The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Blogger attacked by (gasp) other bloggers!

November 13, 2008 |  1:22 pm

AustraliaNormally I resist the impulse to respond to attacks from other bloggers, having the attitude that if you dish it out, you should be able to take it. But I can't resist a teaching opportunity. So here goes. When the blogosphere was full of reports--inaccurate reports, as it turns out--that Baz Luhrmann had been pressured by top 20th Century Fox executives to change the ending to his upcoming epic, "Australia," I could have just passed along the unsubstantiated reports, as most bloggers do. But I confess--I'm an old-fashioned journalist. Instead of just repeating the same half-truths, I thought I'd go to the source--Fox Co-Chairman Tom Rothman. If anyone was pressuring Luhrmann, it would be Rothman, who is famous for being involved in nearly all production decisions--big or small--at the studio.

As luck would have it, I had a lunch scheduled with Rothman the next day. So I asked him about the reports, got some answers and put them up on the blog. The reaction in the clown-suit-clad blogosphere? Variety's Anne Thompson, who should know better, wrote that "Fox put co-chairman Tom Rothman together" with me "to staunch the tide of bad PR" coming out of Australia. Movie City News' David Poland wrote that after I had battered Fox with "attacks and attacks and attacks for no journalistic reason" that I got what I wanted--a "free lunch." Why? As Poland put it: "Because Tom Rothman wants to head off attacks on his most expensive production of the year."

Is that really true? Not at all. The lunch was set up by me, six weeks ago, not on the spur of the moment by Fox. One of my paper's best bloggers, WebScout's David Sarno, often writes hilarious posts about the bizarre fake news and conspiracy theories that bounce around the Web, propelled by the viral nature of the medium. Apparently this happens with Web film coverage too, largely because no one would ever dream of picking up the phone and doing any reporting, preferring to offer clueless conjecture. If anyone had bothered to ask me, they could've discovered the awful tedious truth: I got lucky, having scheduled the Rothman lunch way back in late September. Poland is right that I have been intensely critical of Fox in the past year--my contention being that the studio keeps top talent and producers at arm's length, preferring to work with more malleable filmmakers, the result being a string of critically drubbed films. Rothman believes I've been unfair to the studio and we agreed to have lunch to try to clear the air.

What I find depressing is that bloggers like Poland are so ignorant about how reporters get stories that they actually think there's something inherently unhealthy about us having lunch with studio executives, agents and producers. Sorry, Dave, but it's the way reporters actually break stories. I assume Anne is aware of that, since I saw her just last week having lunch with Paramount's John Lesher when I was having lunch with a writer-director at the same restaurant. I suspect we both got some interesting news out of the effort. (And just so you know, Dave, even though the writer-director makes a ton more money than me, it wasn't a free lunch. I paid.)

In fact, I've got more news coming soon from my lunch with Rothman. I'd be much happier sitting at home, looking out at the big old avocado trees in my backyard, but going out to lunch and working the phones is how you break news in Hollywood. Some bloggers know the score--for all her faults, Nikki Finke breaks story after story because she doesn't just drone on about the Oscar race; she has real sources. Most film bloggers have spent so much time knocking the old mainstream media that they've forgotten that reporting still has its virtues. It's OK to sit in front of the computer and spew out half-formed opinions, but I'd rather go to the source and get the real story.