Open Mic

October 2012

Guest Commentary: Some Questions for the New CEO of The New York Times About the BBC Child Abuse Scandal

Chuck Ross Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:34 AM

[Note: This guest blog entry is written by Bill Bauman. For many years Bauman was the GM of WESH, Hearst Television's NBC affiliate serving Orlando, Fla. He retired five years ago. Bauman's last guest commentary for us was "What NBC Can Learn From the BBC -- and Vice Versa -- About Televising the Olympics. Observations From the Former GM of an NBC Affiliate"]

By Bill Bauman

Do you remember the greatest line from the Watergate hearings? What did the president know, and when did he know it?

That’s Mark Thompson’s problem right now. Thompson was a hugely successful director general of the BBC, and is now about to become the new CEO of The New York Times -- arguably the two best news organizations in the world. He crossed the Atlantic from the best job in the world to the next best job in the world on the strength of his breakthrough work in the digital world. The next time you are in the U.K., check out the BBC I-Player. It is the future, and Thompson gets the credit. Which is one major reason he is now at The NY Times -- where he is scheduled to start on Nov. 12, 2012.

But a dead comedian is now haunting both Thompson and the BBC, and maybe The Times. Jimmy Savile was a disc jockey and TV personality on the BBC for three decades. He got big ratings and was a huge star. He was also a child molester. So far, 300 victims, the vast majority being young girls, have been identified.

In a nutshell, here’s the scandal: Jimmy died last year at the age of 84. The BBC prepared two tribute shows honoring the great television produced by Jimmy Savile. Meanwhile, ITV (the BBC’s biggest competitor) was producing a hard-hitting news report on Savile’s pedophilia.

As it turns out, the BBC also had a piece in production on Savile’s sexual predilections for its signature public affairs show, “Newsnight.” But that piece was inexplicably killed. Killed, the editor says, because it failed to meet the BBC’s journalistic standards. At the about the same time the BBC was broadcasting its two tribute shows to Jimmy Savile. Everyone involved says killing the story had nothing to do with the fact that the entertainment division was broadcasting these tribute shows.

Which brings us back to Mark Thompson, the director general at the time of the BBC. Director general is a unique job description. It means chief executive officer and editor in chief. So you are running both the entertainment division and the news division.

How could the BBC broadcast two tributes to Jimmy Savile while the competition was exposing him as a child molester? Why did the BBC kill its own investigation into Savile’s pedophilia? So far, Mark Thompson has said:

1. I wasn’t in charge when Savile was molesting children.
2. I was unaware that we were producing tribute shows after his death.
3. I didn’t know our news division was producing a story about his pedophilia.
4. I had nothing to do with killing our “Newsnight” story

Those responses beg these questions about Thompson:

1. Did you not meet regularly with your programmers to discuss the entertainment shows the BBC was planning to broadcast?
2. Did you not know your news division was working on an expose (a horrific one by the way) about one of your stars for the past 30 years? They really didn’t tell you?
3. Given the sensitive nature of all of this, would not the producer, reporters, managing editors and everyone else involved in this story not come to consult with you when the decision was made to kill this piece?
4. Boy, this just all seems too coincidental. (Not a question)

The BBC and The New York Times are two of the most respected news organizations in the world. But as we say down south, Mark Thompson has some more explaining to do. What’s at stake here is the public’s perception of your honesty and journalistic ethics. Not small issues if you are the BBC or The New York Times.

TV Doing What TV Does Best

Chuck Ross Posted October 29, 2012 at 5:47 AM

Millions of citizens will be watching TV in the next 24-48 hours, tracking Hurricane Sandy.

There will be plenty of people watching from thousands of miles away, like I’ve been doing here in L.A.

But there will also be the millions who are affected by the storm directly, who will be watching their local channels to monitor the storm in their community.

The service provided by this coverage in local communities cannot be overpraised. It’s TV doing what TV does best.

I wonder which TV station will emerge as the WWL of this storm. WWL, the Belo affiliate in New Orleans, did extraordinary coverage of another big storm, Katrina.

With a blog, live streaming video over the Internet and backup using the facilities of LSU (in Baton Rogue) and then Louisiana Public Broadcasting, WWL provided a beacon for those in the New Orleans community like no other. As one viewer said, “When every light was out, WWL was there."

