By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Little wonder, then, that the best Hollywood re.porters over time become the crankiest.
It’s ridiculous, really, this Times folly that a lone correspondent based in the Los Angeles bureau can possibly compete with the hordes who cover show biz not just down on Spring Street but also AP, Reuters, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, Esquire and so on. “The beat has never been more competitive,” admits John Horn, formerly of AP, Premiere, Newsweek and who has recently jumped to the Los Angeles Times. “And that includes us. It’s become a much more fearless paper since the days of Shelby Coffey. I don’t feel there are any stories we can’t cover.”
But that doesn’t mean the coverage is more independent. Today, most of the major outlets on the serious Hollywood beat are owned by Big Media conglomerates, which means in many cases they’re covering themselves. This includes the Los Angeles Times, part of the Tribune empire. Yet even though the parent company of The New York Times is a hulk, the strange thing is that its independence is rarely suspect.
Then there’s its reach. Whether out of an inferiority complex or just familiarity breeding contempt, given the choice between the two newspapers, most L.A. folk would gladly give their first-born for prominent placement in The-New-York-fucking-Times. Little wonder the Los Angeles bureau has an angst-producing atmosphere that’s half pressure cooker, half goldfish bowl. How bad does it get? Ex-N.Y. Times L.A. bureau chief Todd Purdum used to regularly be heard wailing like a cat being strangled within his office whenever he was under stress.
Lyman’s misfortune was that his tenure followed the superstardom of Bernie Weinraub. There was a reason that, over the years, publications like Time, Talk and even 60 Minutes, tried to hire him.
Controversial though he may have been, Weinraub used to give as good as he got: He’d scream back at the moguls who called to scream at him. To the Times’ credit, the more editors heard complaints from the Industry’s dyspeptic despots about their coverage by Weinraub (Michael Ovitz in person and Variety editor Peter Bart by phone, to name just two), the more they salivated for his prolific output. The main criticism of Weinraub was that he played favorites, but that’s a charge made against many entertainment reporters. And this was even before Weinraub’s marriage to Amy Pascal (then Columbia Pictures chieftain, now Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman) which forced him off the movie beat.
When Weinraub moved to television, he would joke to friends, “I’m still big. It’s just the screen that got small.” Currently in Kuwait, he’ll return to continuing his major music series after taking some time off. What is inarguable is that Weinraub had a great nose for news. And that, in the end, is exactly what Howell Raines wants from his Hollywood scribe: breaking news stories that set the Industry agenda and don’t just follow it, and writing them with a deft touch that’s devastating on impact.
Tom King was recommended to Raines as the right candidate to replace Rick Lyman since the Journal columnist already lived in L.A., maintained a network of deep sources and knew what a grind it was to work for a daily. Even better, King had written a well-reviewed book (about David Geffen, The Operator), and that appealed to the Times’ snobbery.
But, best of all, King possessed a calm temperament, which is something of a rarity among entertainment journalists who can be as high maintenance as the miscreants they cover. Yet editors expect these same reporters to act like toy poodles, not pit bulls, at the office when among colleagues. (For example, former Time top editor Walter Isaacson once complained that, immediately after hiring Kim Masters just because of her take-no-prisoners style, she had the gumption to phone him at home and rant about her company computer not working. Masters tells the Weekly: “I do remember making a fuss about it, but I don’t remember that. [Vanity Fair’s] Graydon Carter once said to me I was one of the lowest-maintenance reporters on his masthead.”)
After flying King to New York and taking him out for a meal, Raines made him an offer. But the negotiating minuet lasted nearly two weeks until King sent word that he was really happy at the Journal, where he’d started his career and didn’t want to leave. After a short while, Raines came back to King a second time, but, again, with no success.
Then, last summer, Raines threw a fit when he saw his paper trailed every major outlet on the Ovitz–Vanity Fair “gay mafia” story. It was a test of sorts determining which journalists were in the loop and which weren’t. The most knowing had the article faxed to them that Friday, June 28. The lesser mortals by Monday, July 1. But Lyman didn’t publish until Wednesday, July 3.