Entertainment bloggers turning facts into fights

The Internet has given birth to a new subset of entertainment reporting: Bloggers vs. bloggers.

In recent months there have been near daily eruptions of vitriol between prominent showbiz bloggers and online journos. It’s a byproduct of the relentless self-promotion and self-aggrandizement (“Toldja!”) that seems to be a prerequisite for those who aspire to be taken seriously in the increasingly rough-and-tumble showbiz news and commentary game.

For many in showbiz, reading these feuds has become a tawdry sideshow, the online equivalent of rubbernecking on the freeway at a car crash.

Many of these bloggers seem obsessed with one other. As a result, their blogs are partly news — and partly denunciations of rivals, while touting their own credentials.

The field includes Nikki Finke, with her Deadline Hollywood Daily, who is tireless in her postings, though rarely seen in public. Others include the Los Angeles Times’ recent blog convert Patrick Goldstein and two pioneers in edgy film-blogdom, David Poland of Movie City News and Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere.

The latest entrant is former New York Times showbiz writer Sharon Waxman, who launched the ambitious website TheWrap.com in late January.

While Finke, Waxman, et al., deserve credit for putting their considerable Rolodexes to work, at times the chest-beating and carping at other journos can be laughable.

In other cases, the competitiveness can wind up distorting the true dynamics of a story, as was the recent case with the Motion Picture & Television Fund (see below).

Nothing is too minor or petty to spark a verbal fusillade. And next to bashing their own kind, there’s nothing Web newsies likes better than hammering the veracity and integrity of the traditional media. Variety has certainly found itself in the crosshairs, as have the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, among others.

On March 11, Finke posted an item saying Summit Entertainment was eyeing Juan Antonio Bayona to direct “Eclipse,” the third installment of its “Twilight” vampire pics.Variety got an off the record confirmation of the deal, and reported it in a story that ran only online.

March 12: Goldstein, in the L.A. Times’ Big Picture blog, debunked the Bayona hiring. Goldstein quoted his lunch partner of that day, Summit president of production Erik Feig, as denying that anyone had been hired to direct “Eclipse.”

Goldstein’s post took Finke and Variety to task, alleging the stories ran without getting confirmation the story.

Finke’s response to Goldstein was swift, even demanding an apology from Feig. Shortly before 10 p.m. that night, her update featured Feig claiming to have been misquoted by Goldstein, at least according to Finke.

March 13: Goldstein responds with a post saying that he and Feig had been “bludgeoned” by Finke, and he even linked to another blogger’s take on the Finke vs. Goldstein spat.

March 15: Goldstein added a “Sunday update” that quoted Feig giving a mea culpa to Finke, after which Goldstein took yet another swipe at Variety for supposed journalistic recklessness.

As of March 19, no director has officially been signed. But in the meantime, hundreds of words were devoted to a pissing match that a few years ago would have just inspired yawns. Web journos like to pride themselves on transparency, but this is navel-gazing in the extreme.Blogger Poland recently posted a lengthy tirade against Finke’sincessant nastiness. Last November, Finke and Waxman (in her WaxWord blog, the forerunner of TheWrap) exchanged barbs over a report by Waxman on the Screen Actors Guild contract negotiations. One month after TheWrap’s debut, Waxman posted a column with the headline “Memo to Nikki: Stop Saying TheWrap Isn’t Breaking Stories.”

The competitive fervor between Finke and Waxman may have hit a peak (or nadir) over the travails of the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

The org said Jan. 14 it was closing its acute-care facility and nursing home to sustain its other care-giving facilities, such as the assisted-living home that is the best-known aspect of MPTF’s operation.

Officials said the endowment would be drained in five years at the current rate of loss if the two facilities were not closed. But TheWrap posted a series of stories that probed MPTF’s finances and raised questions about the org’s explanation for the closures.

Finke, meanwhile, berated the industry’s top earners for not coming to the MPTF’s rescue. By Feb. 11, the storm over the MPTF closure had grown so fierce that a protest was held outside the facility. MPTF honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg and other execs held a teleconference and later issued a press release responding to six claims about the MPTF.

TheWrap rebutted each of those rebuttals.

Both Finke and TheWrap posted snarky items later that day wagging fingers at Variety, the L.A. Times and the Hollywood Reporter for not joining in their outrage with questions during the teleconference. The L.A. Times’ Goldstein responded with a defense of his newspaper, which sent Waxman rushing back to her keyboard to reiterate her “shame on you” to us mainstream media types.

And so it goes. And goes, and goes.

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