If the coverage WWL did wasn’t exemplary enough, check out the video below. As a news crew is shooting a flooded street during Katrina, a car drives into it. That’s WWL producer Chris Merrifield who says, “Excuse me,” to the cameraman and runs into the water to help rescue the driver.

To all the TV personnel who are covering Sandy, and who have covered previous disasters and storms and who will cover them in the future, a big thank you from all of us watching.

Discovery Channel, This Time It's Personal. Lance Armstrong Took Your Brand and Pissed On It In Front Of the Whole World. Doesn't That Bother You? [Blog Entry Updated on Oct. 24, 2012]

Chuck Ross Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:54 AM

It was a warm, muggy day in June, mostly overcast with some drizzle. It was an omen. The day should have been bright, sunny, and one of the best days yet in the close to year and a half that Billy Campbell had been running the Discovery Networks.

For on that Tuesday, June 15, 2004, Campbell and his team were gathered in Discovery’s Silver Spring headquarters with a large contingent of press to announce a huge coup.

Smiling over at Lance Armstrong and his girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, Judith McHale, president and CEO of Discovery Communicatons, presided over the brief announcement made in the packed lobby: The Discovery Channel would become the new title sponsor of five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling team.

Though Discovery wouldn’t take over the sponsorship until 2005, starting immediately -- less than three weeks before the beginning of the 2004 Tour de France bicycle race -- there would be a Discovery Channel logo on the team’s jerseys.

“Lance is a role model known for determination, integrity and a spirit that never gives up,” McHale told the crowd. “There is no better ambassador for quality and trusted information than Lance Armstrong.”

Armstrong, who flew in from Brussels the night before just to be at the Discovery event, took the mike and briefly said how excited he was to be associated with Discovery.

The exciting announcement event had ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the Discovery lobby that day.

The gorilla was in the form of a book excerpt that had been published two days earlier, on Sunday, June 13, 2004, in L’Express, a French magazine, and in the Sunday Times (of London). The excerpt was from an upcoming book, to be published only in French, titled (in English) “L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong.” It was written, according to Velo News, by an ”award-winning Sunday Times (of London) sports reporter, David Walsh, and Pierre Ballester, a cycling specialist formerly with L’Equippe.”

The Chicago Tribune wrote that “among the more sensational allegations” in the book excerpt that had been published were “a former aide to the U.S. Postal Service team applied makeup to conceal bruises and needle marks on Armstrong’s arms, that he asked her to dispose of used syringes, and that he sent her from France to Spain to pick up 'unspecified medication.'”

According to the coverage of the Discovery event in CableFax, that same Tuesday Armstrong’s lawyers “were bringing libel suits in France and Britain against the authors [of the “L.A. Confidential” book]. ... The legal issues went unmentioned during the excitement of the brief lobby ceremony celebrating Discovery Comm’s multi-year, multi-million $ title sponsorship of Armstrong’s racing team and to-be-defined programming relationship. [However, the legal issues] dominated a media-packed 30 min. Q&A” after the ceremony.

Here are comments Armstrong made during that 30-minute press conference, according to various media accounts written that day:

From the Dallas Morning News: “ ‘I can absolutely confirm the we don’t use doping products,’ Armstrong said. ‘I can also remind everybody here and everybody listening that this is not the first time it’s happened.’"

The Associated Press then reported that Armstrong said, “I heard it in 1999. I heard it in 2002, again in 2003. It happens all the time.”

Back to the Dallas Morning News, which reported that Armstrong added next, “And every time we chose to sit back and let it pass. But we’ve sort of reached a point where we can’t tolerate it anymore, and we’re sick and tired of these allegations and we’re going to do everything we can to fight them."

“They’re untrue,” Armstrong continued, according to The New York Times.

Back to the Dallas Morning News, which wrote that Armstrong then said: “I personally am very frustrated. It’s obviously distracting 2½ weeks before the Tour. But for me, success is the best way to silence accusers.”

The Baltimore Sun wrote that Armstrong “said his attorneys are filing libel suits in England and France against those who have published the allegations. Armstrong’s website says the cyclist is seeking ‘an injunction and substantial damages’ in London against co-author David Walsh and his newspaper, the Sunday Times.”

Walsh had told the International Herald Tribune about the book, “It’s all circumstantial evidence. We don’t actually prove anything. We just set out the facts and let the reader decide for himself about the truth. But we do give names for every accusation.”

