Cheering in the Oscars pressroom

Awards show reporters would rather congratulate than ask real questions

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86th Academy Awards - Press Room

Actress Cate Blanchett holds the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for 'Blue Jasmine' in the press room during the 86th annual Academy Awards ceremony. (Paul Buck, EPA / March 3, 2014)

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.

Say you were watching a post-Super Bowl news conference featuring the coach of the team that lost on the final drive. You'd expect someone to ask for his reaction, no?

Or say two players from the same team had snubbed each other on national TV. Reporters would ask each player what was up with that, right?

Or say a key player had been drawn into a much-publicized scandal leading up to the big game. It's a no-brainer that someone would ask whether the scandal had any effect.

So as I sat among hundreds of fellow reporters in the Oscars pressroom March 2, I wondered: Is the entertainment press, at least when operating on a mass scale in Hollywood, working at a level beneath that of sports journalists?

In sports, after all, for every predictable question about how a slugger felt when he belted the winning home run, there's the counterbalancing question to the pitcher who served it up. "No cheering in the press box" is a rule at sports events. There was plenty of cheering in the Oscars pressroom.

Let's set the scene: In a hotel ballroom in the mall that houses the Dolby Theatre, journalists in formalwear sit at long tables or in chairs near the stage. These reporters represent various national and international media, and if you have a question, you wave a three-digit number and hope the moderator calls on you.

Oscar recipients arrive after receiving their awards, and the late-in-the-show winners tend to hit the pressroom after the telecast has ended. So when "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron stepped up to discuss his best director victory (having appeared earlier as co-winner of the editing Oscar), the show already had ended with "12 Years a Slave" taking best picture.

Mind you, no one is going to win a Pulitzer for probing Cuaron's potential mixed feelings over winning best director but not best picture, but someone's got to ask. Instead, he heard this:

"So you have stated that this is not a Mexican movie, actually that it doesn't give much Mexican culture. But today you made history in Mexico. You became the first director to win an award. What does it mean to Mexico to win this award?"

"What exactly were you thinking at that moment right before they announced your name?"

"You've got an Oscar in each hand. How does that feel?"

Another question began, "First of all, big fan … Wonderful to see this fulfillment." (All quotes are from the official Oscars transcripts.)

There are some common themes to pressroom questions: 1) an attempt to tie the news to reporters' home bases; 2) an attempt to keep the good mood going; 3) an attempt to link interviewer and victor. We're all dressed up and are breathing these stars' rarified air, so we'd rather feel we're on the inside than the outside, even if that means asking winner after winner, "Where will you keep the Oscar in your house?" as one reporter did.

Yet when the evening presents something resembling actual news, insider aspirations become a hindrance. No shortage of Oscar watchers noticed the chill between "12 Years a Slave" adapted screenplay winner John Ridley, who didn't acknowledge director-producer Steve McQueen in his acceptance speech, and McQueen, who likewise didn't mention Ridley when collecting the best picture Oscar. The apparent rift had been much discussed online by the time Ridley arrived backstage.

So here's how the Q-and-A with Ridley opened:

Q: I talked to you on the red carpet.

A: Yes.

Q: I told you you were going to win.

A: You did.

Q: I absolutely did. Congratulations.

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