From the Land of 1000 Judy Millers

David Carr, who survived cocaine addiction to end up writing for the Times, has a snarky little piece about an old acquaintance in today’s paper.  Nikki Finke, manifesting as the blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, apparently strikes fear into any number of executive Hollywood hearts.

Among movie executives, the stories of Ms. Finke’s aggressiveness are legion, but they remain mostly unspoken because people fear being the target of one of her withering takedowns.

“I’d prefer not to ever deal with her,” said a senior communications executive at a studio who declined to be identified. Many others declined comment saying, variously, “she gave me a nervous breakdown,” “she terrifies me,” and “there’s no percentage in me saying anything to you about Nikki no matter what it is.”

Of course, if any of these unnamed sources wanted to say something about Ms. Finke that was both accurate and not likely to boomerang, all they need to mention is that she’s a hard-working reporter whose exhaustive management of what must be a truly formidable list of informants yields her valuable and highly readable material every day on the entertainment industry and its bizarrely ego-ridden palace politics.  She’s actually a business reporter, and has little time for the celebrity PR-driven side of the biz.  Her writing style may be torrid, but it seems strangely apt—attitude whose main point is to deliver an enormous amount of information, especially for a solo reporter.

Unintended self-revelation is becoming a bit of an artform over at the Times.  Mr. Carr packs up the apparent conveyance of bland information with a healthy amount of attitude himself. “As a traditional print reporter, she had a problem with deadlines, trying the patience of many editors”…which, of course, has never been true of most other reporters.

To admirers and detractors, she is the perfect expression of the Web’s original premise, which suggested that a lone obsessive could own the conversation, which she punctuates with the phrase TOLDJA in capital letters.

Ms. Finke emerges from this article as a lone obsessive hermit, hunched over a computer in Westwood, needing to get out far more than she does, shredding player after player across the wealthier neighborhoods of LA.

But luckily for her,

Her liabilities in the world of print — a penchant for innuendo and unnamed sources — became assets online.

Not the sort of thing that happens at the Times.
From an editorial perspective, it appears the Times’ media business columnist needs to establish as much non-specific doubt as possible about Ms. Finke’s work, while being constrained by the facts to also report that she is almost always correct and frequently far ahead in breaking her news.  To his credit, her quotes are uniformly sensible and anything but strident.  But the surrounding story is going in quite a different direction.

Her aggression is not limited to journalism. Ms. Finke is a frequent and enthusiastic litigant. She sued The New York Post, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney Company for wrongful dismissal after she wrote an unflattering article about Disney. According to numerous media accounts, she received a settlement.

Too bad Carr has to mention that the massive corporations that she single-handedly sued had to settle—would that be an example of aggression, or justice?

WomanWarriorAs Ms. Finke is aggressively going around, nailing “Hollywood suits” like “pelt[s] on her wall”, I’d like to suggest just this kind of approach to the Times.  They can let Ms. Finke, the solo blogging reporter, aggressively cover the precious entertainment industry—which is only drugging us into a somnolent state of material envy and acceptable bloody violence, after all.

Imagine the same kind of aggression applied by a Judy Miller to the Bush Administration’s fomenting of the Iraq war (Where are the Weapons of Mass 1st Amendment Destruction?)!  Judy could learn something about reporting from Deadline Hollywood Daily.  Carr quotes Ms. Finke:

“I just don’t go out to industry events, in part because it puts my sources in an awkward situation,” she said, adding that “the other thing about going out with these people is that when it comes time to cover something involving them, they say, ‘But, Nikki, we’re friends.’ I don’t want those kind of friends.”

Judy, on the other hand, had a Secret clearance which enabled her, and no other reporter, to participate in the hunt for WMDs.

…in an independent critique, Norman Solomon points out some disturbing details in Miller’s account, such as her admission that she was given “clearance” by the Pentagon “to see secret information” which she “was not permitted to discuss” with her own editors. [8]
“There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the U.S. government,” Solomon states. “But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation — and the fact that The New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” [9]

Of course, Judy is no longer on the gray lady’s roster.  In the day, however, some aggressive reporting and a few “withering takedowns” might have ended up not just puncturing egos and deflating some Hollywood financial bubbles, but saving lives and preventing the rampant destruction of the benighted country of Iraq by the late lamented criminal conspiracy known as the Bush Administration.  But I suppose the mainstream media knows best how to report all the news that’s fit to print.

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