In an interview with Velo News, Walsh was asked whether he was surprised at how quickly Armstrong had pursued legal action. “Not at all,” Walsh answered. “We stand by everything in the book. He is suing the messengers. But the real source of angst for Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team are the people who delivered the testimony in this book.”

During the Silver Spring press conference, The New York Times said, Armstrong “reiterated that he was clean. ‘I think the people who know cycling know we’re the most passionate, fanatic, crazy team, in the right way,’ he said. ‘We spend more time on training, and on legal methods, than anybody else.’“

During the press conference Armstrong spoke about the importance of making a deal with Discovery to sponsor the cycling team. Reported The New York Times: “‘It was very important to have this deal done now,’ Amstrong said. ‘The Tour de France is the granddaddy of them all but it’s also the place where riders showcase their best skills. If we didn’t have Discovery, then I would have had guys at the Tour think they might not be my teammates any longer.’ ... Armstrong said that he would not have won the Tour de France races without the support of the Postal Service. He said he also wondered to himself: ‘If we didn’t find a new partner, would I retire? I’m glad I don’t have to retire. I’m glad I’ll be around for a year, maybe two.’“

Said Discovery’s Billy Campbell, according to The New York Times, “Lance and the team will also serve as ambassadors for Discovery in the U.S. and the world.”

Jeff Barker, who covered the Discovery announcement and Armstrong press conference for the Baltimore Sun, spoke to a Discovery spokesperson, who told him that Discovery knew about the book and the charges it contained “before agreeing to team with Armstrong.” According to what Barker wrote, the Discovery spokesperson said, “It was all out on the table. We knew about the book coming out when we were pulling this partnership together. Nothing has changed.”

A little over a month after the Discovery press conference Armstrong won his 6th Tour de France on Sunday, July 25, 2004. And he indeed wore a jersey emblazoned with the logos of both the U.S. Postal Service and future sponsor Discovery Channel.

The next day Armstrong’s hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, ran a story titled “Six, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll: Stories Away From the Tour de France Route.” An excerpt: “Cheers and jeers. Armstrong heard it all on the way up L-Alpe d’Huez. Particularly vocal were German fans, who heckled Armstrong up the mountain. Among the words of encouragement spray-painted on the road were plenty of less flattering statements. ‘Lance Sucks’ read one. Another fan suggested that Armstrong’s cycling prowess isn’t entirely natural, spraying ‘EPOstal’ on the landscape to suggest his team was relying on banned blood booster EPO. ‘That’s no class: I think we’d all agree,’ Armstrong said.’“

Six months later, in January 2005, Armstrong was interviewed on NPR, where he was asked again about doping, and denied it.

In June, 2005, as Armstrong was about to race for this 7th consecutive Tour de France win, Discovery was airing Armstrong specials such as “The Science of Lance Armstrong” and the five-part “Chasing Lance: 100 Days to the Tour."

At the same time a new book about Armstrong was published: "Lance Armstrong’s War: One Man’s Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France,” by Daniel Coyle. Coyle interviewed Armstrong for the book.

In the book Coyle reports on the case both for and against Armstrong doping.

Coyle also writes in the book, reported the Anchorage Daily News at the time, what he thinks is the public’s biggest misconception about Armstrong: “That he’s a nice guy, a kind of saint. He’s definitely smart, charismatic, and he does a lot of good works, especially in the cancer community. But he’s not about being nice; he’s about being first, especially in the Tour de France. ‘Animalistic‘ is how his best friend puts it.”

And, the Anchorage paper noted, Coyle wrote this about Armstrong’s inner circle: that Armstrong says he is only interested in “‘having friends who will kill for me.’ Outside that circle, you have what Armstrong calls the Trolls -- people in the media and cycling who want to bring him down. The borderline is very clear, and he patrols it constantly. You’re in or you’re out.”

The next month, in July 2005, Armstrong won his 7th consecutive Tour de France race. After he won Armstrong announced his retirement from professional cycling.

For the year 2005 I typed into Factiva, a service that indexes newspaper and magazine articles, the words “Lance Armstrong” and “doping” and more than 900 articles came up. I didn’t have time to read most of them. I did not do that same search for any subsequent years.

In February 2007, the Associated Press ran a story that said Discovery would drop its sponsorship of the pro cycling team at the end of the 2007 season. That coincided with the end of the three-year deal Discovery executive Billy Campbell had made with the team.

It also coincided with a management shakeup at Discovery that saw Campbell leaving the company.

