David Weddle, author of "If They Move . . . Kill 'Em! The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah," wrote what he intended to be a devastating portrayal of Harry Knowles in the 9/17/00 Washington Post. Many people, particularly jealous journalists obsessed with what they understand as "journalistic integrity" reacted with glee to the piece entitled "Seducing Harry; Web Film Critic Harry Knowles Knows the Value of Tempting Scoops. So Does Hollywood."
Here are excerpts: "There's only one word for him: phenomenon," says Leonard Maltin, film critic for "Entertainment Tonight." Just four years ago, at 24, Knowles started Ain't It Cool News from his cramped bedroom in a home he shares with his father in Austin. He solicited inside information from a network of spies within the movie industry and from moviegoers who attend test screenings.
Knowles adopted the persona of a crusader, defender of movie consumers. Hollywood didn't buy it. The studios saw him as a dangerous cybervandal who recklessly violated time-honored security protocols and endangered the commercial life of multimillion-dollar productions. Accustomed to managing a relatively docile pack of entertainment journalists, the studios reacted with panic--at first.
Then they struck back. Oh, such sweet seduction. Knowles started popping up at Hollywood premieres and on movie sets, his trips often paid for by some of the very Hollywood hands he had bitten. He became pals with directors and stars, who told him they wanted advice on their films.
Today, Knowles is a Hollywood insider, but his readers don't see it. His reporting isn't as tough as it was in the beginning. To keep credibility with his online audience, he has crafted a new role: movie critic with unparalleled access, with power to change Hollywood, to make or break movies and directors, all in the name of helping moviegoers by forcing studios to make better movies.
Knowles has sunk deep in that gooey ethical milieu, while adroitly convincing his audience that he has remained pure.
TIME MAGAZINE CRITIC RICHARD SCHICKEL writes this review of Harry's book "AIN'T IT COOL? Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out" in the 4/14/02 Los Angeles Times:
[Movies] are worth thinking about analytically, in adult terms. Which is why people like Harry Knowles make some of us crazy. He is, perhaps, the ultimate movie geek.
I can't think of a single reason to pay this child-man the slightest heed. He was born into a family of memorabilia collectors, that weird subset of fans who treasure and trade in movie detritus--posters, props, costumes--materials that have no intrinsic value. Their worth is imputed to them largely through the workings of nostalgia, and they tell us nothing about the texture or experience of a movie. Rather the opposite; they are icons, encouraging thoughtless veneration instead of thoughtful engagement with the objects they represent.
[Harry's] taste is for the most fantastic and abstract genres, the ones with the least relationship to reality--sci-fi, horror and kung fu epics, comic book adaptations--and the largest dependency on special effects, which are, of course, constructs utterly unknown to the real world. A near-exclusive concentration on such stuff is a sure sign of emotional arrest.
David Poland writes on www.thehotbutton.com 6/4/99: "I read two articles on Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News site. And I went wild. The articles, about two Universal projects were not only ill-informed and inaccurate on various details, but highlighted everything that is wrong with a site like AICN. Worse, they highlighted Harry's occasional rampant egomania, perhaps spurred on by producers negotiating with him to appear in one of a myriad of pilots aimed at the audience of the theoretically damaged "Siskel & Ebert" show. I wrote a quick and sharp tongued 1,300 words on the subject and sent it to some friends for reactions. They all agreed with everything I said, but also agreed that I was using a nuclear weapon against a third-world nation. That's not my wish. I have tried assiduously to keep my issues with Harry's column between he and I for a while now. But I really worry that a media culture of reporting the process of film, as opposed to the results, especially without context, is far more damaging to the work of artists than it could ever be helpful. I'm going to stop writing about the specific articles now because the absurd notion that Universal would somehow bury Man On The Moon is not even worthy of address. And if Harry thinks he should be controlling $80 million-plus decisions at Universal or any other studio, he should go out and try to make a $2 million film and see how easy that is. (tee-hee) I sit here at my computer and opine like some sort of silly demigod too, so how do I get off saying anything? Well, I draw lines that I consider moral. I respect people's right to do their work. And when they've actually done something, I feel free to criticize. That is, when I have the facts. The two most urgent things I've seen on AICN in the last two months were both off the mark (The Star Wars theater situation and the Man On The Moon reporting). If you can't show respect, you better have your facts right. And when you blow it, you better admit it as loudly as when you made the mistake. In the world I'd like to live in, if you want to be a real leader, you have to be a man of honor first. Aim higher, Harry. You certainly have the ability to do that."
David Poland writes 8/26/99: The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday story on Harry Knowles and Ain't It Cool News ...[is] an absurd piece of non-journalism, I just found myself laughing over and over again. ...Paula Parisi... writes puff pieces. She's been hugely successful writing puff pieces. And this was about as puffy as it gets. Let's start with the lie that Harry has 1.5 million readers daily. Harry does have influence, but if he has 100,000 readers a day, that would be a lot.
