Ethics, Journalism and the Star Trek Way

By John Bierce
Posted at July 8, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT

I am a Star Trek fan. I have been one for more than half of my life, and I dedicate a rather large amount of time to watching the episodes, reading the novels, and, since about a year or so, surfing the internet to read about my favorite series. Over the past few weeks, however, my trust in the internet has received a severe blow, after I witnessed the uproar following the news of Ron Moore's departure.

About two weeks ago, I stumbled across a rather surprising post at the TrekWeb message boards. In the post, TrekWeb's Berserker stated that "there will be a big bit of Trek news in the next week. I won't say what, I have a good guess, and I am not sure when. But I think something that may surprise us will hit." Of course, I started wondering precisely what it was: Would TrekWeb have news on the new series? Would Voyager get home? Unfortunately, the TrekWeb people didn't give out any extra info, beyond saying that 'it would be a bad surprise' and that 'it involved a person.'

Then, a day later, TrekWeb's Steve Kruztler put up a news item most of you will have read already, announcing that "Ron D. Moore is leaving the show... Many speculate that [his reasons] may have involved unreconcilable differences with the show's executive producer, Brannon Braga."

In the two weeks that followed TrekWeb's announcement, many more rumors surfaced about Ron Moore's departure. The kindest just mentioned that Ron Moore's 'Survival Instinct' script was "ripped apart" by Braga, while some rumors even went as far as accusing Braga of sexually harrassing his staff members. The absolute low point in this was a post at Ain't It Cool News, which based itself on a Usenet report, traditionally not one of the most reliable sources of information. Rather interesting is the fact that, according to Deja, the author of this Usenet report (a certain 'recook77') seems to hang out a lot at the alt.gossip.royalty newsgroup, which certainly does not make him any more believable to me.

Fortunately, after thinking about all these rumors for a while, several other aspects didn't seem to be that truthful either. Just to get this out of the way, I think we can safely assume that Ron Moore has indeed left or is intending to leave Voyager, but what do we know beyond that? Moore could very well be staying at Paramount to help develop the new Trek series, as several rumors already indicated. According to a recent post at the TrekWeb message boards, Ron Moore still has an office at Paramount. It is still being manned by his assistant Jennifer and presumably by Moore himself as well. Jennifer apparently confirmed that Moore has left Voyager - but there is no indication at all that he has left Star Trek as well.

Furthermore, this Jennifer apparently said that 'Survival Instinct' "wasn't torn apart by the others at all," unlike what most of the rumors suggested. Of course, news reports about this have been severely conflicting - some sources claimed that the script was torn apart by the entire writing staff, others claimed that Braga couldn't handle the quality and wrote childish comments over the script, and now there are claims that Ron Moore himself was the only one to rewrite the script.

Of course, the reports that Braga "couldn't handle the quality" of 'Survival Instinct' sound like nothing more than low personal attacks - it's not as if Braga isn't a good writer either. This is, after all, the man who gave us 'Cause and Effect' and 'Parallels.' Braga is also the man who gave us 'All Good Things' and 'First Contact,' written in tandem with... Ronald D. Moore! Moore and Braga are two of the closest friends in the Star Trek franchise, and only recently finished writing the 'Mission Impossible II' script together. The idea that the two of them would get into a fight over writing abilities is beyond laughable.

What could, of course, have happened is that Ron Moore had to re-write 'Survival Instinct' to fit in with Voyager's premise. Moore himself has acknowledged that he doesn't know the show or its characters, and that he would just learn as he went along. Of course it's logical then that his script would need re-writing: he doesn't know Voyager, so how could his first attempt at writing a Voyager script immediately be perfect? Maybe (and this really is just a maybe, and as much unfounded as all the other reports), maybe Ron Moore didn't like how he had to re-write his script, and decided to quit the show instead. The same thing happened with people such as Harlan Ellison and David Gerrold, who to this day continue to cast themselves as victims of the Big Evil Producers.

The reports about Braga terrorizing and even sexually harrassing his staff are so low that I won't even attempt to go into them in any detail. Suffice it to say that, if this is indeed the case, why haven't we witnessed a mass exodus from Paramount over the last few months?

Unfortunately, the attacks on Braga's performance as Executive Producer seem to originate solely from internet fandom, which has always had a rather strained relationship with him. It seems to me that many people who still held a grudge against Braga now saw the perfect opportunity to damage him in public.