That Discovery got in into bed with Armstrong despite knowing the various accusations about his doping is not surprising. Millions of us believed Armstrong’s denials at the time.

I emailed a spokesperson at Discovery the other day this email:

In light of the big report made public on Wednesday by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) about Lance Armstrong, I was wondering what comment or comments Discovery has.

As you know, the report was pretty tough on Armstrong, claiming that, according to the USADA, that Armstrong used banned substances. Seemingly the most credible accusations come from George Hincapie, a former teammate of Armstrong's who Armstrong has praised in the past as a very loyal and good friend. Like Armstrong, Hincapie never failed a drug test. But in Hincapie's affidavit to the USADA he says both himself and Armstrong used banned substances. Hincapie says that includes during the 2005 Tour de France.

Given that in 2005 Armstrong won the Tour de France under the banner of the Discovery Channel Team, what does Discovery have to say about all of these detailed allegations made against Armstrong this week?

Is Discovery standing behind Armstrong? Or? Is Discovery going to do any investigation itself into these allegations, since it is alleged that a lot of this went on when Discovery was sponsoring the team? Has Discovery investigated any of this in the past?

You get the picture.

Please let me know if there's someone at Discovery I should interview over phone about this, and/or any statement or statements Discovery has to make about this.

She emailed back that she didn’t think the company had a comment, and her boss confirmed that Discovery would have no comment.

I wrote back, “Really? No comment? I very much appreciate the fast response … but I'm very surprised, given the seriousness of the charges against Armstrong.”

I noted that the USADA had written that “The achievements of the U.S. Postal Service pro cycling team, which Armstrong led, were accomplished through a massive team doping scheme more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history.”

I said that one could just as easily substitute the words “Discovery Channel pro cycling team” in that sentence. I said if Discovery changes its mind and wants to comment, to let me know.

I’ve heard nothing back. Yesterday Nike, which was a major sponsor of Armstrong, released a statement saying: “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

I’m disappointed about the deafening silence from 1 Discovery Place in Silver Spring. I’ve long liked and respected Discovery founder and Chairman John Hendricks.

In an article last year in The Sunday Times (of London) David Walsh (who co-wrote that “LA. Confidential” book about Armstrong) wrote: “Emails between Armstrong and John Hendricks, founder of Discovery, are believed to exist containing Armstrong’s reassurances to his main sponsor at the time that the team did not, and had not doped.”

Last year, as doping allegations again piled up against Armstrong, his close friend Bono reportedly posted this tweet to Armstrong:

“Sometimes my friend, the lie is ugly, but the truth is unbearable.” Who knows how that resonated with Armstrong.

John Hendricks, it’s time to go public. It’s time to say SOMETHING about how you feel.#

Update: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012: Today, 12 days after I asked Discovery if they would comment about the doping allegations made against Lance Armstrong by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and they had replied "No comment," they have posted the following statement on the Discovery Communications corporate website:

Discovery Communications' Statement on Lance Armstrong

"Discovery Communications is deeply troubled by the information presented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concerning Lance Armstrong and his professional cycling team. The company has had no relationship with Lance Armstrong or the team since 2007, and the findings contradict everything Lance and his management team committed to the company. As a mission-driven organization, Discovery always strives for the highest level of integrity, quality and trust in everything that we do. The report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency clearly indicates that Lance Armstrong failed to share our standard."

Why Lance Armstrong Needs Oprah Winfrey in the Worst Possible Way

Chuck Ross Posted October 11, 2012 at 9:08 AM

When I was a teenager growing up in a middle class neighborhood here in Los Angeles in the mid-‘60s, it occurred to me that you lived in either a Newsweek house or a Time house.

The parents of my friends who lived in the houses that got Time magazine were more conservative, more traditional, more staid.

The parents of those of us who lived in the homes that subscribed to Newsweek were more liberal, more open to non-traditional ways of looking at things, and just plain cooler.

And I don’t recall any house subscribing to both magazines. And it really did seem to me that the characteristics I have ascribed to the parents of my friends living in the Time or Newsweek houses clearly fit the differences in the look and demeanor of both magazines.

My teenage preference for Newsweek over Time has been with me my entire life.

Or, I should say, at least until the Sept. 3 issue.

That’s when Newsweek ran a big picture of Lance Armstrong in full cycling regalia on its cover, with this cutline: “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong, by Buzz Bissinger.”

