Players: Roger Ebert; Perez Hilton, Bam Margera, and other Ryan Dunn fans and friends.
Opening Serve: Yesterday's news that Jackass star Ryan Dunn died in a car accident solicited a slew of sentimental tweets, but film critic Roger Ebert's comments on the incident sparked a spat. Ebert tweeted, in reference to the fact that Dunn had posted a picture of himself drinking with his friends just hours before the fatal crash, "Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive."
Return Volley: Several of Ebert's Twitter followers commented on the tweet, suggesting it was "insensitive," in "poor taste," and disrespectful. The controversial tweet became even higher profile when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton weighed in. "We understand what he's trying to say, but still--this is extremely insensitive!" Hilton wrote at his blog last night. "We certainly agree that driving after drinking is wrong, we think there's no reason--especially RIGHT NOW--that anyone should be pointing fingers or making fun at a truly tragic situation. Everyone makes mistakes, and this is somebody's son. Too soon, Roger."
Ebert stood by his tweet and noted that some of Hilton's commenters supported his sentiment. "Perez Hilton's readers agree with me and not with Perez about my tweet on Ryan Dunn. He drank, he drove, 2 people died," he tweeted. Fellow Jackass costar and Dunn's childhood friend Bam Margera had been noticeably silent on Dunn's death up to this point, compared with his friends who expressed their grief via social media. Late last night the skater lashed out at Ebert, tweeting "I lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterical for a full day and piece of shit roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents...About a jackass drunk driving and his is one, fuck you! Millions of people are crying right now, shut your fat fucking mouth!"
Ebert tweeted an hour ago that his Facebook page had been removed "in response, apparently, to malicious complaints from one or two jerks." He insists, "Facebook! My page is harmless and an asset to you. Why did you remove it in response to anonymous jerks? Makes you look bad."
What They Say the Fight's About: Roger Ebert feels it is necessary to use Dunn's high-profile death as an example of the dangers of drinking and driving. Hilton, Margera and other Dunn supporters argue that Ebert's words are insensitive and it is not his place to publicly chide Dunn on the day that those close to him are mourning his death.
What the Fight's Really About: Ebert's comment was in reference to the widely-circulated Twitter picture of Dunn drinking with friends the night of his crash. However, as several news sources such as the Guardian and The Washington Post point out, the initial police report of the crash did not suggest intoxication as a cause. So Ebert's scolding is based on speculation, not confirmed fact, and as such seems even less warranted.
Who's Winning Now: No one. Whether he has a point about drunk driving or not, Ebert comes off looking very insensitive and, on top of it, he lost his Facebook page. Hilton, Margera and the others, though understandably offended, are also put in the position of seemingly defending drunk driving--though it's unclear whether Dunn was even drunk when he died. In the end, their retorts won't make up for the fact that they, and Margera in particular, lost a friend.
Update: Ebert is now walking back his words at his Chicago Sun Times blog. Ebert clarifies that he does not know for sure that Dunn was drunk at the time of the accident but based his comment on reports that Dunn "drank three light beers and three shots before he drove away from Barnaby's in West Chester at around closing time." Ebert writes, "I don't know what happened in this case, and I was probably too quick to tweet. That was unseemly. I do know that nobody has any business driving on a public highway at 110 mph, as some estimated--or fast enough, anyway, to leave a highway and fly through 40 yards of trees before crashing." Ebert insists that he was not refusing to apologize by tweeting in response to Perez Hilton's blog post and clarifies:
I offer my sympathy to Ryan Dunn's family and friends and to those of Zachary Hartwell, who also died in the crash. I mean that sincerely. It is tragic to lose a loved one. I also regret that my tweet about the event was considered cruel. It was not intended as cruel. It was intended as true.