It really was no great surprise to me to find several Usenet postings by this aforementioned 'recook77' fellow, in which he mentions that Braga 'really doesn't seem to give a shit [about Voyager]', suggests that the only reason Braga came as far as he did would be if he had kinky snapshots of Paramount executives, and in which he calls Braga sexist. How much trust can we then place in him when he claims to have 'an e-mail from an acquaintance' who supposedly knows everything about "secret meetings" organized by Braga?

Perhaps even worse are the comments by someone calling himself 'Berserker,' who posted several comments at the Psi Phi message boards about Braga "badgering his own secretaries with lewd comments among other things" and later on claiming that he had heard quite a few things, but wouldn't divulge them because they're that sick and serious". Destroying someone in such a way is rather easy - I can post to Usenet as well, claiming that "I've heard quite a few nasty things about John Doe, but I won't bother offering any proof here. Let's also overlook the fact that he wrote some great stories - what matters is that he's a sexist, so he shouldn't run Star Trek. Why do I think so? Oh, well, because I know things that you don't, and unfortunately I can't go into any detail about them here!" Without any doubt my statements would be instantly believed in by everyone...

Unfortunately, there is no way for Brannon Braga to defend himself against these anonymous attacks. Whatever he says, he'll forever be damaged by this gossiping. What, unfortunately, the gossipers do not seem to realize is that not only has Braga been damaged by these attacks, but Star Trek as well. Over the past week, I've seen several people turn from firm believers in Star Trek and Voyager to pessimists convinced that the franchise is dying, and sick of all the things that supposedly are happening at Paramount. The first few months of the sixth season will be crucial in determining Voyager's future, and certainly slamming down hard on the show's producers won't help one bit.

I know that many people thought of Voyager's fifth season as the best yet, with the writing significantly improved over the previous years. Episodes such as 'Drone,' 'Timeless' and 'Someone To Watch Over Me' (all of which had Braga credited for parts of the story or teleplay) were regarded by many as being very good, and certainly showed that Braga is still a very talented writer. If we want Star Trek to live on, the last thing we should do is spread around rumors attacking Braga in some of the lowest ways imaginable.

I hope that, in the next few days, Braga and Moore will be releasing a joint statement explaining precisely what happened. I also hope that Ron Moore will still be staying with the Star Trek franchise, perhaps in a role on the new series, as there is no doubt about the fact that he is one of the greatest writers Trek ever had. The same, however, is true for Brannon Braga, who has done an amazing amount of work for Star Trek. I'd like to call on all online Star Trek fans to show Braga some respect, and at least give him the right to a bit of privacy. Unfortunately he is not able to defend himself, and so we should be cautious when looking at anonymous reports attacking him. Accusing him of sexual immorality certainly has no relevance at all when discussing his role on Star Trek, and is also extremely offensive and unfair to the man.

Like many of you I have been following Trek's latest drama. No it'snot Deep Space Nine, Voyager or even my DVD copy of Star TrekInsurrection. Instead it's the controversy buzzing about the departureof longtime Trek writer and producer Ron Moore after only a very shorttime from Voyager's writing staff. On one side there are the people whohave come forward claiming to have exclusive inside information whichreveals extreme misconduct by Voyager executive producer Brannon Bragaand on the other side there are the people who've questioned theircredentials, their motives and their sources which they refuse toreveal.

When online journalism first got started, the primary attack made mymembers of the press was that online journalism was unreliable.Journalism is a profession and like any profession has its professionalstandards but on the internet anyone with some basic knowledge of HTMLcan create a website and set up shop dispensing news on any subjectfrom Star Trek to Celebrity information to the Behind the Scenes AlienConspiracy in our midst. While in real life journalists areproffesionals with reputations to protect, in online journalism thenames of those providing information are frequently withheld in favorof such colorful non de plumes as "recook" or "berserker" and evenwhen (real) names are given they more often than not belong to highschool or college students posting from their dorms with little to loseby manufacturing information and plenty to gain by "looking cool" andimpressing their online and offline friends with "top secretinformation no one else knows".

The world of Star Trek is primarily divided into two worlds, the worldof the show creators and their viewers. Like any other world real orfictional both worlds have the full range of people and both the goodand the bad things that happen in the real world also happen here. Thecreator world of Star Trek takes place in a sunny land calledHollywood, which also happens to be a place not well known for havinghigh ethical standards. Ever since the days of the original seriesthere were the scandals, the outrageous sexual claims, the writers wholeft claiming that Gene Roddenberry did to them what Brannon Bragasupposedly did to Ron Moore. And the second world, the world of theviewers, our world took sides in these fights. There are those segmentsof fandom who still favor David Gerrold and Harlan Ellison over GeneRoddenberry and those who support the Great Bird of the Galaxy over thedisgruntled writers. Books have been written on the subject and thedirt has been beaten out of the carpets and all over fandom and theonly thing that has been established is that we'll never actually knowwhat really happened.

