Hollywood’s Fearless Journalists Dare to Take on Fallen Studio Chief

Every reporter likes to think of him or herself a tough guy, one step short of a mob capo, in service of truth and justice; a fearless crusader who will rip the carotid out of foreign dictators or captains of industry at the first hint of hypocrisy or cover-up.  And if you flip through the cable chat shows, you can see, indeed they are a fearsome lot.

And no class of journalists thinks of themselves as more qualified to go toe to toe with the Gestapo than entertainment journalists.  Talk to a reporter who has just come back from a junket interviewing the stars of a romantic comedy and you’ll get the sense they just took on a tank division singlehanded.  Entertainment reporters spit nails when they talk about the powers that be.  Behind the backs of the industry giants, in private conversation with their friends, they are absolutely without fear.

Of course, they can’t put that on the page.  No, no, no.  Their editors wouldn’t let them..have to check the sourcing…the story closed too early…internet…photo gallery…have a shoot set up for next week…Lots of very good reasons!  A ton of them.  And we feel for these journalists.  It’s very hard to prove that you’re a tough guy when you have so many good reasons weighing you down every single day.

Fortunately, Hollywood in its sympathy for the plight of its tough guy journalists, gives them a chance now and then to show how tough they are.  While we all agree it’s impossible to take a swing at someone while they are on top, kicking a fellow when he’s down is perfectly acceptable.  Perhaps the most venerable, respected genre of entertainment journalism is “The Fall Of —” story, which allows reporters to be absolutely merciless to people who used to have a ton of power, just don’t happen to have it any more at the time the story is written.

All the Scientology stories being written by the press now are being taken as signs that the cult is in its death throes.  Which is true; but these stories are a symptom of the end, not the cause of it.  95 percent of the facts about Scientology reported in most of these pieces have been out there for many years now.  The fact that major publications are willing to print them now while none would go near them with a thousand foot poll demonstrates not that they’ve finally got the goods but they no longer fear the Church’s power in Hollywood.

Last week, Hollywood lost a studio chieftain as Fox’s Tom Rothman departed from his job under circumstances unclear.  In the pages of the entertainment press you are more likely to stumble across a coupon for a free shuttle ride to Jupiter than you are any direct criticism of a studio chieftain.  The studio powers are criticized by name approximately once a never.  Criticizing an active chieftain by name for his personality happens so rarely that if you encounter it in your newspaper or magazine you should probably just assume it was a misprint and ask for a refund on your copy.

But once a big wig has fallen, well that is an excellent time for entertainment journalism to show off its much self-proclaimed fearlessness.  And so, after his departure we learn that Tom Rothman was “far from the most beloved executive in the entertainment community” and “autocratic” (THR), “known as a volatile, often explosive tempered executive” (The Wrap), “a mercurial, hard-charging boss with a quick temper”(LAT) “a micromanager with a personal governing style which often grated on those he worked with both inside and outside of Fox” (Variety), “he also micromanaged the studio executives and staff so that morale suffered. As a result, he was increasingly unpopular in the film community” (Deadline).

Nice to learn!  It would have been nice to learn that one of Hollywood’s six studios suffered from such serious, business-threatening personality disorders while he was still actually the head of a studio, but close enough.  If any of this ever saw the light of day while he was still in charge, I guess I missed that.  I did a search by the term “Tom Rothman” and the terms “autocratic” “volatile” “explosive tempered”  ”grated”  and “unpopular” and could find no reference to any news organization making any reference to his being any of those things prior to his being fired.

A very few make reference to his “micromanaging” and “pennypinching” however – terms that are hardly even an insult in corporate Hollywood.  I’m sure Nikki probably wrote some screed against him at some point but since Nikki’s screeds are entirely pegged to who is being nice to her that week, their value in exposing any external truth is nil.

I don’t actually blame the reporters for reporting it now. One might say basic rules of classiness dictate that if you don’t have the guts to kick someone when he’s up, don’t kick him when he’s down.  But pshaw to that. Better late then never, sad as it is.  Like anyone else who works around the industry, I hear scuttlebutt about the personalities of the titans, including Rothman, and you don’t find it in my writing either. (I don’t really report on the executive beat is my excuse, take it or leave it.)  It is the culture and no one person is to blame for that. If any reporter on the full time Hollywood beat had appeared in their editor’s office three weeks ago and said, I’d like to write a piece about how Tom Rothman is unpopular and volatile, they would have been greeted as enthusiastically as a Pravda reporter at the height of the Great Terror pitching a story about how short Stalin really is.

And so every powerful person in Hollywood should tremble when they see us coming, knowing that the day will come when will we be merciless about their misdeeds.  And that day will be here, just the moment their day is past.