Is Hollywood a Foreign Country?
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 1999
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Bernard Weinraub, who reports on Hollywood for the New York Times, has one of the great cons going. He covers his beat like a lazy foreign correspondent, soaking up the most cliched conventional wisdom and dutifully reporting it to the folks back home -- in this case, the folks in New York -- only to have the folks back home eat it up because they don't know any better. I lived in West L.A. in 1996 and 1997, and was not well-connected, but often had this experience: when I'd gotten thoroughly sick of going to parties and hearing about a particular topic -- say, what Mike Ovitz was going to do, or whether Miramax was trying to buy the Oscars -- when you could end a conversation and clear the room simply by bringing up the issue of Miramax buying the Oscars, it meant that Weinraub would soon have a story in the Times on that very subject. And they'd probably run it on the front!
Not only did Weinraub's editors not know enough about Hollywood to know it was an old story, they probably didn't care. After all, Times editors only have room for so much Hollywood news -- there are more important things to cover, like wars and plagues -- so they probably only want to know the obvious cliches. But they could at least want to know them on time. In the entertainment biz, Weinraub is considered a joke, especially given the Times power and prestige, which a more energetic reporter could use to get leaks and break stories that actually interest both people outside of the industry and within it.
The most recent caboose-like Weinraub story was his front-page Monday piece on how television shows such as "The West Wing" are rushing to add minority characters in response to critics who claim prime time is becoming all-white. Weinraub had already been beaten on this story by Newsweek (which ran photos dramatizing the trend a week earlier) and the Los Angeles Times, not to mention the "trades," such as the Hollywood Reporter. (HR did a story on NBC's decision to add new black characters to several shows, including "West Wing," on August 3, and even reported the next twist of the story -- attacks on such "rear-guard measures taken to bolt on new minority characters," on August 24). But Weinraub probably didn't mind -- hey, it was all new to his editors!
Berke's Ear: This week's 'Psst, Don't Tell Anyone' Award, however, goes not to Weinraub but to Times political reporter Richard Berke, who in a Sunday 9/19 story pried this revelation out of Pennsylvania's Republican governor, Tom Ridge: "There's a feeling among some of my colleagues and among many people that Gore might be vulnerable. This is almost below the radar." Actually, this was about a month after it was blindingly obvious to every sentient being on the planet that Gore not only "might" be vulnerable, but in fact was vulnerable, and was indeed plummeting in the polls because of his vulnerability. We can only wait breathlessly for Berke's next hot quote: "This is almost below the radar. Strictly hush-hush. But there's a feeling among many people that the voters are just sick of Clinton and his whole administration. You might even say they're fatigued. And you know, I shouldn't be telling you this, but George Bush might just win this thing, He has raised a lot of money. That could well be a factor. It's as if he's ... he's sucked all the oxygen out of the room!" said Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania . . .
[Berke had three stories in the paper that day. Give the guy a break -- Ed. What about his editors? Can't they cut? Don't they have any other reporters? Also you forgot all the ridiculous source-greasers Weinraub wrote when he started the beat -- Ed. Next time.]
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Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.