Claudia Eller wrote a regular column for Variety before moving to the Los Angeles Times. Both are essentially trade papers with a softball approach to the entertainment industry.
Journalist David Poland calls Eller "the reporter most likely to get a phone call from a studio chief who wants to tell their story."
Eller is a lesbian. With her partner, she's raising an adopted child.
Like her former Variety editor Peter Bart, Eller has a reputation for playing favorites by praising people she likes and ripping those she doesn't like.
Veteran industry journalist David Poland writes 2/16/01 on his website www.thehotbutton.com: "I got an e-mail from Roland S. Martin, publisher of Black America Today News Report E-Letter, pointing out that the Times' Claudia Eller had refused to be interviewed for the story without the conditions that, according to David Shaw, "one of her editors be present for the interview and that she be allowed to approve or veto before publication the use of any direct quotations to be attributed to her." Shaw soft pedals the second demand as "not uncommon in Hollywood," but I have to tell you that I have NEVER done an interview in which the interviewee got to approve or veto quotes. At the New York Times Magazine, one writer was recently said to have been fired for letting an interviewee see the story before publication. Interview subjects are free to say what is on the record or off, for attribution or not, and how some things can or cannot be attributed. But that's during the interview, not pre-publication. And, as Martin wrote in his letter, "My anger stems from the fact that a journalist who would be appalled at such a request by someone else would ask for the same thing from a fellow journalist -- at her own paper!""
The long boring and uninspired LA Times series on showbiz journalism by David Shaw in February 2001 quoted Poland questioning a Claudia Eller column on Cameron Crowe. Poland said Eller, in a column, was hard on Crowe for apparently no other reason than he didn't return her call.
Poland writes 2/16/01 on www.thehotbutton.com: "Shaw allows Eller to deny that there was any bias by standing by her facts. But, as my column said back then, it was not the facts… everyone, including me, had already written about the troubled relationship between Crowe and DreamWorks… but the tone of the piece that was problematic. Of course, this is a theme throughout Shaw's series. What is a lie? What is just spin?
Shaw writes, "Poland said the only reason he could think of for Eller's story was that Crowe didn't return Eller's phone call." He continues, "Eller denies that. She says she had numerous sources on the story and stands by its accuracy." Well, I never said the core facts were wrong.
"What I wrote was, "What I do think is that Ms. Eller's piece on Almost Famous' failure to light up the box office was a story worth telling. (I've been writing about it for weeks, as have others.) But I also feel that Ms. Eller went way out of her way to turn a piece about the box office into an attack piece. And the only reason that I can figure out for the attack, based on the article, is that Crowe didn't return Eller's phone call. Now, there's a good reason to slam a man, a studio and a movie!" (You can read my whole piece by clicking here.)
"Shaw also goes light on Eller by writing, "…she said that Crowe was so pained that he `refuses to come to the phone now to discuss' the film." What Claudia actually wrote was, "Crowe is understandably pained. So much so that the man who granted tons of interviews before his movie's release refuses to come to the phone now to discuss it." The first is about his pain... about the story that there was tension. But what she actually wrote sure seems to me like a shot at Crowe's choices about how he makes himself available to the press. Maybe I'm crazy… you tell me. In my book, these are the subtle differences between strong journalism and attack journalism.
"And then there is her falling out with Jeffrey Katzenberg, which is said by many to have been about his decision to give the DreamWorks SKG scoop to someone else and then exacerbated by the L.A. Times' coverage of his separation trial against Disney. Or look at her love letter to Amy Pascal at a critical moment at Sony."
Poland writes: "...[R]ecent years have seen more and more of how Claudia feels in her writing and less and less straight reportage."
Poland provides such examples as Eller's fierce attack (May, 2000) on Disney Peter Schneider. She mocks the executive for his personal behavior at lunch with her rather than the mess over the movie Dinosaur.
