The “Journalistic Integrity” of VARIETY, Part III

It just keeps getting better…

A week after Peter Bart wrote about how he would have protected Michael Ovitz from ruining himself if the ex-agent had given his interview to VARIETY instead of VANITY FAIR….the VARIETY editor writes today that:

After 15 years of editing Daily Variety, I will regrettably admit the following: I do not believe every word that’s published in my own newspaper.

Join the club, Pete.

He blames the problem, like Brian Lowry did few days ago, on people lying to his reporters. He forgets to mention his own questionable journalistic ethics, which he presumably imposes on his staff. Here’s a gem from the controversial Los Angeles Magazine story on him a while back..

BART HATES TO TAKE NOTES. “I don’t like to,” he says. “I just find when you take out a notebook, it just changes the atmosphere.” Nevertheless, in his column he frequently quotes conversations he has had with Hollywood figures. The quotes, which he also inserts in reporters’ stories, are nearly always unattributed. He often dictates them off the top of his head, which may explain why some of Variety’s anonymous sources sound a lot like Inventive Peter.

He may hate it when people lie to his reporters, but apparently he doesn’t mind lying to reporters himself, like this whopper he told the LA Magazine writer….

Consider what happened when we discussed the infamous Patriot Games incident of 1992, when Variety film critic Joe McBride wrote a blistering review of Paramount Pictures’ Tom Clancy adaptation. The studio, apoplectic over the review’s potential dampening of interest among overseas exhibitors, pulled its advertising from Variety. Bart got mad, but not at the studio. He decreed that McBride would no longer review Paramount films.
The New York Times wrote a story about the McBride dustup that said Variety staffers were aghast that their boss would curry favor with Paramount. The article quoted from a private apology that Bart had sent to Martin S. Davis, the studio’s then chairman and CEO. “Marty Davis and I have known each other for 25 years,” Bart told the Times. “I simply dropped him a friendly note.”

Nine years later, however, when I first ask Bart about the note, he insists it never existed. “I never wrote any,” he says, adding that he disliked Davis intensely, so “the idea that I would contact these people was bizarre.” How to explain the Times story, written by veteran reporter Bernard Weinraub? “It was a reminder to me about the nastiness of journalists toward each other,” Bart says, shaking his head.

A few weeks later I obtained a copy of the letter. Bart’s lie didn’t make sense. Had he forgotten that it was typed by his own secretary on Variety stationery?

Perhaps its embarrassing revelations like this that has inspired his policy of letting some interviewees change their quotes before publication (as he offered to do for Ovitz, as he admits in last weeks column)…

People who have worked with Bart say he would call his favorite sources–Guber, Ovitz, Weinstein, Evans, producer Arnon Milchan–and vet stories that mentioned them, letting them make adjustments. When confronted by the reporters whose bylines topped the altered stories, Bart would say he got better information after deadline. “This is my paper,” one remembers him saying. “I’ll do as I please.”

No wonder Peter Bart doesn’t believe what he reads in his own “newspaper.”

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