Wow: Roger Friedman's accusing prominent Church of Scientology members Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston of conspiring against him, and he's citing this as the reason he was fired from his job as a showbiz columnist in a lawsuit against Fox.
Talk about an incredible item. Brief recap: Fox canned Friedman after he wrote about how easy it was to obtain a leaked, unfinished copy of Wolverine that had made its way onto the internet. Friedman went through a Kangaroo Court of sorts and got the opportunity to reason for his job with EVP John Moody and Fox News chief Roger Ailes at Fox News. It didn't go well, and he lost. The statement that was released:
Fox News representatives and Roger Friedman met today and mutually agreed to part ways immediately. Fox News appreciates Mr. Friedman's ten years of contributions to building foxnews.com and wishes him success in his future endeavors. Mr. Friedman is grateful to his colleagues for their friendship and support over the past decade.
Not so much. Friedman took his story to Rush & Molloy in the Daily News' (immortal competitor to the Fox-owned New York Post, in case you forgot). Naturally.
In it, Friedman accuses Scientology of plotting against him for a long time, as he's been a vocal critic of the organization for a while. Friedman thinks the entire Wolverine saga - a case Fox definitely took to the FBI in order to trace the original source of the film's leak - was a bullshit cover-up for his termination, or at least, the pin they needed to pull on his employment that they'd been waiting on a for a while. He cites a few instances and interactions with key celebrity Scientology members, but mainly, John Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston.
He says he saw Preston at fellow Scientology member Issac Hayes' funeral in Memphis about eight months before he was fired. They ran into each other in a hotel lobby, and as Friedman tells it, Preston had some words for him:
Mrs. John Travolta loudly blasted him for his columns criticizing Scientology. "She called me a ‘religious bigot,' " Friedman recalls.
Sometime thereafter, as the story goes, Preston then tried to get him fired by getting Friedman's aforementioned Kangaroo Court, John Moody and Roger Ailes, on the phone. Preston called Moody a dirty word when Moody wouldn't fire Friedman for slagging on Scientology. Moody and Ailes supposedly met with Preston and Scientology's spokesman Tommy Davis to put them on ice. Friedman's overlords then told Friedman to ease up on writing about the controversial death of Jett Travolta, Preston's son. [It was recently revealed that John Travlota went against the Church of Scientology's teachings in noting Jett as having autism, a condition regarding by Scientologists as a psychological disorder, and thus, a relatively stigmatized term to them.]
Sometime after, Jim Gianopoulos, 20th Century Fox's chief, told Friedman to lay off of Tom Cruise's Hitler-hunting epic Valkyrie in the leadup to its release. Which, if it's true, sounds like some typical studio-news overlap, and probably has less to do with Scientology and more to do with Gianopoulos trying to curb the momentum of bad press his movie was getting at the time.
Last month, Variety reported that Cruise was in advanced talks to star with Cameron Diaz in a Fox action comedy, "Wichita." A source suspects that Cruise may have made Friedman's ouster a condition of the actor appearing in "Wichita. "
And, conspiracy! Someone, somewhere, suspects that some shit might've gone down! Maybe? Either way, Friedman notes that the moment his job was on the line, nobody came to his defense. "Nobody from Fox News defended me. They let the studio dictate to the newsroom," he told the News. The quote they got from Friedman's lawyer is far less conspiratorial: he's arguing the whole "piracy" aspect of things, and he's probably going to try and spend less time trying to convince a court that Friedman's being plotted against than he is working on the whole "wrongful termination" thing, though he does toss one gem to R&M: "I've seen how Scientology intimidates even the most powerful media. That seems to be what happened here."
So it goes. The final note in the column that matters is that Fox Overlord Rupert Murdoch isn't a fan of Scientology and reportedly "bristled" when they tried to recruit his kid.
Preston and Cruise's lawyers both issued outright denials. Fox refused to comment. And we might have a ball game. Let's say this thing goes whole hog: that's Preston and Cruise, being called to the stand, being asked to testify under oath as to whether or not they wanted Friedman fired and had remarked the same to anybody, at any point, ever.
But really, this just sounds like a case of Friedman being more trouble than he's worth. Fox makes exponentially more cash via Scientologists than they do their gadfly columnist talking shit on some of their highly-connected high-earners. Why keep Friedman, who's pissing off their Big Names, around? There's no reason to. So, yeah, the Wolverine thing was probably the straw that broke the gossip's job in half. To win and/or settle this thing in Friedman's favor, his lawyer's gonna have to drag whoever he can through the mud, which is probably going to be far more difficult than he thinks it's going to be.
Meanwhile, Friedman's doing a watered-down variation of his shtick at the Hollywood Reporter, incredibly. The Reporter, which has always played second fiddle to Variety for industry trade news, needs the favor of studios and agencies in order to get scoops. Why, then, would any trade paper brass in their right mind associate themselves with Friedman's gossipy items? In order to get the money Friedman's used to being paid by Fox, he has to associate himself with a big name (like The Reporter). Eventually, they're probably going to learn that Friedman's items are costing them news, and they'll cut him off from writing the "good" stuff. And Friedman's going to need something to do when that happens. Like sit on some of that lawsuit money.
Onward! To the courts!