The list of reasons for loving Roger Ebert is long and enduring. The man has introduced millions of readers and viewers to the pleasure of good movies. He wrote the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s trash classic, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
He encouraged Oprah Winfrey to pursue syndication—while the two were out on a date!—contributing to her powerhouse status. He has been inspirational in continuing to pursue the career he loves, despite serious health problems, ones that have robbed him of his ability to speak.
And he wrote perhaps the best takedown in film review history, eviscerating Rob Schneider’s Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalo. (Although it should be noted that Rob Schneider cemented his mensch status by sending Ebert flowers when the film reviewer fell ill.)
So what’s the latest evidence of Roger Ebert being the coolest guy in Chicago? His kiss-off letter to Jay Mariotti, who recently ended his love-hate relationship with Chicago sportsfans by dumping on the Chicago Sun-Times as he walked out the door.
Ebert’s response, published in an open letter at Poynter Online:
What an ugly way to leave the Sun-Times. It does not speak well for you. Your timing was exquisite. You signed a new contract, waited until days after the newspaper had paid for your trip to Beijing at great cost, and then resigned with only an e-mail. You saved your
explanation for a local television station.
As someone who was working here for 24 years before you arrived, I think you owed us more than that. You owed us decency. The fact that you saved your attack for TV only completes our portrait of you as a rat.
Newspapers are not dead, Jay, although you predicted the death of the Sun-Times and the Tribune. Neither paper will die any time soon. Job-hunting tip: It is imprudent to go on TV and predict the collapse of a newspaper you might hope would hire you. Times are hard in the newspaper business, and for the economy as a whole. Did you only sign on for the luxury cruise? There’s an old saying that you might have come across once or twice on the sports beat: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Newspapers are not dead, Jay, because there are still readers who want the whole story, not a sound bite. If you only work on television, viewers may get a little weary of you shouting at them. You were a great shouter in print, that’s for sure, stomping your feet when owners, coaches, players and fans didn’t agree with you. It was an entertaining show. Good luck getting one of your 1,000-word rants on the air.
The rest of us are still at work, still putting out the best paper we can. We believe in our profession, and in the future. And we believe in our internet site, which you also whacked as you slithered out the door. I don’t know how your column was doing, but we have the most popular sports section in Chicago. The reports and blog entries by our Washington editor Lynn Sweet have become a must-stop for millions of Americans in this election year. After a recent blog entry I wrote about the Beijing Olympics, I woke up at 5 a.m. one morning, when North America was asleep, and found that 40 percent of my 100 most
recent visitors had been from China. I don’t have any complaints about our web site. So far this month my web page has been visited from virtually every country on earth, including one visit from the Vatican City. The Pope, no doubt.
You have left us, Jay, at a time when the newspaper is once again in the hands of people who love newspapers and love producing them. You managed to stay here through the dark days of the thieves Conrad Black and David Radler. The paper lost millions. Incredibly, we are still paying Black’s legal fees.
I started here when Marshall Field and Jim Hoge were running the paper. I stayed through the Rupert Murdoch regime. I was asked, “How can you work for a Murdoch paper?” My reply was: “It’s not his paper. It’s my paper. He only owns it.” That’s the way I’ve always felt about the Sun-Times, and I still do. On your way out, don’t let the door bang you on the ass.
Your former colleague,