Journal zips Oscar lips

Acad exec criticizes techniques

NEW YORK — Editors at the Wall Street Journal remain tight-lipped Thursday about publishing results of an Academy Awards poll prior to the March 26 ceremony.

Journal entertainment editor Laura Landro referred all queries to Joanne Lippman, editor of the paper’s Weekend Journal section, which appears on Fridays.

No news organization has attempted to crash the Oscar voting since Daily Variety stopped sampling Academy members in the 1958 (see Army Archerd, page 4). Daily Variety’s predictions, based on a poll, were remarkably accurate at the time, but the paper halted the practice voluntarily.

The Journal had assigned a team of reporters to its secret project. One executive of the Academy was critical of the techniques used by Journal reporters in questioning the Oscar voters. He said that the interviewers would first ask general questions about Acad activities and, after relaxing the voters, suddenly started firing questions about their choices in different categories. Several of those interviewed called the Academy to complain about these tactics, the exec said.

Because of Lippman’s involvement, many people concluded that the story will run in the Weekend section, which appears every Friday. Though some speculated that the story would run today, sources said the story is targeted for March 17.

Dick Tofel, spokesman for Dow Jones & Co., which publishes the WSJ, declined to say whether results of the Oscar poll would appear in the paper.

Tofel also hotly denied rumors that some Journal reporters had disassociated themselves from the article. “The course of conduct we’ve embarked on,” he said, “is one on which there is no internal disagreement from the managing editor on down.”

The WSJ poll came to light in two letters from Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Robert Rehme, which accompanied the 4,200 Oscar ballots mailed Tuesday night.

The first letter, dated Feb. 25, addressed phone calls to members from “someone claiming to be a journalist.” The second letter, written March 7, cites the WSJ as making “the most concerted attempt in history to predetermine the outcome of our awards in six categories.”

The Journal was not mentioned in the first letter. In the second letter, Rehme states that the paper’s “West Coast office originally disclaimed (perhaps legitimately) any knowledge of the project.”

On Wednesday night, Tofel stated that Rehme claimed that WSJ had “disavowed any knowledge of the project” (Daily Variety, March 9).

In truth, Rehme used the phrase in the first letter, when no publication was ID’d.

There was also debate this week about whether the reporters identified themselves as repping the Wall Street Journal.

According to Acad voters who received the phone calls, reporters always identified themselves as WSJ journalists, but after the West Coast-East Coast office confusion, Academy officials were baffled as to who was behind the calls.

(Timothy M. Gray and Army Archerd contributed to this report.)

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