Elusive Hollywood rage-blogger Nikki Finke has a well-earned reputation for skirting the bounds of rationality and surrendering to fits of apoplexy. It's part of her charm! But a couple recent episodes, including a pompous, unhinged email to a flack for the Motion Picture Association of America that she cc'd to half of Hollywood over the weekend, suggest that things may be trending south for her.
Item 1: On Saturday, Finke wrote a fuming, self-righteous email to Howard Gantman, the MPAA's vice president for corporate communications, calling the MPAA one of the "least effective and most mendacious lobbying organizations" in Hollywood and describing its new chief Christopher Dodd as an "out-of-work Congressional blowhard." While both of those are true statements, Finke's note was comically out of proportion to the email from Gantman that sparked it: He had written to Finke's executive editor David Lieberman mildly complaining about Lieberman's coverage of an MPAA event. It's the sort of thing that editors and writers deal with on a daily basis, and Gantman's note was civil and not even remotely angry. Finke, however, took it as a grave insult, demanded an apology, began bizarrely touting her political science major at Wellesley, threatened to add damaging information about Chris Dodd to Lieberman's item in retaliation for Gantman's note, and claimed that the fact that she once worked with Eleanor Clift as evidence of her political acumen. Here's Finke's email in full:
I am in receipt of your email below which was forwarded to my by Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman, who recently joined us from USA Today where he was the longtime Senior Media Writer for the Business section..
First, you do NOT talk to one of my reporters, let alone my Executive Editor like this, especially someone who has forgotten more about entertainment media in one day than you'll ever know in your lifetime. Especially when considering you work for one of the least effective and most mendacious lobbying organizations connected to Hollywood, with a multitude of flacks who don't do their job including yourself. So I expect an apology forthwith to David and to me.
That said, I edited David's piece and I was a political science major at Wellesley, an AP correspondent in Moscow and London covering world political news, and a Washington DC staff correspondent for Newsweek covering a multitude of world and U.S.and Congressional and White House political news. During my time at Newsweek I reported alongside such Washington DC media names as Howard Fineman, Gloria Borger, Tommy De Frank, Eleanor Clift, and Margaret Warner before i moved to LA. Here, I continued covering such news when it was relevant to my positions as Los Angeles Bureau staff correspondent for Newsweek as well as many years as staff writer/reporter for the Los Angeles Times in its heyday.
So for you to even begin to say that my analysis — and it was my analysis — that the MPAA should not have hired a Democrat when the House and soon the Senate will turn Republican is "inaccurate" shows zero understanding of the fact that this was expressing an opinon, and that this was expressing a consistent opinion on Deadline. Contrary to your head-in-the-sand view, it is precisely a bipartisan issue. And I say that as a knee-jerk liberal Democrat.
What we did not say, and frankly should have, was that out of all the out-of-work Congressional blowhards which the MPAA could have hired, it chose to hire an ethically challenged one at that in the person of Chris Dodd, whose efficacy and integrity is now at such a low point that every sitting Congressional member would and should be justified in shunning him. In fact, the man you keep calling "Senator Dodd" here should really stop using that appellation since he has dragged his own and the Senate's reputation through the mud because of his distasteful activities exposed for all to decry. Now, because of what you have written to us, I will rectify this situation and include this pertinent information in the posting.
That said, if you were so concerned about what Deadline writes about the MPAA, then why is this the first time I am even hearing your name? Why is this the first time you have even contacted Deadline or me (even though I am frequently described as allegedly the most powerful journalist in Hollywood)? Why is it that MPAA flacks constantly fail to give Deadline information in a timely or even complete manner? For instance, this so-called "first speech" on Hollywood issues which you refer to — in which Dodd on March 29 addressed thousands of theater owners at NATO's CinemaCon — failed to generate even one news release or speech reprint sent to Deadline or even an alert by phone or email to us. Your own office thought it so unimportant that the MPAA made no attempt to pubicize it on Deadline. I have repeatedly complained about this situation to the MPAA's flack in Los Angeles Elizabeth Kaltman and she has made no effort to fix it.
Further, if you had bothered to check, David wasn't yet working for Deadline on March 29th. And I was in surgery. And I've checked with my staff and no one from the MPAA contacted Deadline by email or phone about this either. Which is par for the course since the MPAA is filled with useless executives who sit around all day doing next to nothing such as yourself.
