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The All-Time Legendary So Elusive LA Times Hollywood Piece

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PostPosted: 03/08/21 1:06 pm    ::: The All-Time Legendary So Elusive LA Times Hollywood Piece Reply Reply with quote

So I have referred to this SO many times on Rebkell's over the years. But every Google search I did when the idea popped up in my head turned up NOTHING. For almost two decades.

And I don't know why it came up this last time I Googled it but there it is.

It was part of a four-part series in the LA Times back when, obviously, an expose of the biggest most powerful industry in an industry town was still possible. I do NOT think this series would be possible today. In fact, I believe this piece was taken so badly by those in the entertainment industry that they found ways of making sure nothing like this ever made it into print again.

So I don't trust anyone or anything this powerful. And I don't ever want to lose access to this piece again. And I don't know if the reason I can view this is because the LA Times has a cookie on my devices identifying me as a paid subscriber, which I am. So I'm not taking any chances that this might disappear someday and I'm going to post it in its entirety.

And it is a long piece. BUT... only one of four in a series that was so epic that no one reading it would ever have forgotten it.

This one, I believe it's part 2 in the series, is about the accepted and abjectly hopeless prevalence of LYING throughout the entertainment industry.

For ease of reading I'm not italicizing the text or putting it in quote fields.

Feast on this rare gem, my friends, and be grateful.

‘Inhale. Lie. Exhale. Lie.’


FEB. 13, 2001 12 AM PT

Covering Hollywood may seem like an easy, glamorous job for a journalist. Movie premieres. Lunches with stars. Parties in Malibu. Gossiping with studio executives. But experienced reporters on the beat say it’s one of the most difficult of all journalistic assignments--"harder to cover than Washington, D.C.” in the words of Bernard Weinraub, who has covered both for the New York Times.

Like Washington, Hollywood is an intensely competitive beat. It’s covered by dozens of reporters representing two daily trade papers, the country’s best metropolitan dailies, at least a half-dozen national magazines, several online entertainment sites and a Nielsen book full of television news and entertainment shows.

Even worse, veteran journalists and movie executives say, many of the movie people whom reporters have to deal with lie constantly and compulsively about almost everything, refuse to speak on the record about even the most routine matters and delight in anonymously circulating unflattering, damaging and often untrue rumors about their colleagues and competitors.

“I know so many people in the movie business that are so talented but so insecure that they root for their friends’ failure. It makes them feel infinitely better about themselves,” says Michael Ovitz, formerly the town’s top agent and now president of Artists Management Group.

Schadenfreude--the pleasure taken in others’ misfortunes--is deeply rooted in Hollywood. So is the culture of dishonesty. Indeed, lying is an everyday fact of life in the movie business. People admit they lie, and some even brag about lying--all off the record, of course.

Anita Busch, editor of the Hollywood Reporter, says a producer recently told her, “Let me be honest with you, even though that’s not in my nature.”

“Inhale. Lie. Exhale. Lie,” says Lynda Obst, an independent producer whose films include “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Contact” and whose 1996 book on her life in Hollywood is titled “Hello, He Lied.” “Long-term survivors find successful techniques that don’t require lying . . . [but] lying is part of the toxic air in the jungle that you have to account for.”

Is all that really so very different from politicians?

“Yes,” says Weinraub. “People lie much more flagrantly in Hollywood than in Washington. The level of duplicity and deception is greater in Hollywood.”

The most common Hollywood lies involve money--how much money a movie costs to make and how much it earns at the box office--but lies about jobs sought, quit, considered and rejected run a close second. Ovitz and Michael Eisner spent much of 1996 vigorously insisting that their partnership at the top of the Walt Disney Co. was happy and effective--at a time when it was clearly neither, as stories about their parting late that year made clear. Much the same thing happened late last year and early this year when top New Line Cinema executives insisted for months that Michael De Luca was not leaving as president of production.

On Jan. 17, De Luca was fired.

