Media people

Going deep on Nikki Finke *

Jacob Bernstein, offspring of Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein, tried in the July 6 Women's Wear Daily to comprehend the Nikki Finke phenomenon. He writes that "Finke has vaulted to the front of a new pack of journalists who lack the backing of a major news organization but manage nevertheless to wield a similar level of influence." Then he adds the first of several skewers: "But others see Finke as being emblematic of what's most dangerous about the Web — a Walter Winchell in cyberspace who emotionally blackmails people into giving her information and uses her perch to settle scores with those she dislikes. 'Shes a monster,' one Hollywood heavyweight says."

Bernstein, who discloses midway through that Finke ripped his mother's latest movie, traces some of Finke's work history (leaving out her brief interlude as editor of the Downtown News), tries to figure out some of her sources and notes attacks on other journalists. Finke refers to herself variously as Calamity Jane, a Cassandra and a victim. Some excerpts worth noting:

Finke has suggested Rupert Murdoch is senile, called Barry Diller an arrogant SOB, and referred to Sumner Redstone as a septuagenarian jerk. Three weeks ago, she laid into HBO for its lousy Sopranos ending and advised readers to cancel their subscriptions to the station. "David Chase clearly didn't give a damn about his fans," she complained about the series creator. "He crapped in their faces. This is why America hates Hollywood."

Almost anyone writing like this would be ignored or laughed at. But when Finke sinks her teeth into something, people increasingly take notice. In February, she reported the discord between executives at DreamWorks and Paramount, which had co-financed Babel and Dreamgirls, both of which were awards season favorites. The suits at Paramount denied the story up and down, but a few weeks later, The New York Times ran a juicy interview with DreamWorks Steven Spielberg in which the director conceded all of the essential points laid out earlier by Finke's article.


She started her journalism career at the Associated Press followed by a brief stint at the Dallas Morning News, then went on to spend much of the Eighties at Newsweek, based in Washington, and then Los Angeles. In 1987, she got scooped up by the Los Angeles Times, then went on to contract writing jobs at The New York Observer and New York magazine...."She was legendarily late with stories and on a weekly that's a problem," says Lisa Chase, who edited her at The Observer. One week, Finke's writers block was so bad Chase had her dictate her reporting into the phone as Chase transcribed it and turned it into a column. "But we got it done and it was great," the former editor says. In 2000, Finke's tenure at New York magazine ended. According to two sources at the magazine, they'd seen no copy from her in six months.

* Curious thing: Searching in the WWD archives finds no mention of the piece. I'm told by a source that the electronic version was pulled after the story ran in the print paper. If true, that would suggest serious questions on the part of the editors. Until I get some clarification from WWD, I'm yanking the excerpts I originally posted here after the jump. And: Fishbowl LA follows our lead and also posts then pulls.

Updated post: What I changed and why, and WWD's editor's note.

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