For a few days, I waited for the other shoe to drop after Gawker's John Cook pretty much destroyed Deadline Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke. Then I realized I was being an idiot -- I was being naive -- in thinking it would matter.
In case you missed it, on Oct. 29, in a Gawker/Defamer post wryly titled "Why Nikki Finke Never Makes a Mistake," Cook demonstrated rather definitively that Finke blatantly revises history, in her favor, on her notorious blog, which is obsessively read by a certain entertainment-industry in-crowd. Cook showed exactly how she "reported" one take on the box-office results of Sony's Michael Jackson concert doc "This Is It" and then totally reversed herself by editing her original post to say the exact opposite of what she'd previously written -- in a post with the exact same time stamp. And never acknowledged the change.
As Cook noted, at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday the 29th, Finke proclaimed "This Is It" to have "an extraordinary start all around the world," apparently parroting a Sony press release declaring the film "had a very strong" and "amazing" debut. Then, Cook wrote, Finke "traveled back in time," posting once again at 10:30 a.m. (!) on Thursday the 29th, but this time pronouncing the "This Is It" gross to be "disappointing" in a variety of different ways. Pathetically, she even laid out how she'd gotten spun by adding a nameless quote: "'This is not promising,' a rival studio exec just told me."
Finke's been doing her blog since 2006, but really blew up big this year. New York Times media columnist David Carr wrote about her on the front page of his paper in July, not long after she sold her site to Mail.com (she's set to make millions over time in the deal), and last month the New Yorker's Tad Friend devoted nearly 8,000 words to her legend. Both publications agreed that she is, well, scary. (The Times' headline: "A Hollywood Blogger Feared by Executives" the New Yorker's: "Call Me: Why Hollywood Fears Nikki Finke.")
Both pieces cited instances in which Finke engaged in revisionist history -- pretending that she'd had a story right all along -- but Cook produced the visual smoking gun. Using a Mac RSS reader, NetNewsWire, that tracks changes, he was able to show, with before-and-after redlining and greenlining, the exact nature of Finke's fraud. Finke, predictably, lashed out without bothering to deny her deception: "You're full of shit," Cook quotes her as saying. "Gawker doesn't practice journalism and lives to impugn those who do."
Journalism! Ha! That's what you really think this is about, Nikki?
Finke, of course, is supposed to represent a paradigm shift -- a brave new order of scrappy real-time journalism. The mainstream media sees her as an icon: a fearless (and hilariously foul-mouthed) bloggy truth-teller. She may often talk and write like a crazy person with no impulse control, but mainstream journalists, who often see themselves as the ones stuck wearing straitjackets, tend to be inordinately fond of supposed media outlaws.
In the New Yorker profile, keep in mind, there were repeated hints at how beholden Finke is to various sources, but Friend's overall take was anything but a take-down. (In fact, Finke did a condescending little victory dance when it came out, bragging on her blog about manipulating Friend and "bitchslapping" New Yorker chief David Remnick.)
My old boss Caroline Miller, the former editor in chief of New York Magazine (I was on staff there when Nikki Finke wrote the Hollywood column), had some rather delicious quotes in the New Yorker piece -- stuff about Finke's torturously symbiotic relationship with former Miramax co-chief Harvey Weinstein. I asked her what she thought of Gawker's revelation. "In the Tad Friend piece," Caroline told me, "the battles over accuracy come across as sporting events -- Nikki sparring with this or that Hollywood exec over what really happened. She looks as big as her opponent is. Gawker deflates the mystique: She gets the press release, reports that at face value. Then gets someone's spin, does a 180. It's about whoever she's talked to last. Pretty ordinary."
Of course, Hollywood has known all along just how secretly ordinary Finke's schtick often is -- because Hollywood execs supply her with both the press releases and the spin. They know that, bitchy bravura aside, she can often be steered one way or another just as easily as reporters at Variety or the Hollywood Reporter or any other hack on a deadline.
So what's Nikki Finke's real value? Instant gratification, for one thing -- because Finke's deadline is always breathlessly, maniacally, recklessly right now. Any Hollywood exec who has Finke's number and thinks he can convince her that he's generously supplying her with the real dirt -- about Sony's box office, or whatever -- needn't wait long to experience the tangible pleasure, the thrill, of seeing a spun reporter do as told. (And Finke might even revise history -- erase her own bloggy tracks -- to prop up the new dirt.)
But perhaps more to the point, Finke offers self-loathing Hollywood types an extra-journalistic service. The mainstream media has largely bought the spin that she's town sheriff, but when she described herself to I Want Media's Patrick Phillips last winter as "Hollywood Dominatrix" -- well, that's more like it.
Only it's not always entirely clear who's really holding the whip and chains.
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco