EW's Chris Rock interviewer weighs in on Matt Drudge
As the person who did the infamous interview with Chris Rock that sparked the Drudge Report-fueled controversy over whether he should be hosting the Oscars, I'd like to share a little secret.
There is no controversy. Let me explain.
When I went to the Drudge Report website Sunday night (Feb. 13), I saw it was topped by the screaming headline, ''HOST CHRIS ROCK SHOCK: ONLY GAYS WATCH OSCARS,'' splashed in the blocky font Matt Drudge usually reserves for a lurid Michael Jackson revelation or political takedown. I instantly recognized this as my article as filtered through severe reading-comprehension issues. The upcoming Oscar host had joked to me that no straight black men watch the Academy Awards. Now Drudge was paraphrasing it as exposé, making it sound like Rock was impugning the sexuality of all male movie lovers. It was like translating Henny Youngman's ''Take my wife, please'' into ''YOUNGMAN: WIVES ARE MADE FOR SWAPPING.''
In Drudge's posting, he excerpted some of Rock's dismissive jokes about the Oscars that he had never watched them except when black actors were nominated, and that awards for art were ''f---ing idiotic'' and then sprung his ''exclusive'': that because of these comments, unnamed Academy members were demanding that he be replaced as host. My instinct was to dismiss the article. Of course some would grumble at Rock's disrespectful comments. Many in Hollywood consider the Oscars just shy of Communion as a holy event, and some stars don't like the idea of their night being mocked. (Remember the way Russell Crowe just glowered at host Steve Martin's barbs in 2001?) It wouldn't be hard for Drudge to uncover a couple of cranks eager to vent. Heck, at the Old Actors Home you probably can't throw a bust of Myrna Loy without hitting an Academy member who prays every night for the ghost of Bob Hope to show these insolent upstarts how comedy is done. But the Academy picked Rock for a reason: In light of the award-show ratings slides of recent years, he'll attract younger viewers who think the Oscars is something their parents watch when they want to see Billy Crystal think of a clever rhyme for ''Thalberg.''
It only took a simple Web search to remind me that there's an interesting antagonistic history between Drudge and Rock. In March 2003, around the beginning of the Iraq War, Drudge posted an unsourced scoop that DreamWorks had asked Rock to refrain from making anti-Bush jokes while promoting his new movie, Head of State. Rock released the statement, ''I never met Matt Drudge, but if I see Matt Drudge, I'm going to take my red-blooded American foot and put it up his un-American a-- for trying to disrupt the opening of my movie.''
But this history didn't seem to occur to the rest of the media. Such was the pickup of this article (the Associated Press, CNN, E!, yes, even EW.com, to name but a few) that Gil Cates, the Oscar ceremony's producer, released a statement denying that he'd heard any complaints from Academy members, and averring that Rock's comments were ''clearly jokes,'' and he still wanted Rock for the reason he first approached the comic: his daring sense of humor. As for the insinuated accusations of homophobia, GLAAD the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said his remarks were clearly barbs toward the Oscars, not gays. So it seemed that no one was offended but Drudge.
It also bears noting that this wasn't the first time Drudge proved unable (or unwilling) to grasp Rock's humor. On Jan. 28, a wire story reported an Oscar press conference in which Cates was asked how he chose Rock to be host. After Cates began saying that Billy Crystal was on Broadway and Steve Martin was doing a movie, Rock interrupted, adding, ''Ellen DeGeneres has crabs. Jay Leno's got a gig. They got to the R's. Burt Reynolds said no.'' How did Drudge link to this story? With the ludicrous headline, ''OSCAR HOST CHRIS ROCK: 'Ellen DeGeneres has crabs'...'' Was this interpretation oblivious, humorless, or simply malicious?
When Drudge sensed that his ''exclusive'' based on my quotes was catching on, he pushed it further, heading to Hannity and Colmes on Feb. 14 to keep it alive. But his approach was more activist: He now warned against Rock as a horrible, ''lewd'' spokesman for Hollywood to the rest of the globe watching the awards. He cited routines from Rock's 2004 Emmy-nominated HBO special, Never Scared, pulled wildly out of context. In a bit about the freedoms in America, Rock says ''it's beautiful abortion is legal,'' which Drudge twisted to ''abortion, it's beautiful.'' Then Drudge disparagingly cited Rock's reference to ''weird white guys getting overly patriotic with their [f---ing] flag hats on,'' and snorted that Rock must find the flag waving on Fox News ''weird'' too. Rock's routine is actually about how patriotism after Sept. 11 slowly devolved from a pure, refreshing love of country into ''hatriotism,'' where some people used jingoism as a pretext to say they hated all foreigners. Which is not a far leap from wrapping yourself in the flag to silence a comedian you don't agree with.
Drudge went on to worry that Rock might drop ''f-words'' and ''spew hatred'' on the Oscars. But Rock is a pro. He never swore when he hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, and he's very savvy about TV's limits. He's a comedian, not a Tourette's patient. And who would Drudge find acceptable? ''They could have gone to Regis [to host],'' he told Hannity. Would Phyllis Diller be an acceptable backup?
Four days later, I'm still seeing this same story with Cates' same denials popping up in national and local papers. I feel partly responsible for this outcry, in that some of the offending comments came from my interview. But that's not what frustrates me. What frustrates me is that Drudge, with the overeager and unthinking cooperation of some of my peers in the media, has so widely perpetuated what is an absolute non-story. Because now Rock might watch what he says next time he's in an interview, and when an insightful, outspoken comic starts watching his words, welcome to the world of hatriotism.
What do you think about Drudge's coverage of Rock? And what's your feeling about Rock as host of the Oscar ceremony?