In Daily Variety, editor Peter Bart talks about the disappearance of Michael Ovitz… as if anyone misses him. But the most interesting thing about the article is what it reveals about Variety’s editorial policy.
I argued that Variety would lend him the audience that he most wanted to reach, including, no doubt, some of the people he perceived as having brought down his company. Our paper would certainly not endorse Ovitz’s charges, but we could offer him a chance to vent. The decline and fall of Michael Ovitz, after all, was a damn good news story.
Understandably, he responded that Vanity Fair offered him a vastly wider audience. Over lunch at Ago one day, I decided to try one last tactic. “Look, Mike,” I said, “you’re out of control. You’re saying some wild things.”
“They’re all off the record,” he protested. “You and I have known each other a long time. I can speak freely…”
“If you say these things to Vanity Fair, they’ll kill you. If you want to do an interview in Variety, I will see to it that your direct quotes will be read back to you so you can verify their accuracy. You can’t, of course, read the article ahead of time.”
In other words, if Ovitz talked to Variety, they’d protect him, they’d make sure he wouldn’t say anything he’d regret later (how reading his quotes back to him is any different than reading him the article ahead of time is beyond me). The Ovitz-vetted article they would have written wouldn’t have been the scathing expose Vanity Fair wrote, it wouldn’t have truly depicted the “damn good news story” of Ovitz’s rise and fall. Bart would have seen to that…
A few days later I got word that he’d decided to talk to Vanity Fair. Predictably, the story contained all of the Ovitz “crazy talk” — the paranoid diatribes about the “Gay Mafia,” plus accusations against Eisner and against his lethal enemies (and former proteges) at CAA. “They wanted to kill me. If they could have taken my wife and kids, they would have…,” he ranted.
The net effect of all this was inevitable: Ovitz had punched all the self-destruct buttons it was possible to punch. He had instantly isolated himself from his Hollywood power base. He’d totally blown it.
In seeking out his story, was I trying to protect Ovitz from himself? I suppose so, on one level.
Gee, I wonder if Pete would do the same for me… or anybody else in The Industry who doesn’t have $100 million in his checking account. The editorial policy at Variety is clearly to kiss up to execs and stars and not say or do anything that could possibly offend or embarrass anyone in a position of power. Remember, Bart used to run a studio himself…and no Variety reporter wants to damage their chances to become a screenwriter or studio exec.
This is why nobody takes Variety seriously…and why the only real reporting about the Industry is done in the LA Times business section. There was a time when Variety was more than just a collection of press releases… when they did real reporting. But that time, sadly, seems to be long gone…
(If you want a clear example, just compare the stories the LA Times and Variety ran about Mindy Herman, the ex-CEO of E!)