2 Sony Ad Executives Suspended

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sony Pictures Entertainment suspended two advertising executives for 30 days without pay Thursday for fabricating quotes by a nonexistent film critic who praised four of Sony's movies in its advertisements.

The company declined to identify the two studio employees, except to say that one was the supervisor of the advertising department. Sources at the studio had said earlier that its internal investigation was focusing on the advertising department, which is supervised by marketing chief Josh Goldstein.

Jeff Blake, president of worldwide marketing and distribution for Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, said in a statement that a new system of checks and balances involving both the publicity and advertising departments is being put into place to ensure the accuracy of quotes contained in future advertising campaigns.

The controversy came to light last week when Newsweek magazine questioned the identity of a film critic named David Manning of the 7,500-circulation Ridgefield Press in Ridgefield, Conn. The newspaper said it had no such critic and Sony quickly confirmed he was fictitious. In the ad for "The Animal," Manning is quoted as saying of the film: "The producing team of 'Big Daddy' has delivered another winner!"

The Ridgefield Press ran a story in this week's edition reporting that David Manning is a real person. Sue Manning, who held the town's top office from 1987 to 1997, told the paper her son's name was used after a friend who worked for Sony asked if the studio could use his name.

In Los Angeles, Sony is facing a false-advertising lawsuit filed on behalf of moviegoers who saw the films endorsed by Manning. Omar Rezec and Ann Belknap, who purchased tickets to see "A Knight's Tale," filed the lawsuit seeking class-action status on behalf of "millions" of people who paid to see films that Sony's bogus critic praised, including "The Animal," "A Knight's Tale," "Vertical Limit," and "Hollow Man." The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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