EXCLUSIVE: I have learned that editors of The Hollywood Reporter this month deleted embarrassing information about Summit Entertainment principals from a financial story about the studio’s refinancing in order to “horse-trade” it for the cover story interview with Jodie Foster that appears in this week’s print edition. No one is denying to me this occurred. But both THR and Summit agreed to keep the horse-trading secret. So much for real journalism taking place at that Hollywood media outlet under its new ownership. In fact, showbiz sources tell me that this incident is “just the tip of the iceberg” about what’s going on there. So here’s what happened in this case:
THR‘s Alex Ben Block was writing a financial story about Summit Entertainment’s recent $750 million refinancing and obtained some very pertinent information slipped him about what portion of a $200M distribution would be paid to the studio’s principals and investors. In particular, Summit wanted to keep secret that studio bigwigs co-chairman Patrick Wachsberger and COO Bob Hayward would pocket in the neighborhood of $30 million and co-chairman Rob Friedman would pocket around $7 million. (Wachsberger and Hayward founded Summit, and Friedman came in as an investor in 2007. I can only assume news of lavish payouts sows discord among those who don’t receive such lavish payouts.) But that info never made it into Block’s published story “because Summit didn’t want it to get out,” a THR insider told Deadline. “So a deal was made for the Jodie Foster interview.”
THR news editor Matt Belloni and editor-in-chief Janet Min horse-traded the embarrassing financial information for one of the first major interviews with Jodie Foster about her direction of Mel Gibson’s new movie The Beaver which Summit premiered at the SXSW Film Festival last night and is releasing on May 6. The THR reporter was quickly flown to Paris to talk to Foster in person. So the editorial decision was made that publishing the interview in the weekly print edition was a bigger priority than posting financial details online. The reason is that every effort is being made there to prop up THR’s struggling glossy because it’s the pet project of CEO Richard Beckman, a former Conde Nast exec anxious to compete with his former employer. But all THR efforts to attract subscriptions and advertising for the lifestyle publication have been failing.
Belloni and Min did not return my calls. But I did reach Alex Ben Block, one-time editor-in-chief of THR himself, and asked him how he felt about the horse-trading for information he had obtained. He replied: “I feel I acted with integrity, and the story I wrote had integrity, and I am quite happy with the story I wrote.”
Scandals where editors and publishers agree to delete negative reporting about showbiz companies have rocked the Hollywood trades for years.
For instance, a year ago, media outlets accused Daily Variety of deleting from its online archives a negative review of the movie Iron Cross after the producers purchased $400,000 in advertising as part of their “for your consideration” Oscar campaign to promote the movie and its star, the late Roy Scheider. The review by Robert Koehler faulted the filmmakers for “hackneyed plotting and intrusive editing” and concluded that it amounted to “mediocre stuff, choppy and uncertain, with hints of ambitious ideas that fail to gather steam.” The Variety publisher was alleged to have removed the review after the producers complained.
UPDATE: Variety on Friday has provided me with more info on the Iron Cross situation and its fallout which I didn’t know because Deadline never wrote about the accusations (although many other showbiz media outlets did). Variety informs that, following publication of Robert Koehler’s posted review of Iron Cross, the movie’s writer and director Joshua Newton complained to the trade about purported factual inaccuracies in the review and Variety.com took it down. But after an internal investigation, Variety says it stood by its Iron Cross review and put it back up on Variety.com where it remains today. Variety claims there was no connection between the temporary deletion of the review and the advertising which Iron Cross producer Calabria Pictures had previously purchased in Variety to promote the film. Calabria Pictures brought a lawsuit against Variety over the review, but that court action was dismissed in its entirety and Variety was awarded attorney fees.