Bernard Weinraub began covering Hollywood for the New York Times in 1991 and according to the conventional wisdom, he set the pace for tough industry reporting.
Conventional wisdom then shifted on Bernie when he romanced and married in 1997 Amy Pascal, the president of Columbia Pictures. The New York Times claimed it was taking Weinraub off stories where he might have a conflict of interest, chiefly replacing him with Rick Lyman, who, like Weinraub, usually reads as three-week-old conventional wisdom.
A 1999 Brill's Content article detailed how the Times repeatedly bent their journalistic rules for Weinraub. A 1996? Los Angeles magazine criticized for hawking his own movie scripts.
Michael Ovitz, long the recipient of Bernie's bashing, complained to then Times editor Joe Lelyveld, which ticked off Weinraub.
From Variety 1/11/99:
In his column the Cultural Elite, Lorne Manly examines the dilemma of Bernard Weinraub, who covers Hollywood for the New York Times and is married to Amy Pascal, president of Columbia Pictures, Sony's key production arm.
According to Manly, the arrangement between Weinraub and the Times was that Weinraub would avoid not only writing about Sony or Columbia but would also steer clear of box office and other money-driven stories. This supposed understanding has broken down on several recent occasions, Manly says, such as a recent piece about Time Warner's resurgence, and another about Universal's slate of films.
While Manly quotes Bill Keller, the Times' managing editor, as saying he has no concerns about Weinraub's integrity, Keller adds, "The fact that people are even saying `Gee, is he completely neutral in this?' that's troubling.... It's something we've got to talk about."
The issue of Weinraub's neutrality also was challenged recently when Michael Ovitz complained to Times editors about a story involving him.
As for Weinraub, he says he and his wife spend little time talking about movies and that he doesn't join her at movie openings and Hollywood parties. In fact, he told Manly, "I have no control over people saying those truly ridiculous things." Hollywood, he says, is "a very mean-spirited place, people always gossiping, always wishing you ill."
From NY Mag's 2/8/99 issue: ""What does the New York Times have against me?" Ovitz asked Lelyveld, according to one well-connected source. "Your football writer hates me, your theater writer hates me, and Bernie Weinraub just killed me." Lelyveld is said to have replied, "What are you talking about? If I got all three writers in a room, they wouldn't even know one another." Then Ovitz reportedly attacked Weinraub's marriage to Columbia Pictures president Amy Pascal for at least creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. That wasn't the end of it. Last week, Ovitz called Lelyveld to complain about Weinraub's recent reporting on Hollywood's latest love-hate-fest with Ovitz. "People all over have been calling me," Ovitz is said to have told Lelyveld, before shrieking in exasperation, "You don't know anything about our business. I can't talk to you." Then Ovitz "came as close to hanging up the phone as you can on Joe Lelyveld," the source continued."
Bernie has long been perceived as David Geffen's boy. They became close while Bernie, who did more than his share of beat sweeteners (writing nice things to butter up sources) at the beginning of his Hollywood tenure, researched a 5000-word puff piece for the Times Sunday magazine in May 1993.
Cynthia Cotts, in her 8/14/02 Village Voice column, gives a long rundown on Weinraub's pieces that have favored Geffen and hurt Ovitz.
In April 1994, Bernie wrote that Ovitz had grown so powerful, his rivals were plotting to bring him down.
In October 1994, Weinraub wrote an inside story announcing Geffen's decision to launch DreamWorks. It was done with great cooperation from Geffen, who uses Weinraub as his trumpet to the world.
In April 1995, Weinraub predicted that Ovitz would leave CAA to run MCA Universal. Bernie never forgave Ovitz for going to Disney instead, a source told Cotts.
In October 1996, Weinraub ripped Ovitz for floundering at Disney. Bernie ripped him again in December of 1998 when Ovitz launched Artist Management Group (AMG). Weinraub wrote: "He's back and not too many people are happy about it."
In NY Times book reviews, "Weinraub found a Geffen bio not as bad as Geffen seemed to think, and a book on Ovitz insufficiently harsh." (Cynthia Cotts)
Cynthia Cotts points out that media reporting is driven by relationships. In the 1980s, former Los Angeles Times editor Shelby Coffey III was friendly with Ovitz and Michael Eisner, causing his staff to complain about the appearance of a conflict. The LA Times has long treated Hollywood with kid gloves.
