New York Times' Bill Carter Is At It Again

If you think The New York Times television reporter Bill Carter’s usual suck-up coverage of the small screen biz has been even more fawning than usual to The Powers And Entertainers That Be, this is why: Carter is doing another book.

He made the deal with Viking’s Rick Kot during the summer and the 6-figure contract was recently signed. Though Carter is claiming it’s not a sequel to his 1992’s The Late Shift, he’s been “telling everyone” since the summer “that he’s having access to all the players he’s writing about on the NBC contingent,” according to one of my late night insiders, “including Jay Leno.” I’ve learned he’s been asking Letterman’s people since the summer for access to Dave, but none has been forthcoming. Right now the book has a very flexible publishing date of Fall 2010, or well before the Comcast/GE/NBCU deal is expected to receive regulatory approval.

Carter is very touchy when folks like me accuse him of never having met a network boss whose knob he didn’t shine. In response, he likes to claim that he can’t find anyone with bonafides to go on the record with negative remarks. Yet in today’s paper, Carter thinks it’s fine to quote an agent and TV producer praising Zucker to the skies even though they sell to NBC. As a network insider explained to me about Carter, “The thing people dislike about him the most is what makes him most successful: that he gives people a good ride for the access he receives.”

Let’s see… It took Carter two years before he wrote anything unflattering about Ben Silverman’s tenure of failure, and then only because the NBCU putz was about to be publicly pushed out. Carter wrote the script when HBO made The Late Shift into a teleplay and still covered the pay channel. He has been a private reviewer of stuff in the can to HBO’s Richard Plepler who lives and dies based on what The New York Times thinks of his pay channel’s programming. And Carter’s last book Desperate Networks was thought to have been dictated by CBS Inc’s Les Moonves. (Interestingly, Carter likes to boast that ABC’s Steve McPherson hates him because that tome so unflatteringly portrayed the exec. UPDATE: Others tell me Steve detests Bill  “because he’s an unethical guy and writes things that are untrue”.)

Carter was even more touchy when folks on his own paper privately accused him of keeping back juicy details of the Leno-Letterman late night war for his Late Shift book at the expense of New York Times readers. I’ve confirmed that Carter has fully disclosed his current book contract to his editors. I checked, and the paper isn’t concerned he’ll keep back relevant details of what’s going on now to pump up his book sales. Carter likes to say his articles traffic in current events and his books traffic in after-the-event details. (As if going back and telling Times readers what they missed isn’t newspaper journalism.) Then again, as Carter in July emailed when asked if he was planning a book on the latest Leno dilemma: “How am I going to pay for my kids’ new shoes if I can’t get another book out of this? I need this thing to blow up!”

Here are the relevant passages from The New York Times’ own guidelines:

B6. Books, and Rights to Our Material

132. Any staff member intending to write a nonfiction book based on material that derives from his or her assignment or beat must notify newsroom management in advance. If the plan is to reproduce content created for any of our media, the Times Company owns that material outright. It may not be reproduced elsewhere without the prior written permission of the company. And it cannot be rewritten, updated or otherwise altered and then republished without the company’s prior written permission. If a staff member is approached by someone seeking rights to Times Company material, the inquiry must be forwarded promptly to newsroom management.

133. Staff members who plan outside writing or other outside creative work must never permit an impression that they might benefit financially from the outcome of news events. Thus a staff member may not negotiate about rights to an article or story idea before the article has appeared. Staff members involved in covering a running story may not negotiate over creative works of any sort based on that coverage until the news has played out.

134. At no time may a staff member turn over notes, interviews, documents, outtakes or other working materials to any third party, including agents, producers, studios or outside production agencies, or share those materials with them unless legally compelled to do so. In case of such a request, the Times Company’s legal department will provide assistance (consistent with collective bargaining agreements). As a matter of policy, the Times Company will not give commercial producers or publishers access to working materials any more than it would turn them over to government prosecutors for use in court.

135. Staff members offered consulting agreements in television or film by agents, producers, studios or others must consult a responsible newsroom manager before accepting. No staff member may serve as a consultant to a film or program that he or she knows in advance is tendentious or clearly distorts the underlying facts. In no case should a consulting role be described in a way that invokes our company or its local units, or implies our endorsement or participation.

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