The “Journalistic Integrity” of VARIETY, Part II

On Tuesday, Variety editor/publisher Peter Bart wrote that Michael Ovitz made a fool of himself in his controversial interview with Vanity Fair… if Ovitz had talked to Variety instead, Bart would have made sure that Ovitz came off well. Bart’s column article explicitly stated what everyone already knows about Variety: that it won’t publish anything that might upset anyone with power in the Industry.

The very next day, in the same space that Bart revealed that the magazine had no journalistic integrity whatsoever, Brian Lowry had the gall to whine about how wrong it is for publicists and execs to lie to Variety reporters.

Leading the pack were the folks at Comcast and E!, who not only insisted for weeks that network prexyprexy Mindy Herman wasn’t going anywhere but were positively indignant that anyone would suggest otherwise — right until they announced her departure.

In similar fashion, Viacom president Mel Karmazin stated as recently as five weeks ago that he had no plans to leave the company — after endless gossip about his fractious relationship with chairman Sumner Redstone — before the rumor finally became reality Tuesday.

This casual relationship with truth — down to the Clinton-esque parsing of words like “is” — might sound like no big deal, especially when it comes to fending off pesky reporters. Yet I’d argue there is a potential price to be paid.

Why should anyone at Variety care? (For one thing, they never reported… as the LA Times did… about Mindy Herman’s questionable behavior at E!) Had Ovitz talked to Variety, would we have read a true account of what he said? No, because unlike Vanity Fair, Peter Bart would have sanitized what he said…for Ovitz’s own good. Did Bart care about the truth? Of course not. He cared about preserving his relationship with a powerful industry player. Why? Because the over-riding journalistic mission of Variety is to make sure the studios keep buying self-congratulatory ads in their publication.

That’s why you’ll never read anything even remotely approaching actual, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dig-deep reporting in the pages of Variety.

More significantly, this comes when trust in the media and particularly the press has been rightfully shaken. Part of that stems from transgressions by reporters — the New York Times’ Jayson Blair, the New Republic’s Stephen Glass, USA Today’s Jack Kelly

Where’s Brian’s out-rage about Peter Bart’s admission that he would have protected Ovitz? About Bart offering Ovitz the opportunity to vet his quotes before publication?

Bart’s column certainly shook my trust in Variety, not that I had much to begin with.

Early in my reporting career, I remember asking a source about a rather unpleasant rumor that was making the rounds. “See, I’m never sure when I should lie to you,” he said, to which I responded: “That’s easy: Never — at least, if you want me to believe you ever again.”

All this brings to mind a favorite scene in “Excalibur,” where Merlin tells nasty King Uther why the world has caved in around him. “You betrayed the Duke, stole his wife and took his castle,” the wizard hisses. “Now no one trusts you.”

The same could be said about Variety.

Brian Lowry should read Peter Bart’s column … and then he might realize why its laughable for anybody at Variety to whine about not being told the truth.

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