The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Thanksgiving spirit still alive: Hollywood-blogger style

November 26, 2008 |  2:10 pm

WarrenandjackSharon Waxman posted a great scoop on her WaxWord website earlier this week, revealing that a huddle of Hollywood stars (notably Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Nick Nolte) had a secret meeting last month where they gave up a thumbs-up vote endorsing an actor's strike. Citing an unnamed source, Waxman (a former top-notch New York Times reporter) says the A-list actors were even given pieces of paper to write down their views as to how or why a strike should occur.

It sounds wonderfully cloak and dagger, especially since this was far in advance of any strike vote from the rank-and-file SAG membership. But was the story too good to be, well, true? This morning, with most of the Thanksgiving turkeys still in the fridge, Nikki Finke weighed in on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog claiming -- gasp -- that the meeting never took place. She takes apart Waxman's post, referring to the alleged event as an "imaginary meeting," quoting an unnamed insider saying that Waxman must have confused the secret meeting -- which she initially described as happening last month, a reference now deleted from her update of the original posting -- with a SAG meeting that happened last June before the guild contract had expired. But that meeting, Finke says, was for a different purpose, to gather names for a solidarity statement during the last weeks of negotiations between the guild and the studios.

Finke also accused Waxman of deleting the post, though Waxman says she inadvertently left the post in  "draft" mode overnight while doing some additional fact checking. Waxman has now amended a few facts in her original post, notably leaving out any specific time frame for the meeting. Finke concludes: "All I can say is that this doesn't bode well for her future blog endeavors." That prompted a Waxman response saying that Finke had devoted so much energy trying to debunk the story because she was eager to embarrass a fellow journalist.

What's going on here? In short: Who knows? Waxman and Finke were once quite friendly, but clearly Finke, who was the first to establish herself as a major Hollywood blogger, isn't especially hospitable to any competition. I've been on the whip end of a few of her lashings myself, so I know all too well how easily she can overreact and distort a competitor's story. On the other hand, Waxman does seem to have a hole in her post. When I e-mailed Waxman to ask if she knew when the meeting took place, she acknowledged that she hadn't pinned it down yet. The timing is pretty crucial -- if it did occur before the June 30 contract expiration, as Finke contends, it feels like very old news, if news at all. If it was over the summer, say in August or even September, it raises the question: what bearing did the meeting have on a strike vote call in late November, if any bearing at all? 

The real issue here, as always, is the nutty environment of Hollywood blogging. Call me old-fashioned, but as a reporter, if I only have one source for a story -- and can't even use that source on the record -- I don't think that gives me enough credibility to run the story, especially when, as in this case, no one can say exactly when this alleged secret gathering even happened. The reporting standards for blogs are inevitably different from the standards for newspapers -- they are essentially two different mediums -- but some of the same standards still apply equally.

One in particular: You've got to nail down the story before you print it.

Photo: Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Credit: Scott Nelson / Agence France Presse.