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Shield of Anonymity

MEMO TO: Harvey Weinstein

Writing in the July issue of Premiere Magazine, you make a persuasive case against the growing reliance on “anonymous sources” in newspaper and magazine articles, and by and large, I agree with you. The trouble is, you should have waited until you’d read the rest of the issue, Harvey. A prime example of what’s wrong with anonymous sources appears only a few pages from your piece in the July Premiere. It’s an expose on the “fast and loose corporate culture” at New Line, which boils down to a series of character assassinations based on, guess what, “anonymous sources.”

Here is what John Connolly tells us about New Line in his lengthy story entitled “Flirting With Disaster”: Michael Lynne, the New Line president, once grabbed a young woman executive at a corporate retreat, slammed her against a wall and stuck his tongue into her mouth. Bob Shaye, the New Line founder and chairman, drinks so heavily that, at one New Line conference, he got up from the dinner table and passed out on a couch outside the dining room. Michael De Luca, the young president of production, distributed hallucinogenic mushrooms to colleagues at yet another corporate retreat. And so on.

Can you make a guess about the sourcing of these allegations, Harvey? They’re your old friends, those “anonymous sources.” There’s even a quote from the proverbial “former New Line executive,” who says, “There wasn’t a woman’s ass in my department that hadn’t been grabbed by Bob Shaye. He’s a pig.”

Now I don’t want to sound like a professional apologist for Bob Shaye and I’m also reluctant to criticize Premiere — James Meigs and Anne Thompson have done excellent work with the magazine.

Having said all that, I nonetheless get queasy when I read punitive quotes from “former executives” or angry employees who hide behind anonymity. As you said in your own piece, Harvey, “Unnamed sources often have malicious intentions. The dirty secret is that, more often than not, these sources wish to stay off-the-record because they are spinning a rumor that will likely hurt someone — usually to benefit themselves.”

Ask any top studio human resources executive about the recent rash of sexual harassment suits and they’ll tell you a shockingly high percentage are simply bogus, stemming from employees who are pursuing a vendetta or simply want to make a financial score. In the Premiere piece, are these unnamed “former executives” similarly motivated?

In his “Editor’s Letter,” Jim Meigs, editor-in-chief of Premiere, assures us that his magazine won’t use anonymous quotes unless the sources are “credible,” “authoritative” and have no “agenda.” That sounds fine, but how does the reader, or indeed an editor-in-chief, really know the agenda of a “former executive?” Do we have a letter from his psychiatrist attesting that he left New Line feeling just great about the company? It’s all reminiscent of those “leaks” in the Monica Lewinsky affair — the reporters always cite a “source” without bothering to tell you whether that source is Ken Starr or a White House apparatchik.

Show business is a high stakes game in terms of money and ego. There are always disgruntled individuals in and around these companies — people who feel they’ve been rejected or cast aside. Reporters could fill the pages of any newspaper with the bad-mouthing of top entertainment executives.

So here’s where I have to agree with you, Harvey — it’s dangerous to let anonymous quotes run wild. The problem is that the entertainment industry today has become a wholly owned subsidiary of multinational corporations. “Suits” are reluctant sources, and understandably so.

A clear distinction can be made in the use of these sources, however. If an executive wants to confirm a deal, or comment on an industry trend, it seems harmless enough to cite him anonymously. If, however, someone clearly wants to attack or undermine a rival, or a superior, that’s a vastly different issue.

Which brings us back to New Line. It’s no secret that the New Line corporate culture contrasts sharply with that of the multi-nationals, but is that something we should deplore? Isn’t there room in the business for an edgy company that gives us movies like “Seven” and “Boogie Nights?”

To be sure, there are limits to this indulgence. Sexual harassment, if and when it occurs, should not be tolerated in any humane company. Nor should the sort of lewdly antisocial acts committed by Michael De Luca at a Hollywood Oscar party — acts for which De Luca quite properly issued a public apology.

Having said all this, I think it’s also out of bounds to scorn the mavericks and the nonconformists in our business, even though one can find enough “anonymous sources” to fill a phone book.

Frankly, I find it all so depressing, I think I’ll pass out on Bob Shaye’s couch.

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