In 1989, Vanity Fair's Tina Brown promised Ovitz a puff piece. Her letter was published in Spy. Spy editor Graydon Carter now edits VF and produced the 2002 documentary on Robert Evans.
Spy reported that during the 1980s then Disney exec Jeff Katzenberg was the "primary blind source" for Aljean Harmetz, a New York Times Hollywood reporter who now writes obits for the Times.
Anita Busch teamed with Weinraub to write the most damaging stories about Ovitz in the first six months of 2002. An article March 22 on the front page said the film unit of AMG was undergoing an audit. They published two follow-ups, ending one with a story about Ovitz waiting outside the dressing room of Robin Williams, "essentially hanging around to pay fealty to a star client."
A source told Cotts that The Wall Street Journal, widely regarded as the best source of journalism on Hollywood, was tipped off to the audit a month earlier, but did not follow through. WSJ editors thought the Times overplayed the story. Meanwhile, some people in Hollywood actually started to feel sorry for Ovitz, because the Times stories felt like overkill.
In May, Weinraub and Busch broke the news that Ovitz had sold AMG to the talent management group known as the Firm, calling it "one of the lowest points in his career." (Village Voice, 8/14/02)
When I was a struggling actor in 1994, I did a showcase with a woman who worked as a temp in the New York Times LA office. I met her there one day and I felt awed to peak through a window at the famous Weinraub.
I had far more interest in meeting Bernie Weinraub than I did in meeting any actor, director or producer in Hollywood. That should've told me right there that my future belonged in journalism, not acting.
In his article on Amy Wallace's dispatch of Peter Bart in the September, 2001, issue of Los Angeles magazine, Weinraub chose to focus on Bart's allegedly racist and homophobic remarks, instead of Bart's major ethical lapses.
Bernie is a predictable Jewish liberal on these matters. He showed his true colors in the 1994 William Cash affair in The Spectator. The British magazine's editor Dominic Lawson writes in its 11/19/94 issue:
At the other end the moguls got in touch with Mr. Bernard Weinraub, the highly experienced Los Angeles correspondent of the New York Times. While none of them wished to be quoted personally, Mr. Weinraub reported that they were collectively of the view that the Cash article was 'disgusting' 'despicable', 'bigoted' and 'odious'.
The most upsetting words which Mr. Weinraub was able to quote from Cash's article were that he described Jews as 'fiercely competitive', 'compulsive storytellers' and 'talented negotiators'. Mr. Weinraub appended to these exact extracts from Cash's article his own comment: 'Few in Hollywood could recall such an anti-Semitic article in a mainstream publication.'
Following Mr. Weinraub's article, the Anti-Defamation League swung into action from its New York officeas a result of this one of our valued advertisers canceled its contract with usand the Los Angeles Times ran a leader page article to denounce young William Cash. The New York Times article appeared on Monday 7 November, and was given the honor of the front page in the paper's Arts section. It quoted me, absolutely accurately, as saying to Mr. Weinraub that The Spectator seeks to be 'highly polemical and highly controversial. There is a difference between what is deemed acceptable in an American paper and what is deemed acceptable in a British paper. American papers have a code of political correctness. It's simply impossible to run views counter to that product.'
Mr. Weinraub added, 'Mr. Lawson, who said he was Jewish, remarked that he did not necessarily agree with the views of authors in his magazine. He said he was "well aware of the sensitivities of Jews" but had had no second thoughts about publishing the article.'
Mr. Weinraub had called me on Sunday evening (the 6th). He seemed a little agitated. I suspect he was most offended by William Cash's remark that the New York Times was the 'official mouthpiece' of the new Jewish establishment. I now accept without reservation that this allegation is totally without foundation...
Mr. Weinraub's own article was very well written. I would have been happy to have published such a piece in The Spectator, although I didn't agree with it. But it did not quite do justice to the spice of our telephone conversation, part of which went as follows:
Self (after being told, at length, how offended le tout Hollywood was by Mr. Cash's article): I am quite sensitive to the attitudes of Jews to this sort of thing.
