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Clickbait And PR Preparedness In The 'Time's Up' Era

By Tori Preston | Think Pieces | January 22, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | Think Pieces | January 22, 2018 |


The current awards season has been eclipsed by the #MeToo/”Time’s Up” social movement, from the attendees wearing all black at the Golden Globes to the all-female presenters at last night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. I can’t even remember who won what statue anymore, because the winners and losers are only half the story. The real morning-after headlines are devoted to socially conscious acceptance speeches and red carpet comments. And clickbait. A lot of clickbait. Is the quest for page views overshadowing the desire to continue the dialogue about equality and abuse?

The Overlords had a long discussion about this issue on Slack this morning, thanks to this Variety article. Or, more specifically, its headline:

Now, if you were to read the article, you’d see that while his comments are a little tone deaf (and he pulls the ol’ “father of daughters” card, because of course), the pull quotes they’re using are taken out of context. Does he say those words in that order? Yes. But seeing it in a headline like that, you’d think he’s complaining and that’s not really the spirit of his comments. Here is the complete quote in question:

“It’s hard to be a man these days,” Macy said backstage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. “I think a lot of us feel like we’re under attack and that we need to apologize, and perhaps we do.” He added, “We had a meeting. A bunch of guys got together under the auspices of Time’s Up. That’s good for men. Men don’t talk enough. And we talked.”

He then goes on to talk about inequality in Hollywood, and if he’s guilty of anything it’s being TOO positive about the state of the industry:

“It’s a good time to be a girl. I’m proud of this business, because such things as safety in the workplace, that’s done. We’re not going back. It’s changed. It changed in an instant and it’s not going back. When it comes to equality in pay, it’s inevitable. It’s going to happen and it’s going to happen quickly. My hat’s off to our business.”

So, could he have stated his point a little better? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t for a second think he’s a Men’s Rights Activist or anything. And even though I DESPERATELY wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that men’s only Time’s Up meeting he mentioned, I actually think that is a really positive thing! Men DO need to talk about these issues, and if that’s a step to educating themselves, then good job, guys! Ultimately, I think Macy was trying to address the topic honestly and give insight into how the men of Hollywood are reacting to Time’s Up. But that wasn’t the impression I got when I originally clicked the article — and for people who only see those quotes on Facebook or Twitter, they may take it at face value.

One issue is preparedness. He won the SAG Award for male actor in a drama series for his role in Showtime’s Shameless, so it’s understandable if he was expecting to answer questions about that rather than the current social movement. On the other hand, it’s become overwhelmingly apparent that journalists are going to ask pretty much everyone for their thoughts, so at this point Hollywood figures need to be prepared to respond. And it’s not too much to ask that Hollywood figures be capable of formulating responses that don’t involve sticking their foot in their mouth.

But on the other hand, even when they DO attempt to comment positively, if they don’t phrase it precisely right then even respectable outlets like Variety will transform their thoughts into pure clickbait. And look — page views are the name of the game. As someone who struggles to formulate headlines that will entice readers into clicking to read more, I get it. But to be deliberately misleading, especially in the ongoing conversation around #MeToo and Time’s Up, isn’t responsible reporting.

And even when a statement isn’t taken out of context, it’s still worth our time as an audience to consider its necessity. Take Alison Brie, being asked to comment on the allegations against her brother-in-law James Franco:

She acquitted herself well in how she responded, but I’ve seen more coverage of this clip than I have for her actual nomination (did you know she was nominated last night? She was!). Did anyone ask her husband, Dave Franco, to comment? I’m not saying I expect more from E! News than this because, I mean, I don’t — but it’s worth considering why we are content to let a successful woman who married into the Franco family be positioned as the mouthpiece for the family itself.

And the clickbait doesn’t stop at award shows. Look at this article from The Daily Beast:

Now, just reading that headline, it sounds almost like a threat. A man, who is a powerful director in Hollywood, says men may “stop hiring women.” But that’s a disservice to his ACTUAL comments in the interview, which are nuanced and quite insightful.

On the Ocean’s Trilogy, you worked with Casey Affleck, who’s also been the subject of sexual misconduct allegations. In this new environment, do you feel like you have to be more aware of your collaborators’ pasts—or wind up facing a situation like All the Money in the World?

I’m sure that’s going to happen. My fear is that, men being men, going forward, as opposed to changing their behavior, they’re just going to stop hiring women.

In terms of filmmakers, or studios?

In everything. In every business, in every part of the culture. Like I said, knowing men as I do, I think for a lot of them, that’s going to be their initial reaction, as opposed to a reassessment of how they’ve behaved. It’ll just be: let’s not hire women, because, you know, they talk.

But over time, that’ll be a bad play. Because diversity wins in all of these situations. If you become a company that, for instance, decides—tacitly or explicitly—to hire fewer women because you don’t want any problems, you’re going to get beat by other companies who do continue to hire women, because they’re going to have a better result. Again, it’s very early days. And I think the intensity of it is the result of many, many, many years of pent-up frustration coming out. That’s why it feels so all-encompassing. There’s just been this pressure that’s finally being released. If you step back and look at it from a sort of social-anthropology point of view, I find it fascinating.

It’s no secret that Soderbergh gives good interviews, so to see his comments boiled down to a simplistic clickbait headline is disheartening. And really, they had options for a catchy headline that DIDN’T include misconstruing his statements. How about: “Steven Soderbergh Fears That #MeToo Backlash Will Fail: ‘Because Diversity Wins’”? That makes me much more interested to see where his argument is going, to be honest.

Look, clickbait isn’t a surprise, and in some ways it’s useful, if only to train readers to not trust misleading headlines in an age of actual Russian-funded social media propaganda. We should all know how to read articles thoroughly and decide for ourselves what the takeaway is. But as we begin to examine how outlets are handling actual sexual assault allegations, it’s worthwhile to remember that journalistic standards and integrity should apply to even the simplest page view-grabbing filler content.

Tori Preston is the managing editor of Pajiba. She tweets here. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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