Los Angeles-based New York Times Hollywood writer Sharon Waxman will be going on leave this summer to write her next book, Stealing From the Pharaohs. We understand she won't be going back to her old job when she's done with the book. Word is that Waxman has been interested in a position on the Metro desk, but Metro editor Joe Sexton has not committed to hiring her. 'Times' culture editor Sam Sifton would not comment on personnel matters; Waxman did not respond to a telephone call.
Waxman started in October, 2003, when she came over from the Washington Post. Since then, the Times has issued at least 45 corrections on her articles, approximately one per month. This is out of 385 bylines, according to Nexis, for a correction rate of 11.6%.
Many of those corrections are merely of names misspelled or titles gotten slightly wrong.
However, the most common complaints from L.A. are that she puts information on the record that was explicitly supposed to be off, and that she gets simple details wrong.
Here it should be noted that L.A. industry types in general never like what reporters say about them, and try to discredit reporters who don't follow their proposed storylines.
"Sharon has become a liability for the newspaper because nobody wants to talk to her," said one Hollywood industry executive. "And if she's not trustworthy because her past behavior causes people to feel like they've been burned, that makes her even more of a liability."
Sometimes the corrections do go beyond the relatively minor. At the end of December 2003, Waxman reported that CBS had paid Michael Jackson for an interview that was to air on 60 Minutes; this was not true. In February, 2004, the Times wrote an editor's note about a Waxman story about Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, in which she maintained that David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg had "privately expressed anger" over the film. In part, the Editor's Note said:
The Times should have checked directly with both men and given them an opportunity to comment on the executive's statement.
Mr. Geffen said yesterday: "Neither Jeffrey or I have seen the movie or have formed an opinion about it."
Whether or not Waxman was right in this case, as she very well might have been, turned out to be immaterial, because she had failed to contact Geffen or Katzenberg.
Waxman also famously angered director David O. Russell in 2004 by writing an article for the NYT based on reporting she had supposedly told him was going to be in her book, Rebels on the Backlot. "He felt blindsided," says a source, "because she violated their agreement." (But the pair never had a written agreement, and Waxman has denied that she misrepresented her intentions in reporting the piece. Russell also has a reputation as something of a loose cannon, to put it mildly.)
The result, says a source, is that "nobody likes to deal with her"—which is why she's being recalled to New York.
So if Hollywood is all about access and trades, what good is a reporter who has corrupted hers? Which is the essential problem of covering that industry altogether. Far better for Waxman to have burned bridges, or even sources, than to have sunk into the murk.