Weinraub: Why do you say that? Self: Because I am Jewish.
Weinraub: What does that mean? Self: It means I am a Jew.
Weinraub: Jews put Jews in gas ovens!
Self: What a very pleasant analogy.
Mickey Kaus writes on Kausfiles.com: "Bernard Weinraub, who reports on Hollywood for the New York Times, has one of the great cons going. He covers his beat like a lazy foreign correspondent, soaking up the most cliched conventional wisdom and dutifully reporting it to the folks back home -- in this case, the folks in New York -- only to have the folks back home eat it up because they don't know any better. I lived in West L.A. in 1996 and 1997, and was not well-connected, but often had this experience: when I'd gotten thoroughly sick of going to parties and hearing about a particular topic -- say, what Mike Ovitz was going to do, or whether Miramax was trying to buy the Oscars -- when you could end a conversation and clear the room simply by bringing up the issue of Miramax buying the Oscars, it meant that Weinraub would soon have a story in the Times on that very subject. And they'd probably run it on the front!
"Not only did Weinraub's editors not know enough about Hollywood to know it was an old story, they probably didn't care.
"In the entertainment biz, Weinraub is considered a joke, especially given the Times power and prestige, which a more energetic reporter could use to get leaks and break stories that actually interest both people outside of the industry and within it."
David Poland writes: "Have you noticed that Bernie Weinraub seems to be in the middle of every screwed up story in Hollywood lately? Honestly, I'm sick of being left to clean up after him."
Mickey Kaus, no fan of Weinraub, writes: "Why do "some see a young Ovitz" in Kwatinetz? Well, according to the billboard quote from Jay Cooper, "an entertainment lawyer," both men have strong personalities! And "if Jeff does similiar things -- and I don't know here if he will or not -- he could struggle with the same issues." Wow! How do Laura Holson and Bernard Weinraub get people to say those things? And if Kwatinetz became a champion golfer he could struggle with the same issues as Tiger Woods! If he made two bad movies in a row he could struggle with the same issues as George Lucas! If he became an L.A. showbiz reporter desperate to please his out-of-it East Coast editors ..."
Sridhar Pappu writes in the New York Observer: Bernard Weinraub is currently at work on an extensive, year-long project about iconic rock 'n' rollers. In the vein of, say, Behind the Music, Mr. Weinraub will profile the likes of Chuck Berry and Mick Jagger for the paper. Sources said Mr. Weinraub could turn the Times project into a book or television vehicle should the opportunity arise.
AndrewSullivan.com writes: A jaw-dropping correction in the New York Times today:
A front-page article on Tuesday about criticism voiced by American military officers in Iraq over war plans omitted two words from an earlier comment by Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of V Corps. General Wallace had said (with the omission indicated by uppercasing), "The enemy we're fighting is A BIT different from the one we war-gamed against."
One simple question: why are the reporters who used that critical quote to exaggerate the difficulties of the allies still working for the NYT? The reporters in question are Bernard Weinraub, formerly of the Hollywood beat, and Thom Shanker.
Nikki Finke writes in the LA Weekly: "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...Weinraub had a great nose for news."
Mickey Kaus writes on Slate.com:
I'm not saying [NYT's Bernard] Weinraub would write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece on [Jack] Valenti in order to please his wife [Amy Pascal of Sony]. He did write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece, but that's probably because it's the kind of piece he almost always writes these days. By that, I'm not saying that he's a behind-the-curve embarrassment to the Times, snickered at by other reporters, who habitually either misses the story or gets it after everyone else is sick of talking about it. ...Oh, allright, that is what I'm saying.
It's bizarre that the Times would relax its conflict-of-interest rules to get more of this buzzless voice into the paper. The paper has apparently tried to keep up appearances in the past by not letting Weinraub write about certain topics, but that regime has obviously broken down.
Who, exactly, did the New York Times' Bernard Weinraub plagiarize?
Jack Shafer writes on Slate.com:
"What can I tell you?" says New York Times Hollywood correspondent Bernard Weinraub. "I screwed up … I'm sorry."