Parisi also continues the myth of Harry killing Batman & Robin, which even Harry has said is untrue. How did anyone "kill" a movie that opened to $43 million? Just dumb. Likewise, Parisi dismisses the bounce Disney got out of Harry on Armageddon because he wrote about the Port-O-Sans. Uh, they didn't pay for him to come to the premiere, where he so infamously cried, because they didn't think he was going to help. And the only two executives who would go on-record for the piece, from Artisan and DreamWorks, also expect him to help. Both companies now use Ain't It Cool News with aplomb. Artisan fed AICN Blair Witch stuff before Sundance and lit the match they wanted to light. DreamWorks, for whatever reason, decided that AICN should be their friend a little more than a year ago and has fed them stuff before any other 'Net outlet since. Admittedly, part of that is because of Moriarty's relationship with some people at DreamWorks. But, of course, Paula P underestimates the significance of Moriarty in the AICN big picture, derisively calling him "the kid," like he's just another source. Moriarty is a major AICN conduit, even if not paid for his efforts. In any case, there is a reason why executives from both companies are so Harry friendly. He has helped them both. Has he been dishonest in helping them? Only in as far as full disclosure goes. When DreamWorks sends you playing cards from Galaxy Quest a few days before they send them to everyone else on God's green earth, it might be a little more honest to write, "I got this early stuff from DreamWorks" instead of perpetuating the spy myth.
Why does AICN have power in Hollywood? Because of pieces like this that ask no hard questions and put in print whatever Harry claims without any basis for fact-checking other than Harry's word. And as I keep on saying, I don't blame Harry for building his myth. That's his job, in a way. But it is a journalist's job to answer all the questions. The mere fact that Parisi ends the piece with the "possibility" that Harry will add non-Web elements to his career is an indication that either she got suckered into playing it that way because Harry told her off the record that he was doing a TV pilot or she just didn't know. Either way, it's less reliable than anything I've read on AICN lately. (Except maybe for the Joan of Arc review that had to come from a Sony or Besson insider.) Fortunately, I don't have to worry about Paula reading this column because if she did, she would have known about Harry's upcoming TV pilot months ago. It's not very smart self-promotion on my part to be ripping the journalists who could build me up the way they've built Harry. But then again, I've always been an idiot when it comes to self-promotion.
Anyway, I've wasted too much space on this already. I'm happy that AICN exists. I hate what journalists have made of it. I'm not in competition with Harry. We do very different things. And I think it is fascinating that Harry has become so much a part of things that The Hollywood Reporter is doing puff pieces usually reserved for executives being kicked upstairs into "production deals". He should live and be well. And so should Moriarty. And Glen. But frankly, I'm surprised that Anita Busch would run something so utterly faulty journalistically. It reads like a three-page ad from Merv Griffin Enterprises for their new investment. Blecch!
David Poland writes 5/26/00 about Harry Knowles: "What enormous-ly popular Web personality has been flown into L.A. to see two summer movies at Sony sitting with the head of the studio while writing about how hard it was to get into the screenings? And why is this person threatening to sue anyone who dares to suggest that such red carpet treatment (which he receives primarily based on well spread lies about the popularity of his Web site) could skew his site's treatment of the films of those who kiss his posterior? And when the same said personality appears on TV tonight, will he thank his new, high-powered agent from a major Hollywood agency for the booking? Or will he continue to pretend he's an outsider so that no one can assail his many conflicts of interest, though he continues to complain that others (like myself) are in an advantaged position, even though we freely admit our relationships while he hides his?"
David Poland writes 5/27/00: "I was rather amazed to get word that an Ain't It Cool Talk Back poster had his post removed and his account banned when he dared to post the "Just Wondering" from Friday's Hot Button. One thing I never expected was for these guys to censor their Talk Back posters."
David Poland writes 5/31/00: "First, it wasn't [agent] Ari Greenberg at Endeavor who booked Harry onto Craig Kilborne, but rather, Roger Ebert. Second, Harry tells me that he's never had a conversation with either John Calley or Amy Pascal. He was in a screening with Calley, but not sitting with Calley. That doesn't exactly clear the decks for me about the gamesmanship of not explaining how he and two other AICers got to go see The Patriot for print before any other media outlet, since Calley must have known who the head headed guy was when he saw him there."
David Poland writes 6/5/00: "Ain't It Cool has breached every form of ethical conduct possible over recent years."