Obstacles for Reporters

Lying is only one of the obstacles facing reporters in Hollywood. It is widely agreed, for example, that many movie moguls are thin-skinned megalomaniacs who are so accustomed to being surrounded by sycophants that they have no understanding of the role of the independent journalist and regard the media as an extension of their own marketing departments.

Top people in Hollywood tend to take themselves very seriously. Weinraub says that when he wrote something harsh about a politician or a diplomat in his years as a correspondent in Washington and abroad, “he knew it was part of the game; it’s not usually personal between a politician and a reporter. In Hollywood, everything is personal. You write a story and people literally call and say . . . ‘I have a family to feed. How could you write that story?’ ”

In their defense, studio executives point out that they are not public officials and should not be subject to the same level of scrutiny and skepticism.

“There is no ‘people’s right to know’ in Hollywood,” says Mark Gill, president of Miramax, Los Angeles. “There’s no intrinsic civic value in covering show business.”

Movie makers say too many reporters in Hollywood seem determined to emulate the increasingly adversarial and sensationalist stance of their colleagues in Washington and elsewhere. As the stakes have become higher for both sides--bigger budgets and bigger risks for the studios, more news outlets and more competition for the media--relations between the two have become increasingly fractious.

Stephen Rivers, a Santa Monica-based publicist who has worked for clients in politics and entertainment, says Hollywood and the media now have “a dysfunctional relationship, with legitimate complaints and significant failings on each side.” Rivers is particularly distressed by what he sees as “a qualitative difference in the journalistic rules of engagement” in politics and entertainment.

“You can say anything about anybody [in Hollywood] and not have to nail it down,” he says. “The mentality seems to be that it’s nice if it’s true, but that’s not necessary; these are not affairs of state.”

Reporters in Hollywood insist that they try to be as careful with the facts as do their colleagues elsewhere. They scoff at charges that their coverage has become too critical. Quite the opposite is true, they say.

The television entertainment shows are seen as particularly soft--filled with adoring personality profiles and stories on new movies--in large measure because they need continued access to studios and stars to fill all their air time.

But Kenneth Turan, film critic for The Times, says that in Hollywood, it’s difficult even for reporters on respected daily newspapers and national magazines to maintain the journalist’s traditional skepticism and detachment.

“You’re covering famous, beautiful people with power and glamour,” he says. “Your bread and butter is their willingness to talk to you. How do you prevent that from subverting your objectivity?

“The real problem isn’t that you’ll consciously go easy on someone,” Turan says. “The pernicious thing is the way the Hollywood culture subsumes you and makes you part of the system, and you don’t even realize that you’re being softer all-round.”

But many movie executives say journalists are disdainful and resentful of them, and on this point, even some reporters agree.

The great disparity in Hollywood between the money that reporters earn and the money earned by the people they cover is “largely responsible for the hostility” that many journalists feel toward their sources and subjects, says Jess Cagle, who covers Hollywood for Time magazine.

Top professional athletes also make far more money than do the people who cover them, but even the most Walter Mittyish sportswriter realizes he doesn’t have the unique skills that enable these athletes to perform at such high levels. In Hollywood, many say, reporters’ resentment of the money gap is exacerbated by their conviction that they could do what most movie moguls do, that most of the moguls are not particularly intelligent and that they do not, therefore, deserve their vast wealth and power.

“The trouble with a lot of entertainment journalists I know is a real kind of contempt they have for the industry they cover,” Cagle says.

But much of the journalists’ contempt may derive from the inevitable culture clash between an industry whose success is based on its ability to create fantasy and an institution whose success is based on its ability to ferret out the truth.

An Ingrained Culture of Falsehood

Movie making is “a business of perception and illusion,” says Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group.

The concern with perception and illusion extends to virtually every transaction related to the movies--not just making the movie but negotiating the deal, selling the movie to the public, evaluating its success or failure and talking to the news media. Creating illusion, mystique, deception--lying--becomes a way of life.

