Panelists slam WGAW for nixing mag article

Gelbart, Chetwynd, Roth, Russnow condemn decision

The WGA West’s board has come under fire for refusing to publish a long-planned discussion of guild politics in its monthly magazine Written By.

Four of the participants in July’s roundtable discussion — Larry Gelbart, Lionel Chetwynd and former board members Lynn Roth and Michael Russnow — have condemned the decision. And the moderator of the discussion, board member Peter Lefcourt, has resigned his post as chair of the Guild Editorial Advisory Committee in protest.

“Those who took part in the conversation are without any question being censored by the largest union of English-speaking writers in the world,” said Gelbart. “How sad for the union. How sad for the world.”

Chetwynd, who was often at odds with Gelbart at the roundtable, noted the concept was originated by the guild. “If they didn’t want a spirited and truthful exchange, they shouldn’t have wasted our time in the first place,” he declared.

The article was originally planned for the October issue of Written By but it was delayed and then pulled in November when the WGA West board voted against publishing the article — a transcript of the discussion — on a 7-7 tally with one abstention.

But WGA West assistant exec director Cheryl Rhoden indicated Friday the article may still be published in modified form.

“The board voted not to publish the article at this time,” she said. “The article is being reviewed for future publication subject to editorial changes.”

The board meets tonight, but the matter is not on the agenda.

The roundtable, which also included former board member Brenda Lilly and current secretary-treasurer Patric Verrone, was designed to reflect a cross-section of political philosophy and provide historical perspective following a turbulent year that has seen two guild presidents resign, the Labor Dept. supervise the presidential election and members work without a contract for six months.

Topics at the roundtable included negotiations, strikes, elections, staff members and office olders.

“We were silenced by our peers,” Roth said. “We’ve made incredible inroads with censorship in our industry, but now we have to fight it within our own guild.”

Roundtable participants said they had refused the board’s demand that the article not contain opinions it deemed to cast a negative view of guild members. “We were told in the most general terms that the board didn’t like any references slamming fellow members of the guild, and we rightfully felt that it wasn’t their place to pre-censor us at all,” Gelbart said.

Chetwynd said there had been room for compromise. “If they’d come to us in a kinder fashion and suggested rearranging some words that might have appeared too pungent, we probably might have toned it down, so long as it didn’t change the impression of what we were talking about,” he added.

Russnow noted board members also expressed concerns over negative comments about WGA members in a publication subsidized with their own dues. “Yet candidates for office are free to make any unpleasant charges about other guild members in a booklet entirely paid for with member dues, including those of the member under attack,” he added.

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