I have never understood the bizarre power that entertainment reporter Nikki Finke holds over Hollywood. She has the ability to make people quake in their boots, pee in their pants and open their laptops with dread.
It’s puzzling to me that an entire industry of rich, powerful people has allowed one woman to burrow so far under its skin.
That said, I don’t often read Finke’s work because I am not especially interested in the nuts and bolts of Hollywood business. I don’t care about box office, or which studio exec is in or out, or who just got cast for what movie.
When I do read her, I see that she can be nasty, abrasive and vindictive. I see that she trumpets “exclusives” that are no such thing. She is a prolific name-caller, a practice that is beneath the dignity of such a talented writer. She is not snarky, the way Perez Hilton was before he got nice. She is frankly bilious.
And she is always the hero in her own personal drama, as you can see here in the official bio on her blog, which details her recent legal struggles with Jay Penske, the man who bought her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog, then (as she tells it) slighted her when he bought Variety. They are now engaged in arbitration.
But I also see that she often scoops her competition, is passionate about her beat and has a well-developed, skeptical take on a world where self-aggrandizement is the coin of the realm. She breaks a lot of news and pops a lot of ego bubbles. Industry people read her. They follow her on Twitter, along with more than 200,000 others. They hang on her every word and hate themselves for doing so. In his wonderful 2009 New Yorker profile, Tad Friend explored her weird grip on Hollywood.
And here’s what else I will say about Ms. Finke: She has the guts to put her name on her own work.
The same cannot be said for her critics, especially the website NikkiStink.com which caused a Hollywood kerfuffle today with a lame attempt to take her down.
In an open letter, the site claims to have been launched by a group called “The Committee for Decency in Journalism.” I assume that’s a joke. Whoever is responsible for the site then ticks off a list of journalistic crimes committed by Finke -- phrases she has used to disparage Hollywood executives and actors.
She is accused of indecency for reporting the firings of some executives before the executives in question found out for themselves. Where I come from, they call that “journalism.”
Other “offensive” things she has written are nothing more than opinions: Conan O’Brien is “bland to a fault.” Aaron Sorkin is “really arrogant.” "American Idol" winners sound like “cats who have been strangled.” She called Nathan Fillion “fat.” Anne Hathaway is a “nightmare.” She mocked Robin Williams’ sobriety long before he committed suicide.
Finke’s punishment, such as it is, is the publication of a video which purports to show the blogger leaving her apartment and getting into a vehicle. The website apparently put a great deal of effort into stalking the notoriously photo-shy Finke in order to post these images of her.
The bad, paparazzi-style video is accompanied by a puerile bastardization of the song “Hey Mickey." What do we learn? That Finke, a middle-aged woman who often writes about her struggle with diabetes, is overweight.
Honest to God, that’s it.
Nikki Finke does not conform to Hollywood’s anorexic ideal, therefore she must not be allowed to have her say? She must be stopped with images that show a large, well-dressed woman, her blond hair thinning, walking to a car?
This is juvenile stuff.
I crossed paths with Nikki years ago when she worked as a feature writer for The Times. I was hired as her temporary replacement in the View section when she went off to write a book about Hollywood agents that was never published. She never came back from book leave, and I stayed on. She was a stylish writer and an incredibly good reporter with an absolute bulldozer of a personality even then. Her competitive edge, as I recall, bent deadlines and drove her editors crazy.
In print, she can be graceful and reflective, as she was here in this nostalgic New York Times piece about the role that the Plaza Hotel played in her New York City debutante’s life. (“My father always claimed that my first words were ‘room service.’ ”) And she always had an eye for the scandalous entertainment story, as she showed here in a Los Angeles Times piece about the high-profile office romance of two popular local news anchors.
I also know from experience that she is deeply loyal to her friends. When, many years ago, I wrote a column critical of a pal of hers who was running for Los Angeles mayor — the only woman in the field — she tracked down my home phone number and gave me an earful.
I have no idea why Finke so often takes the low road on her blog. I would have asked her myself if she'd returned my email to her earlier today. But whatever her stylistic excesses, at least she owns her work.
Which is more than I can say for her wimpy critics.
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