Finally, your time would be much better spent, instead of insulting my Executive Editor and my news organization, attempting to at least prepare and disseminate accurate news. It is widely known (and often reported) that the MPAA data on issues such as worldwide piracy and its costs to Industry are wildly and laughably skewed in the studios' favor. As for your statement about how the MPAA is working with the Hollywood Gulds on such issues, that, too, is hilarious. I see you at least did not mention the WGA since its political PAC in recent years has been working to obtain a Congressional investigation of all the Big Media companies represented by the MPAA and their monopolistic and colluding practices.
I await your apology,
General Manager, Founder, & Editor In Chief
Finke cc'd the communications chiefs for Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Fox, and other MPAA member companies on the note, making sure that her flogging was public. And sure enough, the current version of Lieberman's item on Deadline.com includes language disparaging Dodd directly lifted from Finke's email: "Of all the out-of-work Congressional blowhards which the MPAA could have hired, I don't understand why it chose an ethically challenged one in the person of Chris Dodd, whose efficacy and integrity is now at such a low point that every sitting Congressional member would and should be justified in shunning him." In other words, she punished Gantman's insolence by making the item more harsh.
Item 2: Early last month, Finke briefly posted a similarly bilious note to Deadline.com complaining about the public relations staff at Universal for failing to deliver the early box office numbers she had demanded and actually calling for the entire marketing and PR division to be fired. Finke quickly (and wisely) withdrew the post, but not before LA Observed preserved it for posterity:
I am still on medical leave. And in pain. And understandably cranky. But I asked Universal to forward me early box office numbers today and those overpaid slackers are too self-absorbed to care about the one filmmaker, Illumination Entertainment's Chris Meledandri, who is singlehandedly rescuing that bomb factory. If Universal doesn't make a big deal about Hop overperforming today, why should I? (Note to Steve Burke: Fire the studio's entire executive, marketing, and PR staff. They're useless…)
Sadly, the outburst seems to have the desired result. A Hollywood source noted to us that, since that post, Universal seems to have delivered Finke a steady stream of exclusives as penance for crossing her.
Item 3: Finke recently hired former Los Angeles Times editor Maria Russo to help edit Deadline's special awards season print editions, but fired her before she could even officially start the job. The reason? Russo cc'd an editor at TVLine.com, Deadline's sister site about television, on an e-mail to Nikki. Nikki didn't like that! So she fired her. UPDATE: Finke called to emphasize, as per her statement below, that she had nothing to do with Russo's hiring or firing. What's more, she claims she has absolutely no power to hire or fire anybody who works for her: "I do not have the power to hire or fire people. I make recommendations of who should be hired, and the parent company makes the decisions." Asked to name a person at Deadline or its parent company MMC who does have the power to hire or fire her staffers, she declined to say. "There are four top executives. I'm not privy to their conversations. I assume that people talk at the parent company level."
One reason for the tsuris could be Finke's health. She was on medical leave for a week in early April for undisclosed reasons, though her note announcing the break indicated that she would be "under the knife," and her email to Gantman mentions a recent surgery. Maybe the painkillers are loosening up what little internal controls on her behavior she had on her impulses. Maybe she's just getting bolder about getting what she wants, and feels no shame in letting in her audience and Hollywood's powerful flacks on her bullying process. Maybe she's just feeling the pressure of the redesigned Hollywood Reporter's web site, which has seen a nice bump in U.S. traffic this year, according to Quantcast, while Deadline seems to be stagnating. Or maybe she's just losing it.
Finke issued the following statement in response to Gawker's questions:
Ask anyone in Hollywood and they'll tell you that the MPAA staff needs to be overhauled from top to bottom because of the incompetence. The studios know this and complain about this all the time. As for my website, I am paid to, among other things, express my opinions as a columnist (not just a reporter and writer and editor). When and how I express those opinions are dependent on many factors, including who deserves to be bitchslapped.
I am aware that Maria Russo and my parent company were talking about a freelance print editing job for several websites. Maria has an excellent reputation and I was in favor of hiring her. I do not know whatever came of it. But I am proud of the fact that Deadline continues to have a remarkably stable work force of staff and freelancers.
In a phone call, Finke also argued that comparing the Hollywood Reporter's traffic to Deadline's is "apples and oranges—their meat and potatoes is celebrities, and we're a trade." Gantman and Russo declined to comment.
[Photos of Finke via The Wrap (left) and The Daily (center).]