There is possibly very much, and possibly very little, to be said about last week’s New York Press cover story, in which Armond White presents his side of this month’s flap over Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, issues several broadsides about critical integrity, and accuses the Voice‘s J. Hoberman of being a racist puppetmaster out to smear him. Hoberman, you may recall, unearthed a microfiche of White’s 1998 review of Baumbach’s Mr. Jealousy, which ends with a torturous joke suggesting “retroactive abortion” for Baumbach, rather than the praise bestowed upon him by former colleagues of his former Voice critic mother, Georgia Brown.
I’d like to tread lightly around all of this, and frankly we should all be moving on, but I’m just back from being away and there are some things I’m duty-bound to clear up, since this whole thing is mostly my fault.
Some recap: two weeks ago, when it was initially reported that White had been barred from, then readmitted to, a screening of Greenberg, analysis of White’s consistent animus towards Baumbach quickly settled on the longstanding conflict between White and Brown: that the two feuded publicly was recalled, and critics active in the online community quickly thumbed back to a 2007 interview in which White had referred to Baumbach an “asshole.” The publicist at the center of the controversy, Leslee Dart, defended her decision (if indeed it was hers; accounts differ) by referring to these incidents, and alluded to White having “said [Baumbach's] parents should have aborted him.”
I tried to find any trace of this abortion crack online, and though it’s raised its head in not a few comments sections, there was never an exact quote, or citation of the review from which it had originated, to go along with it. The earliest trace I could find, when I wrote about the whole affair, was this pseudonymous comment, from late 2007. The whole thing had the air of apocrypha, and I said so, in the most direct and bloggy way possible.
Brown’s friend and former colleague J. Hoberman was understandably miffed by my post. And with a longer memory and more research resources than mine to draw upon, he was able to find the review in question.
Hoberman has confirmed, to a mutual acquaintance, that he dug up the Mr. Jealousy review in response to my own post.
Here’s how White frames this in his piece:
Dusting off a 12-year-old review I wrote of Baumbach’s Mr. Jealousy, Hoberman sent it to his minions in the Internet world with the warped instruction that the review callously demanded Baumbach’s abortion.
If by “sent… with the warped instruction” you mean “published,” then yes, I suppose he did. To correct a false statement made by another media outlet (this one).
With his sneaky behind-the-scenes influence, pulling the strings of his myriad media puppets, Hoberman misguided his partisans as to the review’s content.
If Hoberman was spreading the world about this allegedly damaging review, he did so by planting blog posts in December of 2007, with the knowledge that I would question their legitimacy in March of 2010.
As for misleading people about the content, people stumbling over the fine line between “should have had an abortion” and “retroactive abortion” are likely the result of fuzzy 12-year-old memory, not a whisper campaign. At the risk of stating the obvious.
And as for “minions,” Armond is mostly echoing the line, or had earlier fed the same line, to his editor, Jerry Portwood, who referred to Hoberman’s influence over younger critics he’s taught or worked with to impugn the independence of a freelancer who had made some fairly uncontroversial, obvious statements.
It looks more sinister, I guess, if there’s minions involved, but there’s not much to it. And I’m nobody’s minion (unfortunately). I’ve never met Hoberman; I’ve met Armond, briefly, and exchanged cordial emails. I admire both.
Look. I was wrong, publicly; Hoberman corrected me, publicly, in a way that made Armond look bad. That’s about it. Let’s talk about something else.