People Editor Calls Times Allegations 'Totally Bogus'High profile press fight! People magazine editor Larry Hackett just sent out an internal memo blasting the page one New York Times story today about People's alleged shady dealings with Angelina Jolie. Specifically, the Times cited two anonymous sources "with knowledge of the bidding" for the photos of Jolie and Brad Pitt's most recent newborns—which cost People $14 million—who said that there was an formal agreement that "obliged" the magazine to offer only positive coverage. Of course, as Hackett acknowledges, their coverage was positive; but he strongly asserts that the magazine would never "purposely slant coverage as condition for acquiring pictures." And indeed, the Times may have oversold that angle in their story. There's certainly a difference between what Jolie asks for, and what a magazine would explicitly "promise" to do. Read his full memo below:
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2008 3:30 PM Subject: Today's New York Times Importance: High I don't normally address press stories about how we do our business here at People. But today's New York Times pg. 1 story about Angelina Jolie requires a response. In the lede, the story strongly suggests that People, while negotiating for the twins pictures, had explicit conversations about our "editorial plan" and made "a promise" that coverage would be positive. These sorts of stories have appeared in media gossip columns before. I have ignored them in the past as the unfortunate fallout of competition and sour grapes. But today's story, in a much different venue, takes these rumors to a new level, so let me be absolutely clear: The suggestion that we have ever made any promise of positive coverage, or have submitted an editorial plan, is completely false. That I or anyone else would promise, on paper or verbally, to purposely slant coverage as condition for acquiring pictures, is insulting to all of us. Here's what is true: Celebrities—-and senators and business executives and athletes—are always trying to bend stories their way. We deal with that pressure every single day and engage in many conversations regarding all elements of coverage. Angelina Jolie is very candid about wanting attention for her charitable efforts, and we have covered many of them because we believe they are interesting stories. But in doing so, we have never relinquished editorial control. There have been occasions when her goals and our needs could not be reconciled, and we have walked away, as we have with countless other story subjects. In our coverage of both celebrities and everyday people, People certainly often celebrates their accomplishments and milestones. To say that our coverage of Angelina Jolie has not been admiring would be disingenuous. But the suggestion in today's Times that this "positive" coverage is codified and promised is totally bogus, and needs to be rejected. Larry