While the practice has “always been sort of endemic to this industry . . . as the stakes have gotten higher, as . . . the economics have become tougher, I think it’s become even more like that,” Cook says. “You have a tremendous amount of disinformation that is dished out by other studios . . . which makes reporting in this industry extraordinarily difficult.”

Sometimes movie people even ask reporters to lie for them. Many Hollywood talent agencies have policies that only the name of the agency, not any individual agent, will be given to the press when a deal is announced, for example, but Anita Busch of the Hollywood Reporter says it’s not uncommon for an agent to call and say “Please put my name in the story, and if anyone complains, could you just say it was a mistake or you forgot the policy?”

Speaking candidly is so rare in Hollywood that last October, when Mel Gibson says he thought “The Million Dollar Hotel,” a movie that he stars in and that his company helped produce, was “as boring as a dog’s ass,” it made Page 1 of the Hollywood Reporter.

In fact, the Reporter periodically publishes a column, “The Horse’s Mouth,” which features “outrageous comments"--lies prominent among them--that have been made to their reporters. A recent example:

“Reporter: ‘I explicitly asked you if there were any discussions taking place, and you said there were none. You blatantly lied to me!’

“Agent: ‘Of course!’ ”

Patrick Goldstein, a movie reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, says people in Hollywood simply “see truth in a different way than most people do--certainly in a different way than most journalists do. . . . To them, truth is what makes a good story, period. They spend their days making it up as they go along; I’d have to be a wacko idealist to expect them to be truthful with me.”

Goldstein offers the following hypothetical scenario by way of explanation:

“Look, you call a movie executive who spent the morning talking to people about how to turn the nurse who’s the hero in a book he just bought into a fighter pilot for the movie version. Then he was on the phone trying to get financing from a German company by telling them the movie will cost $40 million when he knows it will cost at least $70 million. Then he’s telling someone at the studio that his latest movie had a test-screening score of 90 when it was really 65.

“Then you call him, as a reporter, and you expect him to tell you the truth?”

Several dozen studio executives, producers, publicists and journalists interviewed for this story said Goldstein’s hypothetical scenario rang true--and was, if anything, understated.

“If I talk to 100 people in a day, 99 of them are lying and the other one is my mom,” says the Reporter’s Busch.

Getting Away With It

Lying, says Gill of Miramax, is “the default position in Hollywood. About half the people in Hollywood are fabulous, outrageous, pathological liars; the other half just spin and omit and shade the truth.”

Tom Sherak of Revolution Studios says that if he tells a reporter that a preview audience gave one of his movies a score of 90 when it was really 60, “that’s lying. But if you says to me, ‘How were the scores?’ and I says to you, ‘The audience loved the movie. . . . I sat there when they applauded. I sat there when the guy got up and said, ‘Show it again.’ It doesn’t matter what the scores were.’ . . . That’s spinning to me,” not lying.

Many other executives joke that they don’t really “lie;” they say, with a smile, that they “fudge” or “exaggerate” or “embellish” or “minimize” or “engage in wishful thinking out loud.”

How do people in Hollywood get away with all this?

In the movie business, it’s commonplace for today’s rival to be tomorrow’s partner; that mitigates strongly against publicly screaming, “Liar, liar.” Reporters are willing accomplices; they repeatedly quote people whom they know have lied to them in the past, thereby implicitly giving them “a license to lie again,” as several studio executives put it.

Reporters frequently allow their sources to be quoted anonymously, which removes another layer of accountability. Phrases like “sources say” and “observed one onlooker” and “one studio executive says” are almost as common as dollar signs in movie stories.

” It’s astonishing . . . shocking how much mainstream reporting on the movie industry relies on unnamed sources,” says Rick Lyman, who covers Hollywood for the New York Times. “I can see an argument for letting government officials speak off the record. There are important public policy issues involved. But not movie executives gossiping about each other. I don’t see who benefits from that.”

Lyman says that when he started reporting on Hollywood, he also used too many unnamed sources. But when he realized what he was doing, he made every effort to get people on the record, and he’s been largely successful.

