Must be a case of spring fever this weekend after both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter posted head-scratcher stories that prompted extreme reactions. First, Variety, under the guise of something called “Hollywood and Swine,” labels Sharon Stone the prime suspect in the recent rash of jewel thievery that got so much press during the Cannes Film Festival. It was meant to be a silly parody: the report said that Stone reenacted her famous interrogation scene from Basic Instinct, only to be told by authorities that nobody has wanted to see that since in the 1990s. But it was picked up straight-faced by Yahoo and the Chicago Tribune, among other outlets that took Variety’s good name as reason to trust a report that Sharon Stone is a suspect in a robbery. Yikes. (Stone has been a longtime ardent supporter of AMFAR, so there was every legitimate reason she would be at Cannes.) This dispatch wasn’t funny and it’s clear that media around the globe expect Variety to be a seed bed for accurate entertainment news – and not knee-slapping guffaws at the expense of an actress with a good name and a clean record. That’s the danger of combining parody news with legitimate news: people can’t tell the difference.
THR went in an even stranger direction, hiring a former Scientologist named Marc Headley to review the Will Smith movie After Earth. He claims that some of the dialogue comes from the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, and notes – GET READY FOR THIS SMOKING GUN – that a volcano depicted in the movie looks very much like the volcano on the cover of Hubbard’s Scientology treatise Dianetics. Now, THR doesn’t say exactly why it is using an ex-Scientologist who’s not a movie critic to provide that service, other than to cite some reviewers who suspect Scientology tenets find their way into some of the dialogue. Are they inferring that Will Smith or M Night Shyamalan are members of that church who are trying to subliminally win converts? They don’t go that far. Can we expect this guy to review every sci-fi movie because Hubbard wrote science fiction? Who knows? One thing THR probably didn’t expect – or maybe it wanted artificially created Internet traffic – was to receive 681 horrible unmonitored reader comments. I read through a few of these and they are the most hateful, racist, sexist things you’ve ever laid eyes on. When you run a questionable story like this, you need to be sure to police the comments, particularly the most vulgar missives about interracial sex acts and the kind of racial rants you expect to hear at a Klan rally and not a legitimate media outlet.
Or here’s an idea: how about covering actual Hollywood news and leaving it at that? I broke a story Thursday night about Grumpy Cat getting a movie development deal, and the industry greeted it as a sign of the apocalypse, based on our comment thread. So there are plenty of crazy and yet still factual things that happen in Hollywood, certainly enough to supplement the stream of serious stories we all chase.