewish women. As Sorkin put it:

Danielle, movies, plays, television shows ... these things are different from Benetton ads where we get one from every column. I don’t want to be identified as a typical Jew (as if there is such a thing) ... and I’d be surprised to find out that you want to be identified as a typical woman. And any piece of art in any medium that begins with the mandate that all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations be represented in the best possible light is pretty much doomed unless it’s called Sesame Street.

It's a great defense of why we should think twice before making any broad sweeping interpretations about how individual minorities, women, Jews, Muslims or, God help us, journalists are portrayed in drama. One does not equal all. Of course, Berrin still didn't take no for answer. Since Sorkin ended his e-mail by saying he'd be happy to schedule an interview, Berrin kept after Sorkin's PR people, trying to make it happen.

Sorkin wrote Berrin again, saying, "You already wrote a story called 'Who Does Aaron Sorkin Really Hate?' in which you suggested that I was a misogynist, a self-loathing Jew and a bad writer--you've got to give me a reason why it would be a good idea to participate in another story." Berrin took that as a challenge, sending Sorkin daily updates, each one headlined: "Reasons to Interview With Me." Call it stalking or just journalistic persistence, but it didn't work. I guess Sorkin figured: once burned, twice shy. He's probably right. But it certainly is a rare pleasure to get a peek behind the curtain and see a journalist pulling out all the stops, sort of like a spider to a fly, trying to get an oh-so-elusive interview. 

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Aaron Sorkin showing off his hardware after the 31st London Film Critics Awards this month in London. Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images