“Because people lie so much here, that’s all the more reason to hold people’s feet to the fire and not let them be anonymous,” Lyman says. “They have axes to grind. You can’t let them fudge and not even have their necks on the line.”

Interviews or Deals?

Many in Hollywood treat reporters as they treat their colleagues, turning every interview into a negotiation--a deal. Just as many prestigious directors insist on a contractual guarantee that they will get the final cut on a movie--that their edited version will be the one the public sees--it’s routine in Hollywood for an executive to demand a similar guarantee before granting an interview to a reporter. The executive will do the interview “on background,” with the understanding that if the reporter wants to attach his name to anything he says, the reporter will call first and let the executive approve the quote. If the executive decides he doesn’t want to be identified as the source of the quote, the reporter is obligated to modify it to their mutual satisfaction, take it out of his story or use it anonymously.

This ritual has become so expected--and accepted--that in the course of interviews for this series of stories, five reporters from various news organizations asked for the right of final cut on their quotes (as did more than a dozen motion picture executives). All ultimately agreed to be quoted by name--except when their quotes were critical of colleagues, competitors or journalists, in which case all insisted that their remarks, if used, be attributed to “a studio source” or some similarly anonymous nomenclature. (None of those quotes--or any other anonymous quotes--were used in these stories.)

Why are so many Hollywood people so reluctant to be quoted by name?

As in Washington and elsewhere, some sources know they can curry favor with journalists by providing them with off-the-record information and insights, and by remaining anonymous, they incur no enemies.

“Much of Mike Ovitz’s rise to power in the minds of journalists can be attributed to the fact that he was very candid in background conversations with reporters on what was actually happening in Hollywood,” says John Horn, who covers Hollywood for Newsweek. “He was a source of incredibly useful information, and he enjoyed favorable coverage because of that.”

Other people talk off the record because they want to denigrate a rival, a co-worker, a superior or someone who may subsequently be a colleague and they don’t want to risk retribution. Sometimes it’s because they’re revealing information that a boss might not want made public. Sometimes, however, the information or observation they’re passing on is so routine and noncontroversial that it’s impossible to determine why its source insists on remaining anonymous.

Horn says a Warner’s executive once said to him, “Off the record, just between us, on background--I can’t comment.”

Richard Natale, a freelance writer who contributes regularly to The Times, remembers once asking a studio head why her movie had done well and she said, “Because it’s a very good movie--but that’s off the record.”

People in Hollywood tend to be insecure--"the unlicked cubs,” says Time’s Cagle. “There’s a very specific species of human being who works in the entertainment industry. They’re people who never got enough attention when they were growing up. They crave attention and affirmation, but they worry that virtually anything they say could be misunderstood and come back to hurt them.”

Fear of Failure a Driving Force

Failure comes quickly and visibly in Hollywood, and fear of failure is what drives the movie business. With multinational conglomerates now owning virtually every major studio, executives speak often--and nervously--about “riding a roller coaster” or “standing in quicksand” or “living on a precipice.” A studio head has a string of hits, then one or two failures and he’s out--and because he’s making movies, not widgets, everyone knows instantly that he’s out. In recent years, Bill Mechanic at Fox, Casey Silver at Universal and Mark Canton at Columbia all fell prey to that syndrome.

“There are [other] phenomenally successful people in Hollywood who didn’t go to college and have no particular credential other than what they’ve done in their current job,” says Stacy Ivers, senior vice president for corporate communications at ICM. “There’s no certificate on their wall that will let them say, ‘OK, maybe I botched that operation, but I’m still an MD.’

“They go to bed every night knowing that if you can make a fortune overnight, you can lose it overnight. Everything changes so fast in Hollywood these days that what matters is not what you did last year but what you did 10 minutes ago.”

One journalistic consequence of the reluctance of so many people in Hollywood to speak on the record is that those few who are willing to do so are quoted over and over again.

