The Strange Case Of Nikki Finke, CAA and Defamer's 'Exceptional Smear Campaign'

Our item yesterday about the rumored C-word contretemps between CAA agent Dan Aloni and Fox Atomic exec Debbie Liebling — which we heard led to a unilateral CAA ban from the Fox lot — drew quite a bit of interest from all involved. Make that "everyone but CAA," rather, which had Nikki Finke do its dirty work for them. Variety even accused us of "an exceptional Internet smear campaign" — before pulling its story down minutes later. But we'll get to that in a moment. First things first: After the jump, a studio "denial"!

A Fox spokesman sent over the studio's official response late Tuesday:

The Defamer.com story about the Studio banning CAA from the Fox lot, is categorically untrue. The exchange, which took place well over a year ago, between a Fox executive and a CAA agent — that supposedly triggered the "ban" — never at any point escalated to the level and language as reported on Defamer.com.

Oh, that clears everything up. A few hours later the exact same non-denial denial showed up on Deadline Hollywood Daily. There, infallible attack creep Nikki Finke scarfed down a plate of face-value spin while attributing bad agency reporting to everyone from Anne Thompson to Patrick Goldstein to Kim Masters and finally yours truly, to whom she attributed a Gossip Apocalypse that pierced the fragile, fledgling Death Star to its very soul. She had already sent us a bullying note about the veracity of our Aloni item, much like previous harassments that accused us of misleading our readers and "fudging the truth for just a few more dollars" — this from someone we've caught whitewashing any of her own gossip that bothered to stand still for her. "Whatever," we thought. "You can't fix crazy."

This morning we had a look at Tuesday evening's Variety headlines, one of which read, "CAA Agent on Defamer's Radar." The accompanying excerpt was... interesting:

"Business News: Dan Aloni in rumored Fox beef with Atomic CEO — In the cutthroat world of agenting, power reps make plenty of enemies. CAA agent Dan Aloni is no exception, but he appears to be the target of an exceptional Internet smear campaign."
Naturally we clicked through, only to get a story about a Canadian production shingle nabbing American representation — and it wasn't CAA. The story was gone! Then we searched the paper's archives. There was the headline again, but the piece still redirected. A bad link, maybe? No; a Variety source confirmed this afternoon that the story was online for mere minutes before it was pulled down, saying it was something the paper "didn't want to weigh in on."

So on one side we've got Nikki Finke cursing a gossip blog for, you know, gossiping; on another we've got Fox, vaguely acknowledging an "exchange" almost despite itself; and on yet another we've got the industry's biggest trade publication quietly pulling back accusations of our "exceptional Internet smear campaign." Ever curious, we hopped on the phone with the only people we thought might know something about all this.

"I'll let Fox's statement stand for itself," said the CAA spokesman we contacted this morning, who declined to specify if the agent cited was in fact Aloni. Did anyone at CAA call Variety? "I didn't call Variety, and I'm not aware of any smear campaign," he said. "I can't speak for everybody at the company, but I didn't call them."

OK! Well, it's back to you, readers. If we're so wrong, why does it seem like we're the only ones not on the defensive?