Weinraub's apologies, given hurriedly in a very brief telephone conversation, are for lifting a paragraph from another source to use in his Monday, Nov. 11, bylined story about Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano ("Talk of Wiretaps Rattles Hollywood"). Weinraub confesses to having plagiarized the passage, although identifying the precise party he plagiarized isn't simple.
According to Times editor Paul Fishleder, Weinraub believes he got the passage from a Web page about Pellicano at Lukeford.net. Weinraub wrote:
Mr. Pellicano came to Hollywood under strange circumstances. In 1977, he found the body of Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, Mike Todd, which had been stolen from a Chicago cemetery. In front of a television camera crew, Mr. Pellicano walked about 75 yards from the excavated grave, reached under some leaves and revealed a plastic bag containing Mr. Todd's remains. Mr. Pellicano's rivals claimed he had staged the episode for publicity.
On LukeFord.net, Luke Ford had previously written, typo and all:
In 1977, Pellicano found the body of Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, Mike Todd, which was stolen from a Chicago cemetary. In front of a camera crew from a local news station, Pellicano walked over to place seventy-five yards south of the excavated grave, reached under some leaves, and revealed a plastic bag of Todd's remains. Pellicano's rivals claimed he'd staged the entire episode for publicity.
But where did Ford get the information? And who is he? Ford calls his Pellicano page a clip job, assembled from a variety of sources, which he credits, often paragraph by paragraph. But Ford originally neglected to attribute the source of that information. After a brief source search, Ford concluded he got the information from Jeannette Walls' 2000 book Dish, which he cites elsewhere on the Pellicano page. A friend of Ford's who had a copy of Dish read the passage to him this afternoon; he recorded it and transcribed it thusly from Pages 276-277:
In 1977, the body of the actress's third husband, Mike Todd, was stolen from its grave in a Chicago-area cemetery. After police searched and found nothing, Pellicano showed up at the cemetery with a camera crew from a local news station, went to a spot about 75 yards south of the excavated grave, reached under some scattered branches and leaves, and produced a plastic bag containing Todd's remains.
Pellicano insisted that "underworld sources" had told him the body's whereabouts but rivals snickered that the private detective had staged the entire episode for publicity.
Ford's version doesn't plagiarise Walls', but as he acknowledges, he should have cited her as he does throughout his pages. He apologies for his blunder.
The New York Times Corrects
"Editors' Note from Friday's Corrections: An article in Business Day on Tuesday reported on a federal inquiry into suspected illegal wiretapping by a private investigator in Hollywood, Anthony Pellicano. The article incorporated a paragraph about an incident in which Mr. Pellicano recovered the body of Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, Mike Todd, which had been removed from its grave at a Chicago cemetery. That paragraph was reproduced nearly verbatim from a Weblog compiled by a Los Angeles journalist, Luke Ford, who adapted it from a passage in the 2000 book "Dish," by Jeannette Walls. In February 1994, a similar account appeared in Los Angeles magazine. The Times should have credited the Weblog for its version."
A reader writes to Gawker.com:
Is it really so "unusual" that Luke Ford was a source for [Bernard] Weinraub? The circle enclosing Ford's fame is small, but Weinraub is tied in enough to be aware of it. It's to his credit that Weinraub is smart enough to read him. Anyone getting an actual paycheck to cover Hollywood would be a fool not to. He's the real thing, an obsessive chronicler of the town. And every -thing, -body, -place else that touches his life. Let him get the leads, and fill in the background for you. Sure, you need to be smart enough to wipe his fingerprints off your own prose when, uh, reconfiguring his stuff, but everybody knows that rule. Bernard W. fucked up. And not majorly.
From R.J. Smith's column on Bernard Weinraub in the March 2004 issue of Los Angeles magazine:
The last year has brought renewed criticism, and the worst mistake of Weinraub's career. On November 11, in a piece about the prosecution of private investigator Anthony Pellicano, Weinraub published under his byline a paragraph copied from an online account by blogger Luke Ford. The Times printed a lengthy and tortured correction three days later.
Ford is a strange one, a self-styled authority on porn and Orthodox Judaism. He has also been obsessed with the Pellicano story and advanced the story a bit -- though Ford's initial posting failed to make clear that the paragraph Weintraub lifted was itself recycled from a book.
