Reclusive Hollywood rage-blogger Nikki Finke may or may not have been fired from her perch as editor of Deadline Hollywood. Her nemesis Sharon Waxman, over at the Wrap, says Finke has been canned by Mail.com founder Jay Penske after he became fed up with her bullying ways. Finke and Penske have both denied the story in general terms, though neither has stated unequivocally that Finke will remain in her current job. This morning, in an effort to rebut Waxman's story, Finke offered a rare glimpse inside her peculiar brand of journalistic thuggery.
One of Waxman's claims was that Penske—who, having recently purchased Variety, has a newfound interest in maintaining stable, grown-up relations with Hollywood power brokers—was tired of hearing complaints about Finke's bullying behavior. In particular, Waxman claims, Finke recently sent an email to United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer threatening to "f—-" the agency after UTA iced Deadline out of a scoop.
This actually doesn't appear to be true—though in Nikki-land, truth and falsehood are little more than instrumentalities in the naked pursuit of power. This morning, Finke opened up her inbox to prove that she never threatened to "fuck" UTA per se. In doing so, she revealed how shameless and rigorously amoral she and her reporters are in policing their beats.
The saga began last month, when Deadline's Mike Fleming learned that UTA was planning on opening up to outside investment. Fleming had apparently been nibbling at that story for some time, only to have UTA officially deny it. When the Hollywood Reporter scooped him on it, Fleming was incensed, and fired off an email to UTA's chief flack Chris Day (emphasis mine):
From: Mike Fleming
To: Chris Day
Cc: Nikki Finke
Sent: Friday, May 24, 2013
Subject: thr story about uta engaging banker to access invesdmtent capital.
chris, twice you have denied to me that uta is going in the direction
that caa and wme did, selling a piece to an outside money investor. the
second time, i was in your offices just a couple weeks ago with jim
berkus and tracey jacobs. you all denied it. now i see in thr you have
engaged the guy who is going to make that deal. false denials come with
consequences at deadline hollywood, i’m sure you understand. because
they piss us off and most people know better than to do that. what the
hell is going on here with this?
am i now supposed to believe for instance your denial when i herd you
tried to get shelly browning’s clients after rachel mcadams left
(makes a good deal of sense, why else would they leave en masse,
costing uta three major clients with daniel espinosa in play), just
because you deny that. shall i print what ive heard and just run your
denial? this opens up a pandora’s box that i always hope to avoid with
a company whose people i like....
No one likes a liar. And there's nothing wrong with blowing off steam after someone's lied to you. What's interesting about Fleming's email is that it appears designed not to vent at someone for being dishonest, but to threaten them into making amends. The reason not to lie to Nikki et. al. isn't because you shouldn't lie—this is Hollywood, after all. It's because you don't want to piss Nikki off. And the appropriate response to being lied to isn't to print the truth. It's to threaten to print the truth—"shall i print what ive heard and just run your denial?"—and see what you can get out of not doing so. That's an awful nice Pandora's Box you've got there. Sure would be a shame if someone opened it.
Later in the email chain, Finke herself jumps in, baldly admitting to Zimmer and others that this slight hurt more because she had "protected" UTA in the past.
From: Nikki Finke
To: Jeremy Zimmer; Tracey Jacobs; Jim Berkus; Peter Benedek; Jay Sures
Sent: Friday, May 24, 2013
Subject: So let me get this straight…
You’ve had a lot of bad news lately, and I’ve protected UTA and individual agents, and yet Mike and I get lied to about this private equity thing? And I don’t even get the courtesy of a phone call today?
Come on guys! Don't you know how a protection racket works? The fact that Finke, who styles herself as a lone truth-teller amid the rotting edifice of Hollywood mendacity, would openly cop to "protecting" an agency—presumably from the consequences of the truthful reporting she purports to practice—is an indication of just how far she has transitioned from an observer and reporter of events in Hollywood to a power-hungry participant in the game.
Lest you suspect that Finke was just engaging in run-of-the-mill special pleading, trying to guilt UTA's bigwigs into playing more straight with her in the future, there's evidence she has indeed "protected" UTA in the past. Take this item from 2011, when the Hollywood Reporter scooped that rival agency WME had stolen Boardwalk Empire actor Michael Pitt from UTA. Finke followed quickly with an alternate take: UTA didn't lose Pitt, it fired him.
I received a phone call earlier this week that UTA on Tuesday fired actor Michael Pitt who plays Jimmy Darmody on the HBO series. “If you decide to post about someone (probably WME) signing Michael Pitt, who is one of the stars of Boardwalk Empire, please note that UTA fired him as a client yesterday because he’s really difficult on set and otherwise.” I felt that Pitt was too small a name to bother posting this bad news (I’d never heard of him) or that he had landed at WME. But since the news of the WME signing is now out there, I thought Deadline readers deserved to have the complete story.
So there you have it. The full story. Readers deserve it.
Update: Finke, just now, via email: