Busch quits the Reporter

Editor ankles amid controversy

Anita Busch resigned Monday as editor of the Hollywood Reporter.

Move follows the resignation of Hollywood Reporter labor reporter David Robb, who quarreled with publisher Robert Dowling over a story about longtime Reporter columnist George Christy.

Robb, a 10-year vet of the paper, had filed a story alleging that the Screen Actors Guild was investigating Christy and various production companies that gave him screen credits, making him eligible for union health and pension benefits.

Dowling reassigned the story last week, telling the Associated Press over the weekend that Robb “had lost his objectivity on this issue and was no longer adhering to the Hollywood Reporter’s standards of journalistic, ethical and professional conduct.”

A story about Christy’s alleged misconduct ran in Monday’s edition of the paper under a different byline.

Despite the appearance of that story, Dowling’s statement to the AP seems to have prompted Busch’s resignation.

Executive editor/film Beth Laski, who had been with the paper since September 1999, also ankled Monday.

Busch didn’t meet with Dowling to tender her resignation.

“I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Anita Busch decided to resign today,” Dowling said. “She and I did not agree on the handling of a journalistic situation involving an investigative story, and she opted to leave.”

The whole incident raises questions about the journalistic propriety of a reporter writing an expose of a colleague at the same paper.

Dowling confirmed that Busch’s resignation stemmed from the story of a SAG investigation into Christy’s screen credits. Rumors had been circulating in recent weeks that Busch was angling to leave the Reporter; the incident was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In a memo circulated to staff Monday, Busch wrote, “I just can’t stand by comments made to the Associated Press about a journalist (Robb) that I know as being one of the most ethical and incorruptible I have ever worked with.” Busch also attributed her decision to “serious differences of opinions that appear irreconcilable.”

Tough times

Busch — who worked at the Reporter from 1990 to 1994, was a reporter at Daily Variety for three years during the mid-1990s and has been editor of the Hollywood Reporter since January 1999 — leaves the paper at an especially difficult juncture.

With Hollywood facing an imminent labor crisis, the Reporter finds itself without a labor specialist.

Negotiations to resolve the threat of a Writers Guild strike remained deadlocked after the weekend — news that was splashed across the Reporter’s front page Monday in a dispatch by Busch, who became the de facto labor reporter after Robb’s departure.

The high-level departures also deprive the paper of editorial firepower going into the Cannes Film Festival, which opens next week.

And finally, a soft advertising economy has delivered a bracing blow to the newspaper industry, hitting media publications like the Reporter especially hard.

The Reporter’s first-quarter advertising pages are down roughly 14% from 2,282 pages to 1,975, according to IMS independent page tracking service.

Christy sued in ’93

The SAG Pension Fund declined Monday to say whether the Reporter’s Christy is being investigated. The fund filed a lawsuit against Christy and production company MPCA in 1993 over an alleged sham employment scheme; the suit was settled out of court.

Reports have already begun to circulate about Busch’s successor, with speculation centering on former Reporter editor Alex Ben Block.

Dowling told Daily Variety that the Reporter doesn’t yet have an acting editor and would issue a statement concerning Busch’s replacement within the next two days.