Thumbnail image for newsweekcoverarmstrong.jpg

The cover coincided with Armstrong’s decision to not fight allegations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that Armstrong took banned substances when he was winning his seven Tour de France bicycling championships, and was going to be stripped of the championships.

Furthermore, the article was written by Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist whose journalism I highly admired. Not only that, but Bissinger is also the author of “Friday Night Lights.” I haven’t read the book, but I loved the TV show it spawned.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. Loved Newsweek and Bissinger. Armstrong? Hmm, not so much. I was trying as hard as I could to keep an open mind about the doping charges, but as the years have gone by the evidence was mounting. Against Armstrong.

In his Newsweek cover story, Bissinger concluded that Armstrong was still a hero. Really? Bissinger said the doping agency clearly had a vendetta against Armstrong.

Bissinger also wrote: “Did he use enhancers? Maybe I am the one who is blind, but I take him at his word and don’t believe it; he still passed hundreds of drug tests, many of them given randomly. But even if he did take enhancers, so what?

“Professional cycling is a rotten sport like all professional sports are rotten (anybody who believes otherwise is a Pollyanna fool). It’s ‘not about the bike,’ as the title of Armstrong’s bestselling biography states. It’s about winning by any means possible and then hoping to figure out a medical way of covering it up. Doping has been a rite of passage in the Tour de France. According to The New York Times, at least a third of the top 10 finishers (Armstrong included) have either officially admitted to using performance enhancers or been officially suspected of doping.

“Need we say more?

“If Armstrong used banned substances, he was leveling the playing field. He was still the one who overcame all odds.”

It’s not an argument I find compelling.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, the doping agency made the details of its case against Armstrong public.

The New York Times’ main story about the case published yesterday carried the headline “Armstrong Was Central Figure in Doping Ring, Officials Say,” and the piece is devastatingly brutal.

A few excerpts from The Times’ article: While winning his Tour de France championships “Armstrong was a hero on two wheels, a cancer survivor who was making his mark as perhaps the most dominant cyclist in history. But the evidence put forth by the antidoping agency drew a picture of Armstrong as an infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully who pushed others to cheat with him so he could succeed, or be vanquished.”

And: “‘The U.S. [Postal Service] Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices,’ the agency said. ‘A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.’ Armstrong has repeatedly denied doping. On Wednesday, his spokesman said Armstrong had no comment.”

We are left with detailed allegations to which Armstrong said this past summer he would not respond.

So what is one to believe?

It seems to me that we need to give the most credibility to what George Hincapie has to say. Hincapie was a teammate of Armstrong’s during all of his Tour de France championships. Armstrong has dedicated two books to Hincapie, praising him for his friendship and loyalty. And, like Armstrong, Hincapie never tested positive for drugs.

And now Hincapie, in a sworn affidavit he gave the doping agency, has implicated both himself and Armstrong in the doping scandal, saying they both ingested banned substances.

According to an article, also published yesterday, in USA Today, “While Armstrong has attacked past teammates who went public with their tales of doping, the admission by Hincapie, one of his closest friends in cycling, is harder to overcome. Hincapie said the whole scandal was a product of the times: He, Armstrong and their teammates raced in an era when cycling was inundated with performance-enhancing drugs.

"‘The doping controls were not very good, and we came to believe that we needed to use banned substances to compete at the very highest levels,’ [Hincapie] stated. ‘While I understand that the choices we made were wrong, I understand why we made them and why, at the time, we felt justified in making them. I do not condemn Lance for making these choices, and I do not wish to be condemned for the choices I made.’“

The USA Today piece adds, “Hincapie said he was aware Armstrong used blood doping in every Tour de France from 2001 to 2005. Before the 2005 Tour de France, Hincapie said, Armstrong ‘gave me two vials of EPO while we were both in Nice, France.’“

EPO is used as a performance-enhancing drug.

Bissinger and Hincapie are both wrong when they say that it was OK for Armstrong to take drugs because he was just leveling the playing field.

There’s a terrific bit of dialogue in the classic movie “The Third Man” wherein Orson Wells, whose character has done some terrible things, tries to justify his behavior. He says:

After all, it's not that awful. Remember what the fellow said: In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. ... In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? ... The cuckoo clock.

The argument for Armstrong is that as a cyclist he was just doing what everyone else was doing, and OK, maybe that was wrong, but my God, man, look at all that he’s accomplished since then with his foundation and the inspiration he’s been.

