The Daily’s Richard Johnson takes a swing at Nikki Finke and strikes out

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It’s hard to imagine anyone who could arouse feelings of sympathy for Nikki Finke, who’s been something of a one-woman wrecking crew during her tenure at Deadline, having alienated most of her old media pals with a slew of vituperative, vindictive antics before lapsing into her recent Garbo-esque silence. (When the Huffington Post sold this week for $315 million, a host of media types took great relish in dredging up Finke’s original vitriolic story about the HuffPost launch, in which she confidently predicted that the Arianna Huffington-led enterprise would be a huge disaster.)

But when it comes to l’affaire de Nikki Finke foto, let’s just say that Richard Johnson, the L.A. bureau chief of Rupert Murdoch’s much-heralded new iPad-oriented publication, the Daily, has found a way to make Finke look, at least ever so briefly, like a victim (with Johnson assuming the role of the vulgar tabloid hag). Any hope of the Daily being viewed as a class act pretty much went out the window with the publication of this Johnson-penned non-story, which ran a stalker photo with the headline: ‘Is this Nikki Finke, the most powerful -- and elusive -- woman in Hollywood?’

Alas, no, it wasn’t, with two of Finke’s sometimes friends, IndieWire’s Anne Thompson and the Wrap’s Sharon Waxman, both answering the Daily’s crude, search-engine-inspired question with an unequivocal no. But that didn’t stop the Daily from running a stakeout-style photo of a middle-aged blond woman driving away from Finke’s Westwood apartment complex. Finke also denied being the woman in the photo, leaving Johnson to goose up his copy with some unsourced speculation that Finke had called several News Corp. executives, having ‘intimated there would be reprisals in the form of negative coverage of 20th Century Fox should we publish the photo.’ Oh, golly, to have been a fly on Tom Rothman’s wall when that call came in!

Just to make himself look like even more of a weasel, Johnson disingenuously added: ‘We certainly don’t believe she would ever do that -- she is too good a journalist for those type of shenanigans.’ Which begs the question: If you don’t believe Finke made the threats, then why did you say it in the first place? Either you believe it or you don’t.


All I can say is: Yuck! It’s a big black eye for Johnson, but more important, for Murdoch’s ambitions of creating a credible new journalism product. For months, Murdoch has been describing the Daily as ‘the No. 1 most exciting project’ at his company. But right now, it looks like the No. 1 most tawdry venture at News Corp., almost as comically low-brow as the garish posters for Fox’s new ‘Big Momma’s House’ sequel.

-- Patrick Goldstein