The only difference today is that this same kind of bickering, rumormongering and gossip which used to be circulated through fanzines andconventions has taken to the 'net and the world of the creators hastaken notice. Where fandom before was a subculture on the outskirts,today fandom online is the place where writers, producers and evenmainstream journalists go to find out what's happening. Worlds arecolliding and suddenly the world of the creators is interested ininfluencing what gets printed about them and their shows. Sometimes itcomes in the form of some false information about that top secretseason finale or next movie, sometimes writers make a connection withonline fans and pass real information to them in hopes of influencingwhat gets printed about them and sometimes members of the staff of a TVshow or former disgruntled employees pass on false information in hopesof smearing a competitor, an actor they want to get rid off or maybe aformer boss. It's happened before and while legitimate real worldjournalism has filters to prevent this sort of thing from happening,online journalism doesn't.

It's easy for one or two e-mails from someone who's given you goodinformation in the past or a newsgroup posting from someone who soundslike an insider combined with a juicy rumor to spread like wildfirefrom site to site. It's easy and more than that when Cinescape or AintIt Cool News credits your site, your page can go from 35 clicks a dayto a few thousand. The temptations are big and not just the swelledhead kind, there are financial incentives too. Today a fan site maystill be in the red but internet advertising is projected to hit thebillions and Star Trek fan sites have the same perfect demographic thatmade Star Trek: The Next Generation an ad exec's bonanza. Most Star Treksites today have some kind of advertising or deals with onlinebookstores that depend on the size of their audience. Bore your readerswith Paramount press releases and you risk turning your investment intoa ghost town but on the other hand if you can keep delivering thosejuicy bits of inside information; the payoff can be big.

Also real life journalists aren't supposed to enter into financialrelationships with the people they report on. A lot of fans on theother hand are just dreaming of pitching their Voyager script idea andfor some like Steve Krutzler of Trekweb whose site first reported theBraga/Moore contratemps that dream is supposedly about to verge onreality. And this of course doesn't even begin to get into thecelebrity chats (of which Trekweb has had its share, though BrannonBraga unlike Ron Moore cancelled his chat some time before the B\Mrumors were released), or the good old fashioned thrill of access toThe Powers That Be themselves for which even seasoned professionalreporters have been known to sell their souls.

But in the end what do all of these possibilities raised tell us? Whynothing at all. For now the Braga/Moore rumors come down to only arumor and until either side makes a statement on the matter we won'teven know if there is a side or which side to take. Veiled hints ofcommunications with great powers, important people and even Braga andMoore themselves cannot be a substitute for facts. We can makejudgements based on facts but no facts exist here; all we have arerumor, speculation and inuendo. Some reports claim that Braga tamperedwith Moore's script (a frequent complaint by writers), others claim hehumilated Moore and conspired against him and yet another set which hasbeen spammed across quite a few Star Trek discussion boards (by aposter also originating from Trekweb) accuses Brannon Braga of sexuallyassaulting female staffers.

The rumors are contradictory and as of yet unoffical and completelyunconfirmed. Many people find the rumors themselves disgusting, otherpeople believe that no one would make accusations like this if theyweren't true. Certainly it's hard to believe that Moore and Braga'slong friendship and collaboration completely collapsed in a matter ofdays and yet Moore's departure raises questions that need to beanswered. For now we are in the dark swirling in poisonous speculationsand while we can't tell truth from fiction, there are dare I say it'logical' ways of telling the difference. If someone is trying too hardto get you to accept their version one way or another, look for thebias and consider what's their agenda and what's at stake for them? Doyou trust them as much as you trust the evening news or Reuters, ifwhat they were reporting reflected negatively on a friend or a relativeinstead of a stranger thousands of miles away whom you've never met,would you still believe them?

And finally those of us who are Star Trek fans and those of us who runStar Trek websites have an obligation to focus on the positive over thenegative and on fact instead of rumor no matter how tempting the(Warning: Star Wars metaphor alert) "Dark side" might be. It's easy todamage someone's reputation, it's a lot harder to repair it. It's easyto believe the worst of people, it's much harder to question whetherthe prejudices against someone are actually true. It's easy to benegative and cynical but it's much harder to follow the Star Trek way.

Read our Ron & Brannon Feature for more on this!


John Bierce is a new contributor to the Trek Nation.

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