I’ve discovered that some top entertainment journalists were fooled by a press release they ran almost verbatim from the usually reliable showbiz PR firms of B/W/R and Ogilvy. Not just Variety (twice) and The Hollywood Reporter but also The New York Times and Los Angeles Times and Business Week and Forbes and Reuters and Bloomberg and as far afield as the Malaysian Insider. (Not me.) Shame on B/W/R and Ogilvy for not checking out their facts. Here’s what happened:

The press release was timed to arrive in reporters’ emails (including mine) on Sunday, usually a slow day news-wise. The headline, “DF Indie Studios launches a producer-centric venture with guaranteed U.S. theatrical distribution for films budgeted up to $10 million” begged for journalists to ask themselves, What the heck does that mean? The resulting news articles reported how two women were launching a new indie company and repeated the release’s claims that “DFIS films will be produced by a team of established producers with successful box office track records including: This is that Productions – Ted Hope and Anne Carey (Adventureland, In the Bedroom, 21 Grams, The Ice Storm, The Savages); Scott Free – Ridley and Tony Scott’s shingle (Gladiator, The Taking of Pelham 123, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster); Jennifer Fox (Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck, Duplicity, Syriana); and RedBone Films whose co-founder, Samara Koffler, ran Harrison Ford’s production company for eight years.” Oh really?

I’ve learned that the two women called up and scheduled a meeting with Ridley and Tony Scott and then came in and talked about financing deals. That was the extent of it. “These people take meetings all the time,” a source close to the Scotts tells me. “But there’s no deal. Absolutely no deal.” Same thing happened with Jennifer Fox, who was president of Steven Soderbergh’s and George Clooney’s production company Section Eight from 2001 to 2007. “Jennifer met with [them] a couple of times. But there is no deal in place,” an insider informed me. I haven’t been able to reach Koffler. On the other hand, producer Ted Hope made himself available to journalists and talked up the two women, whom he said he met 2 years ago and for whom he has “earmarked a handful of projects on a non-exclusive basis but has not yet received any funding for”, wrote blogger Anne Thompson.

Film financing circles expressed incredulity this story came out of nowhere to everywhere. I received from one bankroller an email that said in part: “What am I missing? Here’s a company that hasn’t raised its money, has no greenlit films, can’t explain its domestic distribution strategy, and gets a feature piece in The New York Times. I honestly don’t get it.  It reads like a trade article, not a Times article. Who is the publicist? He/She did a great job selling bullshit.”

Now the showbiz PR industry might consider that a compliment. But credibility is hard to win and easy to lose. I bet the primary reason most of the reporters picked up the press release was because it came from the power showbiz flackeries of B/W/R (listed were publicists Chris Libby and Gina Lang) and Ogilvy (Siobhan Aalders).