And there is no doubt that a lot of cyclists who competed against Armstrong in the Tour de France were also doping.

But not everyone was cheating. What we’ll never know is what greatness might have been achieved by one of those non-cheaters if all of those who had been doping were caught. A non-cheating victor, with all the publicity he received, might have started his own foundation and done even more wonderful things than Armstrong’s foundation has achieved.

What I also know is that Americans, as a group, are a most forgiving people. But in order to grant redemption, we want and need the Oprah/Walters moment. The moment the person confesses his or her past sins. Tears are shed, healing is begun, and our fallen heroes and heroines are reborn. It’s redemption and it’s the American way.

Lance, think about it. Oprah is waiting for you to call.#

The Genius of Nikki Finke, and Her Boss, Jay Penske. And the Selling of Variety to Penske

Chuck Ross Posted October 9, 2012 at 11:47 AM

It was a far more genteel world almost 30 years ago when I was a reporter at The Hollywood Reporter and when I turned down a job offer to work at Variety.

When I started at THR as the cable and home video reporter, I routinely got my butt kicked by my counterparts at Variety, who always seemed to get exclusives that were just out of my grasp. After a number of months that finally changed, and I was able to build enough relationships in Hollywood to start getting exclusives on my own, especially on the TV beat.

Back then both THR and Variety were still family-owned. I guess I was doing something right because Syd Silverman asked me to lunch one day and offered me a job to come to Daily Variety. I only turned it down because he was unwilling to give me a penny more than I was already making at THR.

I remember reading some of Nikki Finke’s pieces when she wrote for the New York Observer. But when I -- and much of the entertainment world -- started paying much more attention to her was when she started writing her Deadline Hollywood pieces for the L.A. Weekly about 10 years ago.

Finke broke the genteel barrier. Not genteel meaning pretentiously polite, but genteel meaning genuinely polite and refined.

So, for example, if I had broken a story about Joe Jones leaving a top position at CBS TV, at the most I’d write that Jones was being forced out, if that was true.

When Finke found out that Joe Jones was leaving a top position at CBS TV, she would write something like, “Joe Jones, for years an empty suit at CBS, and said by many of his colleagues to be an asshole to boot, is finally getting his comeuppance.”

Holy guacamole, did she just say that? And then, the next day, when it was officially announced that Joe Jones was leaving CBS, Finke, with unabashed braggadocio, would write “Toldja!”

Finke was rude, crude and generally spot on. For, truth be known, I’d also heard many stories about what an asshole Joe Jones was. However, unlike Finke, it would never occur to me to write that in my story about him leaving CBS.

Finke wasn’t really a new kind of journalist. If anything, she was a throwback to years ago. It was as if she were channeling Cary Grant’s Walter Burns in “His Girl Friday,” and bringing him to life -- with his honest meanness and cruelty, though without his wit to match.

Finke’s style was irresistible and readers showed up in droves. She left the Weekly and went out on her own.

Three years ago Jay Penske, the youngest son of auto-racing legend Roger Penske, bought Deadline.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Penske faced was how to monetize Deadline. Its readership among those in Hollywood was impressive. So clearly a no-brainer would be to get the studios to advertise on Deadline as they advertised in THR or Variety.

The problem was getting the studio executives to spend money on Deadline when they knew that at any moment they or one of their close colleagues -- or bosses -- might be unmercifully attacked by Finke on the site.

So the brilliant move made by Deadline once it came under the stewardship of Penske was to hire two of the most respected trade reporters in the business: Mike Fleming, who had been at Variety for years, to cover New York and some of the movie beat, and Nellie Andreeva, a veteran of THR, to cover TV. Later Deadline added even more reporters, such as the venerable entertainment business reporter David Lieberman, who had been at USA Today for nearly 20 years.

These were great hires -- terrific reporters who knew their shit but who wouldn’t throw shit around in their stories like Finke did.

In other words, if you wanted CBS to start advertising on Deadline, CBS knew that the vast majority of TV stories on would now come from the pen of Andreeva. Good ol’ Nellie Andreeva, who CBS knew was tough, but fair -- someone who really was interested in just the facts, ma’am -- and who wouldn’t burn executives on the stake like Finke did. Likewise, Fleming and Lieberman and the other reporters are not Finke. She remains a singular, original stylist.

