Roger Ebert: Film Critic Trailblazer Let Ideology Get the Better of Him

The death of film critic Roger Ebert made the Drudge Report's top story slot, and you'd be hard pressed to see a person's Facebook or Twitter page over the last 24 hours that didn't mark--and mourn--the venerable critic's passing.

It's a testament to Ebert's accessibility, his ability to write reviews that helped people make smart film choices as well as his iconic television program co-starring fellow critic Gene Siskel.

In later years Ebert diminished his persona by attacking conservatives in a fashion unbecoming an icon. He used his cinematic bully pulpit not merely to support progressive causes but to smite those who saw politics differently. By most accounts that side of Ebert didn't mesh with his flesh and blood self, but it tainted his talents and clashed with his appetite for gentlemanly film debates.

Ebert helped redefine and enhance the role of a film reviewer, and he did so in an era when the Internet allowed every movie goer to be his or her own published critic. Rather than become another print media dinosaur, Ebert embraced the Web and Twitter and even started his own film festival, Ebertfest. 

All the while, he battled salivary gland and thyroid cancer that devastated his jaw and left him unable to speak.

He would not be silenced, though.

He initially drew national attention via his long-running movie review program co-hosted by Siskel, a fellow Chicago newspaper reviewer. Their conversations could get heated, but the pair respected each other too much for matters to get out of hand. It's a quality that often eluded Ebert in his later years when the subject turned to politics.

Ebert's seamless transition to the digital age allowed him to expand his commentaries to the political realm, and while the writing was always clear the opinions had their fair share of sharp elbows. His calm, measured approach to reviewing Hollywood's latest releases gave way to heavy handed retorts and occasionally nasty broadsides. He used the death of astronaut Sally Ride to mock Mitt Romney, shared hateful thoughts about "teabaggers," and treated conservatives as poorly as Hollywood so often does.

He made jokes when Rush Limbaugh suffered a heart scare (although he later apologized for his poor taste) and said the talk radio titan should be horse whipped for critiquing President Barack Obama.

Ebert occasionally found a more reasonable tone between the harsh rhetoric. Consider this Tweet regarding a profile of Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart.

Roger Ebert tweet on Andrew Breitbart

Even conservatives routinely stung by his prose should praise Ebert's bravery in the face of illness, ability to embrace new technology and, most of all, his unvarnished love for film which shined through in the grand bulk of his words.


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