Poland writes 5/15/00: "There isn't really a journalist in this town that I can remember having a more public rollercoaster relationship with Disney than the Los Angeles Times' Claudia Eller. I don't want to relive the history, but the switch from friend-of-the-family to enemy-of-the-state has taken place a few times over the years in a matter of hours. If anybody had any doubts about where the relationship now sits, they must have found Ms. Eller's Friday story to be a jolt. In one of the great bridge burning stories I've ever read, Eller leads a piece on Dinosaur not with the information she got in a lunch interview with studio chairman Peter Schneider and animation chief Tom Schumacher, but with a detailed and mocking account of the lunch itself. She wants to know why the studio is spending $200 million on a "kids' flick about dinosaurs." Schneider "bound(s)" up to the table. Schneider and Schumacher respond to her question about the budget in unison. Schneider snaps at Claudia and gets tagged with a rep for "a Peter Schneider three-veiner" for his trouble. He is "frazzled and flushed." Schumacher is "mortified by (Schneider's) behavior." When Schneider finally goes on the record, spinning Dinosaur as more important than its cost, Eller has already cut him off at the knees by earlier poo-pooing an earlier attempt at a similar argument, leaving a lingering doubt in the air even before the meat of the argument. Eller pegs the cost of the movie between $245 and $275 million before P&A, about $75 million of either figure attributable to the new animation studio that Disney built around this project. After lightening up and saying that Disney rivals think the film will be a hit, she can't resist a closing jab: "The unflappable Schumacher gave me a kiss on the cheek goodbye. Schneider shook my hand." Killer. And such is the glory of a big name journalism gig. Peter Schneider probably has hired a hitman for Claudia, but can't afford to blackout the L.A. Times completely, while I could face a feces storm just for mentioning the article in this column. Nonetheless, this one is destined for the "keeper" file.
Claudia Eller was the first mainstream journalist (in January, 1994) to write about manager Sandy Gallin's homosexuality.
I interviewed journalist Ross Johnson 9/26/02.
Luke: "What did you think of David Shaw's four-part series in the LA Times?"
Ross: "His editors wanted more Hollywood coverage. He offered them a four-part series and they said great. It was way too long. One thing he got wrong was that people who work at Hollywood Reporter and Variety are poorly paid. That's not true. According Alex Ben Black's lawsuit, he was making $150,000 as editor of the Hollywood Reporter. There are reporters at the Hollywood Reporter who make $100,000 annually.
"There was a lot of internal stuff that went on [at the LA Times] after it came out related to Claudia Eller. The LA Times entertainment journalists, like Eller, felt that they'd been sandbagged by that series."
Luke: "Claudia at first refused to do an interview with David Shaw, then she consented but insisted that one of her editors be present and that she could approve any quotes by her in Shaw's piece. What a baby."
Ross: "The more someone is in the journalism game, the more they distrust other journalists. I respect your web site. There's a tremendous amount of politics that goes in a newsroom. I think David Shaw has gone off the media beat and moved on to food and wine."
New Times LA journalist Jill Stewart wrote (12/10/98) a great piece about how the Los Angeles Times and Claudia Eller suck up to Hollywood and the city's rich and powerful while ignoring how many of these powerful achieved their wealth and power through thuggery. For instance, when Lew Wasserman died (in 2002), the LA Times wrote laudatory things about this man who rose to power through dirty dealing and organized crime connections.
Jill wrote: ...[T]he Times has made no mention of The Last Mogul [Dennis McDougal's scathing unauthorized biography of Lew Wasserman] since its release a month ago, even as the East Coast media gives wide play to the book, including a gushing review in the New York Observer.
"Ignoring a book this big!" New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson cried out to me before I could even ask what he thought of the L.A. Times initial blackout on the Lew Wasserman biography.
"The arrogance of that paper is beyond belief!" Johnson boomed. "They are toadies to the industry! They are a shameless embarrassment to journalism!"
New York media consultant Wayne Rosso, who monitors coverage of Hollywood, lays the blame largely on former Times editor Shelby Coffey III, a suck-up to Hollywood who in the late 1980s ordered investigative reporter Bill Knoedelseder to stop digging into MCA's Mob ties. Knoedelseder quit soon after and published some of his findings in his book, Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business and the Mafia.
"Lew and the boys called Shelby and put the kibosh on all the Times coverage of MCA and the mob," Rosso maintains, "and even though Shelby Coffey is gone now, all his people are still in place. That paper is a sell-out to Hollywood, period."
True to its nature, the Times last Friday published a pro-Wasserman front-page story about the troubles facing Universal Studios in the era since Lew and his successor, Sidney Sheinberg, sold the company to the Japanese, who then sold it to Edgar Bronfman Jr./Seagram's.
Times writers Eller and James Bates wrote a lengthy story about Bronfman's many missteps, allowing the deposed Sidney Sheinberg to bemoan how Bronfman "destroyed our company" as well as the "culture that Jules Stein started, Lew Wasserman built, and I worked on."
Had the writers bothered to read McDougal, they could have written that when Sheinberg and Wasserman were bought out, MCA was aging badly--because of Sheinberg and Wasserman's stinginess and inability to change with the times. Sheinberg and Wasserman pushed the unpopular videodisc technology, fought the onset of VCRs, and dismissed the importance of cable.