Joe Roth, formerly the head of Fox Filmed Entertainment and Walt Disney Studios and now head of Revolution Studios, may be No. 1 on the journalistic Rolodex-- quoted everywhere, on everything from violence in the movies to box office grosses, and many of his competitors resent him for that.

Time and again in interviews for this story, studio executives would grumble--off the record, of course--that “Roth gets great press” or “Roth gets quoted all the time” or “You never read a negative word about Roth.”

But as Amy Pascal, chairman of Columbia Pictures, says: “Roth gets good press because he’s accessible, honest and candid"--and on the record.

There’s little that a reporter likes more than a source who returns calls and answers questions truthfully and on the record. No matter how objective and evenhanded a reporter tries to be, such people are bound to fare well in the long run.

Thus, on the most recent Entertainment Weekly list of the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood, Roth finished 11th--ahead of Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Jim Carrey and the heads of all the top agencies and all the major studios. The magazine listed “debits” for every person on the list except Roth. Its entry for him in that department: “Nada, at the moment.”

So why don’t others in Hollywood emulate Roth (and a few others like him) in their dealings with the news media?

“No one in Hollywood understands how to have a relationship with the press,” says Obst, the producer and author, who began her career as a magazine editor. “In Hollywood, everyone’s either a friend or an enemy.” If a Hollywood executive has a pleasant lunch with a reporter or gives a reporter good information or if a reporter writes a favorable story about him, the executive thinks, ‘Oh, this guy likes me,’ ” Obst says, “and then they’re shocked” when the next story comes out and it isn’t so flattering.

Some studios--Miramax foremost among them--do understand the media and are widely regarded as being especially effective at courting and even manipulating reporters to get what they want. But most moguls alternately try to seduce reporters and to intimidate them.

“Hollywood is all about the deal,” says Terry Press, head of marketing for DreamWorks SKG. “Every kind of intellectual property is bought and sold, and Hollywood people believe that the media is an extension of that and therefore can be bought and sold and traded and influenced just like everything else, and it just doesn’t work that way. Or it shouldn’t work that way.”


Jacci Cenacveira and Vicki Gallay of The Times editorial library assisted with the research on this series.


A Culture of Dishonesty

In Hollywood, it sometimes seems that almost everyone lies about almost everything. Lying is such an everyday fact of life that producer Lynda Obst and screenwriter William Goldman both referred to it in the titles of their books on their experiences in the moviemaking community.

“Inhale. Lie. Exhale. Lie. Long-term survivors find successful techniques that don’t require lying . . . [but] lying is part of the toxic air in the jungle that you have to account for.”

--Lynda Obst,



“Lying is the default posi-tion in Hollywood. About half the people in Holly-wood are fabulous, outra-geous, pathological liars; the other half just spin and omit and shade the truth.”

--Mark Gill,

President, Miramax/

Los Angeles


About This Series


Part 1: Increased journalistic competition and changes in the movie business have resulted in Hollywood coverage dominated by stories on box-office grosses and budget overruns--often based on unreliable numbers--and on which studio executive is in, out, up or down. *


Today: In Hollywood, lying is a way of life. There’s a natural cultural clash between a movie industry based on creating fantasy and the journalistic institutions that seek to report reality.


Part 3: The battle between Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter is unique among American newspaper wars, and it’s growing more intense.


Part 4: The Times is Hollywood’s major hometown paper. How well does it cover the city’s (and the world’s) most glamorous industry?

Every woman who has ever been presented with a career/sex quid pro quo in the entertainment industry should come forward and simply say, “Me, too.” - jammer The New York Times 10/10/17

Joined: 23 Sep 2004
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PostPosted: 03/08/21 9:00 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

You know, I don’t think this piece would be possible in the LA Times of today. But upon reading this now a second time all these years later... hmm. Not so eviscerating as I remember it being at the time.

Every woman who has ever been presented with a career/sex quid pro quo in the entertainment industry should come forward and simply say, “Me, too.” - jammer The New York Times 10/10/17
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