The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The inside scoop on Fox's fury with Roger Friedman

April 7, 2009 |  4:09 pm

By now you've surely heard the news that Fox News "gogger" (as in gossip blogger) Roger Friedman was fired for giving a glowing review to the upcoming 20th Century Fox film "X Men Origins: Wolverine."

The only itty-bitty problem? Friedman reviewed a controversial pirated copy of the film that's been floating around on the Web, giving Fox film executives a nasty dose of tsoris over the prospect of millions of Wolverine fans downloading a free copy of a film the studio will soon be spending tens of millions to market when it hits theaters May 1.

DigestTheManWhoOwnsTheNewsI'll miss Friedman, who was always a lively read. When he was bad, he was really bad, invariably raving about every Harvey Weinstein project, but when he was good, he was really good, doing a great job of exposing the inside maneuvering at places like the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But to learn the real reason why Friedman got in such hot water with his "Wolverine" review, you have to read Michael Wolff's blog post today, which makes it clear that Friedman's real sin wasn't reviewing the movie so much as making it obvious how easy it was, with just one click of the mouse, for a typical middle-aged male to watch an illegally pirated Hollywood summer movie.

Wolff speaks with authority, since he just published "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch," a bracing look at Murdoch's media empire, bolstered by hours of interviews with the emperor himself. To the point about the ease of piracy, Wolff writes: "Perhaps [Friedman] found pirating from his own company a bit of irresistible troublemaking. Or, perhaps, like virtually everyone else under some ever-rising age, he just found it too easy and obvious not to do. He didn't even have to download -- just clicked and streamed it. That was actually part of his review -- the manic or childlike delight he took in describing how simple it was to watch a pirated movie."

Wolff's other salient point is that Murdoch, not to mention Friedman's boss, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, like so many other media kingpins of a certain age (think Variety's Peter Bart or Harvey Weinstein) still, in 2009, have virtually no firsthand knowledge of the Internet, much less a visceral understanding of the simplicity involved in watching pirated films or music videos. As Wolff puts it: "They think of this as exceptional behavior, while everybody else knows it's trivial stuff. Actually, Murdoch tends to think that almost everything that happens on the Internet involves dubious, if not outrageous, behavior."

Wolff concludes by chortling at the irony that News Corp., which "profits off of everybody else's self-seriousness and high-mindedness," is now, in the face of disruptive technology, "as uptight and pantywaist and pitiable as everybody else." First it was Peter Chernin who was News Corp.'s anti-piracy czar. Now it will be Murdoch himself. Wolff calls that an unfortunate development destined to speed the crumbling of the News Corp. empire, "because only the pirates will survive in this business." 

I'm not quite as pessimistic as Wolff, but seeing what's happened to my own beloved newspaper business, I'm hardly a starry-eyed optimist either. Friedman took the fall for his own starry-eyed approach to piracy, but if media tycoons like Murdoch believe they can hang on to their old business model forever, they will soon be taking a much bigger fall than Friedman did.