David Poland writes 10/4/02: "I don’t care about Harry’s weight or haircut or his free trips or his position on the media food chain. I care about what he prints… whether it is really honest… and how his high-profile actions affect the way the studios perceive the internet. I also care about the corrosive effect of Ain’t It Cool and other rumor sites on traditional media, which allows its standards for entertainment coverage to be lowered because most editors don’t really think that entertainment reporting is real reporting. Ain’t It Cool has forever taken the position that they are not trying to be journalists. They are a “fan based opinion site.”"
I found this article online in June, 2000: Over the weekend, a nasty rift erupted in the online movie news fraternity between two of its founding fathers, Coming Attractions head Patrick Sauriol and Ain't-It-Cool-News creator Harry Knowles. When AICN altered one of Sauriol's e-mails, he accused Knowles' site of downplaying Coming Attractions' role in breaking a story about Jimmy Smits appearing in the next two Star Wars films (a rumor which remains unconfirmed at press time). In a letter sent to other Internet movie news outlets, Sauriol lambastes AICN for sloppy reporting that has been "unfairly painting a picture of that reflects poorly on the Internet film journalistic community.
Apparently Sauriol isn't alone. His comments have unleashed an avalanche of anti-AICN sentiment from other movie sites. "Ain't-It-Cool has breached every form of ethical conduct possible over recent years," said Rough Cut's David Poland. Film Threat fumes, "Harry has developed a reputation for breaking stories that nearly always turn out to be false or at least questionable."
The uproar has led to calls for public debate in order to set up a code of conduct for online journalism similar to that for print journalism, the conventions of which many sites including AICN currently ignore. In an attempt to head off controversy, Knowles obtained an early copy of Sauriol's letter and posted it on his Web site with an apology. "[The] introduction was inappropriate," conceded the portly pundit, though he defended his use of the information and still claims to have obtained it independently. "There is no proprietary ownership to that [Smits] scoop since the source sent it to multiple people all at the same time," he said.
Once considered the Internet's top movie-news figure, Knowles has seen his credibility take a beating over the last few months. Murmurings of inappropriate studio influence surrounded the sneak preview of Gladiator he staged with DreamWorks, and his widely publicized early posting of this year's Oscar nominees which turned out to be completely false was a major humiliation. Whether or not this latest furor leads to a serious debate over online journalism ethics or is simply a case of inter-site squabbling remains to be seen.
Warchild writes: Just one jumped up fanboy calling another jumped up fanboy names. As for journalism, what a laugh. Both Corona and AICN print anonymous rumours. Corona is just trying to claim a professional reputation that it does not possess.
David Poland writes 2/15/00 about Harry's getting suckered with a fake Oscars awards list: "I have cautiously stayed out of The Harry Game over the last months. I don't want to piss off Roger Ebert, who clearly loves Harry and AICN and who has been very generous to me over the past year. (That observation that will probably embarrass and upset Roger, who is a very private and honorable man, more than anything I've written about Harry. But if I am going to claim any moral high ground, I have to be willing to completely honest.) But this is exactly the kind of thing that goes beyond personal irritation. This is Harry pi**ing on my business…on my future…on my industry's future…and I can't remain silent while he does it."
David Poland writes 3/13/02 on Harry's book: "The book doesn’t make me feel any differently about Harry. He’s pleasant enough. But he is as myopic and self-serving as any film executive I’ve ever met. Does he love movies? Absolutely. Is his story remarkable? No doubt. He is a real folk hero. And he deserves to be a folk hero. He worked hard to be what and who he is. Besides, the truth just ain’t that cool."
One of Harry Knowles' leading contributors is Drew McWeeny, who uses the name Moriarty.
David Poland writes 6/26/00: "I feel as though the [Patrick Goldstein LA Times] article ends up as a virtual press release for Ain't It Cool as marketing tool. Patrick was kind enough to get in touch with me on Sunday and discuss the issue. And I don't think I'm breaking any confidence to tell you all that he explained that the reason why Harry is the only non-studio Internet publisher mentioned in the entire article, except the self-promoting Rob Zombie, is that he is the only Internet publisher with whom the studios take issue.
" And that pretty much defines the boundaries of the argument that I am somehow jealous of Harry. If you will, I am "jealous" that I can't get media coverage, even from supportive writers, for doing the right thing. Ironically enough, just a week ago, Jeff Wells and Harry got primetime coverage from Variety for, at least in the context of the article, doing the wrong thing, as did traditional media outlets who followed in their footsteps. Am I a studio kiss ass? No. But I understand the rules, I acknowledge them publicly when they restrain me in this column and I don't screw my sources, even when they claim it's safe to screw them. I'm just not the kind of person who can smack someone in the face and then expect them to forget it when they want something from me at a later date. I consider that loathsome behavior. And it costs me."
Sources: David Weddle Special to The Washington Post, Seducing Harry; Web Film Critic Harry Knowles Knows the Value of Tempting Scoops. So Does Hollywood.. , The Washington Post, 09-17-2000, pp G01.