SUNDAY SOUR GRAPES? Peter Bart Not Consulted When His RBI/Variety Group Bosses Called Me Recently To Buy DHD

Since I did not sign a non-disclosure agreement, I am free to tell Hollywood the following: On February 27th, Neil Stiles, the president and publisher of Variety Group, called me saying Reed Business Information CEO Tad Smith was pushing him to discuss an acquisition of my site.

Stiles and I had spoken quite a bit about Variety‘s cutbacks and layoffs. I’d joked with him on several occasions that RBI should buy me because I was beating the trades on so many stories. But on this day, according to my informal notes from the conversation, Stiles admitted that his company had done a survey only to find that DHD was a bigger showbiz destination site on the Internet than Variety. He also noted that Variety was embarrassed when the trade publication missed the Peter-Chernin-resigning-from-News Corp story which I had broken a few days earlier. (It took Variety several hours to get online with a matching story…) Stiles’ idea was that I would remain independent, but Variety would own DHD and link to my scoops, etc. The one wrinkle he cited was that RBI’s parent is getting a new CEO and it might be a while before new deals were consummated.

I can’t discuss my end of the conversation (because of non-disclosure agreements I have with other interested parties). But, within a couple of days, the idea of Variety owning DHD was dead. I later learned that the trade publication’s editor Peter Bart was not consulted by his overlords about the overture. Instead, he heard about it third-hand. (When axed staffer Anne Thompson wrote something nasty about me on her blog, still carried by Variety, I blurted out, “Anne, the same place that fired you is trying to buy me.” Thompson immediately spilled the news to members of the Variety newsroom.)

I heard Bart was pissed. Then last week, Bart ordered up for Sunday’s Weekly Variety not 1 (written by Mike Fleming), not 2 (written by Cynthia Littleton), but 3 (written by Peter) separate articles about Hollywood bloggers that focused on me. No one from Variety bothered to call me in advance. Instead, others let me know that Fleming was sniffing around about me. I called Fleming, then tried to reach Bart. Eventually, I sent the following email to Variety‘s top brass:

Subject: Why is Weekly Variety suddenly writing about me?
Date: 3/17/2009 1:42:48 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From: Nikkifinke
To: Neil Stiles, Tad Smith
CC: Peter Bart, Tim Gray

— I heard from third parties that Mike Fleming is telling people he’s writing about “bloggers”.

— Fleming hasn’t come to me about this story he claims he was assigned Monday.

— I called Fleming just now and he told me he is only writing about me, and that it’s a profile. So he has misrepresented this story to the people around Hollywood.

— Shouldn’t his first call have been to me asking for an interview?

— Instead Fleming told me he’s only going to call me for “comment” at the last moment.

— How is this fair?

— Or that it’s being written by someone who is not at all impartial about me or DHD since Mike Fleming goes around town screaming at Hollywood for “giving” me stories before him (as if I only get my news scoops by being spoon-fed by publicists…)

— Or that Peter Bart also goes around town screaming at Hollywood for “giving” me stories before Variety (as if I only get my news scoops by being spoon-fed by publicists…)

— Or that this assignment comes after Variety/Reed Business came to buy DHD and it’s now clear that Variety will not be able to purchase DHD. Will that be part of the story?

— Is this Variety’s attempt to devalue my site?

I didn’t hear back. The next day, I spoke to a top Variety type who told me Peter had ordered a “hit piece” on me by Fleming. Then changed his mind after my email arrived. I had no idea both Bart and Littleton would be writing about me as well.

Clearly, I’m fair game — even though I’m one person up against entire news organizations. Then again, this month, Deadline Hollywood Daily celebrates its 3rd anniversary and 50 million unique users. I’m still amazed that anyone reads me, much less cares what I write. Sure, I take shots regularly at Variety (as part of my ongoing “Your (Un)Trustworthy Trades” campaign) but only infrequently at Peter Bart (my unfortunate term for him was “Hollywood’s buttboy”). I’ve heard from staffers at The Hollywood Reporter that editor Elizabeth Guider won’t even let my name be used in print because I wrote that she was a lousy choice to lead that trade. And in the past week Patrick Goldstein has slammed me four times in the Los Angeles Times by mischaracterizing what I’ve written and even misquoting studio execs about me. (Summit Entertainment’s Erik Feig insisted Goldstein run a clarification.) There’s even a rumor around the newspaper that Goldstein has been asked to create controversy so as to generate more comments on his blog (he gets almost none), so that’s why he’s targeting me. The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman has been online just a short while but already she’s written open letters to me and articles about me.

Let me assure you: not only can I dish it out, I can also take it. But I do wish journalists writing about me were at least accurate. Goldstein hasn’t been. Neither was Fleming. He singled out one story among the 3,328 posts I’ve filed on DHD because it contained, and then clarified, a rumor. The fact is I’m still wrestling with how to handle Hollywood rumors and always flag them as such. My goal is to acknowledge them, and try to confirm them or knock them down.

Variety’s Littleton suggested that the stories I and others wrote critical of the Motion Picture & Television Fund weren’t news — which is utter nonsense when Variety‘s own article dated January 21st was headlined, “MPTF Closures Cause Ire”.

She also brought up my reporting that Summit Entertainment had picked director Juan Antonio Bayona to direct its Twilight threequel, Eclipse. Patrick jumped on this, too. I never said he was hired to helm. And, today tomorrow, I have more news on this story that further confirms what I wrote was accurate. If only Goldstein spent more time reporting about Hollywood, and less time reporting about me.

As for Variety‘s criticism of my use of “TOLDJA!”, some of my commenters/emailers love it and some hate it. To the latter I often reply, “Feel free to give me the $20,000 needed for psychotherapy because I’m horribly insecure”.

True, the Variety stories mention in passing my scoops. So does today’s Daily Beast story headlined “Hollywood’s Most Threatening Blog” in which Kim Masters posits “Why Variety and the Los Angeles Times have so much to lose in their battle to bring down Deadline Hollywood Daily”. It takes my side but then gratuitously and incorrectly points out that “no photograph of recent vintage has found its way onto the Internet” of me. Nonsense. There’s one all over the web taken of me in the summer of 2006 by West Hollywood photographer Deborah Attoinese (which I made the mistake of giving to the New York Observer when I didn’t realize the newspaper was naming me Media Mensch Of The Year).

The biggest problem when journalists write about journalists is that there are often backstories unknown to readers. Thompson has been furious with me ever since I brought to light that she was banned briefly at Universal for taking off-the-record comments and putting them on-the-record. Goldstein stopped being my friend and started sending me nasty private emails when I complained in print about his asinine comparison of WGAW president Patrick Verrone to Yasser Arafat. And so on.

I just thought it was high time for at least a little transparency.

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