With Variety, Penske has bought, as Penske says in the press release announcing the deal, “one of the most recognized global media brands.” [By the way, it’s a good thing Finke is on vacation this week. She’d likely vomit after reading much of the press release about the deal, including lines such as “Since 1905, Variety has been the world’s premier entertainment news source.” Finke has spent much of the last decade criticizing and ridiculing the reportage in both Variety and THR.]

Variety has some outstanding people working for it. Brian Lowry is a critic par excellence, a man who brings astute insights into his observations. Veterans such as Cynthia Littleton, Dave McNary and Andy Wallenstein would be an asset to any publication.

But I’m not sure where they fit within a Deadline family that is already covering film and TV damn well. Clearly on the international side of the business, Variety can add both cache and ad dollars. Perhaps Deadline will use the Variety moniker to get into a lot more events, which could be lucrative.

If one has the belief that the Variety brand has been underexploited -- especially on the consumer side -- there are undoubtedly opportunities to be mined.

In its original acquisition of Deadline, Penske clearly saw a smart strategy that it could implement tactically and build ad sales.

I’d imagine that Penske has some equally smart ideas for Variety. Moving from Reed to Penske should mean that 107-year-old Variety can become a much more nimble player -- a player that can take advantage of the changing habits of readers and advertisers in a 21st century environment.#

Roger Ebert Says This Is Something Every Movie Lover Must Do During His or Her Lifetime. I Wholeheartedly Agree. This Thursday May Be Your Last Chance to Do This

Chuck Ross Posted October 1, 2012 at 7:30 AM

One of the ways movie companies fought to retain the popularity of movies shown in theaters once TV caught on big-time in the 1950s was to make the big screen even bigger.

The most notable of these techniques early on was CinemaScope, developed by 20th Century Fox. A number of the methods for creating wider screens involved tricks with lenses while still using regular-size 35mm film stock.

Improvements were made and finally 70mm was born. This involved the use of actual film stock that had much better resolution -- it’s usually 65mm plus another 5 mm for the soundtrack.

Movies shot on 65mm or 70mm, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “West Side Story” and “Ben Hur,” to name just a few, are generally regarded as movies really meant to be seen on wide screens in theaters.

None more so than the movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1962, “Lawrence of Arabia,” directed by David Lean and photographed by F. A. “Freddie” Young.

Roger Ebert, probably the best-known movie critic in the U.S., has written: “I've noticed that when people remember ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ they don't talk about the details of the plot. They get a certain look in their eye, as if they are remembering the whole experience, and have never quite been able to put it into words. … It is spectacle and experience, and its ideas are about things you can see or feel, not things you can say. Much of its appeal is based on the fact that it does not contain a complex story with a lot of dialogue; we remember the quiet, empty passages, the sun rising across the desert, the intricate lines traced by the wind in the sand.”

In other words, it’s the images in “Lawrence” that make it so memorable.

I’ve seen hundreds of movies in my life. I daresay that Ebert has seen even more than I have. I cannot agree with Ebert more than when he says, “To get the feeling of Lean's masterpiece 'Lawrence of Arabia' you need to somehow, somewhere, see it in 70mm on a big screen. This experience is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film.”

The last time “Lawrence of Arabia” was shown widely in theaters was 23 years ago, soon after the movie was restored by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten, after years of neglect.

But now, this Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, for two screenings only that day, “Lawrence of Arabia” will be back in wide release. To repeat: The movie will only be in wide release for this one day. The reason for its rerelease this time is to build awareness of the movie’s Blu-ray debut on Nov. 13. So who knows when or if “Lawrence of Arabia” will go into wide release in theaters ever again.

To see where “Lawrence of Arabia” is playing Thursday, click here. And whether you live in New York or L.A., in Tupelo, Mississippi or Kalamazoo, Michigan, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, or Happy Valley, Oregon, I implore you: Please, go see this movie on Thursday.

Don’t be put off by the film’s length. “Lawrence” checks in at just over three and a half hours, not including the 15 minutes they give you for intermission. To read some fun facts about the movie from a recent column I wrote, please click here.

Seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen is a singular visceral movie-going experience.

In July, for the first time since 1989, I again saw “Lawrence” on the big screen here in L.A., when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had a special screening of the movie. I was once again transported to a desert world unlike any other, where mirages and reality joined as one.

And I can’t wait until Thursday to see it again on the big screen.