"I was writing on deadline. It was a stupid mistake," says Weinraub. "A one-paragraph thing."
Either he was incredibly sloppy or he didn't understand the Web, which is another way of saying he was incredibly sloppy. Not good. The Times, though, could have saved themselves years of problems if they'd rotated him. The truth is, long before his marriage gave his antagonists a big hammer to flail with, Weinraub had already peaked as a correspondent, and both the paper and its correspondent would have been better served with somebody new on the Coast.
Mickey Kaus writes in Slate:
Hollywood correspondent Bernard Weinraub's seemingly confessional exit article got big play in last Sunday's paper, but it has not met with good reviews. The criticism seem to fall into at least four categories.
1. Weinraub's pathetic, insecure money envy: The key incident here is when Weinraub admits he was embarrassed to drive a two-year old car.
Waiting for a valet at the Bel-Air Hotel to bring my company-leased Ford, I once stood beside a journalist turned producer who said, "I used to drive a car like that." Though I'm ashamed to say it, I was soon hunting for parking spots near Orso or the Peninsula Hotel to avoid the discomfort of having a valet drive up my leased two-year-old Buick in front of some luncheon companion with a Mercedes. [Emphasis added]
Nikki Finke of L.A. Weekly writes that "what oozes from [Weinraub's piece] is the gunky notion that a journalist wanted to live like the people he covered here." (And Finke's a Weinraub pal!) Variety's Brian Lowry says:
Weinraub's first-person account suggests that he acquired the two worst traits an entertainment journalist can possess -- harboring contempt toward those whom he encountered while simultaneously being overly star-struck and financially envious ... feeding the perception that we can't attend a shindig at producer Brian Grazer's estate (very nice, by the way) without immediately contemplating how to sell out so we can buy our own.
But is he being a) genuinely self-critical--e.g. he now realizes how silly and immature it was to feel "diminished" by his failure to drive a Mercedes-- or b) residually self-pitying, as if he wants the reader to still feel sorry for poor Bernie the journalist forced to cover people much richer than he is? There are enough cloying, self-glorifying references to his initial "string of modest, even shabby apartments" and his alleged goggle-eyed awe at a Coldwater Canyon house ("I had never seen a home like this")--plus enough implicit crowing about his subsequent marriage to a rich studio head-- to conclude that the mix is at least 70% (b). Weinraub apparently believes that the situation in Washington, D.C.--where reporters are in the same lifestyle ballpark as the people they cover while trumping most of them in status--is the normal and appropriate social order, when in fact it's the exception.
Does Weinraub think America is a caste system in which the rich have different accents, origins, etc? Here he seems almost 100% unaware of what his shock at Steel's ordinariness implies.
Weinraub's sin was ignoring not an appearance but an actual conflict, a gross violation of professional norms, pretending it could be cured by not covering his wife's business (as if covering her competitors didn't present the same conflict). [OK, but name an actual, compromised story?-ed How about Weinraub's semi-fawning and misleading piece about how movie industry lobbyist Jack Valenti's bosses, the studios (e.g., Weinraub's wife) "don't seem in any rush to push him out the door"? Within three weeks the L.A. Times reported that Valenti was leaving.]
P.S.: The web of conflicts around Weinraub's marriage was actually fairly complicated and subtle. Reporters were also scared to gossip about stories with Pascal for fear she'd tell her husband and the stories would wind up in the NYT.
P.S.: The web of conflicts around Weinraub's marriage was actually fairly complicated and subtle. Reporters were also scared to gossip about stories with Pascal for fear she'd tell her husband and the stories would wind up in the NYT. Reporters were scared to criticize Weinraub in public for fear they'd lose access to Pascal. Weinraub seemingly misses all this.
4. What It Means for Journalism! Why wasn't the New York Times embarrassed by Weinraub, if he wasn't embarrassed for himself? It seems troubling enough to have a reporter so transparently desperate to curry favor with the people he covered, to be liked by them and be as rich as them. The marriage to a top executive should have been the deal-breaker. Some say the Times knew it had a problem, but Weinraub was protected by an old boy network. My guess is that the Times let Weinraub embarrass himself because it didn't care to cover the entertainment industry as an actual, riveting business story, but rather as if it were a wacky foreign country.