Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coincidence? NYT Publishes Paean To Sony Movie Execs Who Just Made A NYT "Modern Love" Movie Deal!

First of all, as everyone knows, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn played a couple at each others' throats -- not a man and a woman who happily complement each other's skills in perfect harmony.

But even if reporter Tim Arango didn't write the ridiculous headline on his Sunday Business puff piece today, "Sony's Version Of Tracy And Hepburn," he deserves ridicule for delivering a poorly-reported, ass-licking paean to the partners who run Sony Pictures.

Tim O'Brien -- the Sunday Business editor who presided over the Amy Wallace wet kiss to controversial dog trainer Cesar Millan two weeks ago -- is fast earning a reputation as the NYT editor to pitch for those who want to place a puff piece in the newspaper of record.

Today's cover story purports to show how Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, the partners who run Sony Picture Entertainment (the 2,076-word piece never even bothers to mention their actual titles) balance their responsibilities and approaches in leadership that has led to the studio's success.

But in fact, Arango makes no real case for Sony's success or for their collaborative skills. Beyond that, the story doesn't meet the minimum standards for balance in reporting, and reads like an effort to get someone a screenplay deal.

And maybe it was: only last Monday, Variety reported that Columbia Pictures -- under the supervision of Pascal and Lynton -- just made a "first-look" deal with the NYT to produce a movie based on its "Modern Love" columns. Sony Pictures Television has already issued a check to the NYT to develop a TV series for HBO off the column.

Shouldn't those deals have been mentioned somewhere in the piece?

Arango -- who only quotes five people in his story aside from Lynton and Pascal -- didn't appear to interview a single person in Hollywood whose financial well-being isn't at least partly dependent on their relationship with the duo.

He quotes two Sony subordinates --Matt Tolmach and Jeff Blake -- saying favorable things about their bosses; producer Brian Grazer, whose "Da Vinci Code" was paid for by Lynton and Pascal; and Bryan Lourd, a CAA agent whose clients are frequently employed by them.

"You never see any fissures between them," employee Jeff Blake states boldly of his bosses.

In other words, there's not a single quote, either on or off the record, in the story not appearing to curry favor with the pair, who control salaries, budgets and employment for every bold name in the piece. In an industry where it's not difficult to find back-biting critics to go off the record with their complaints, it's a stunning imbalance.

Was there really no one Arango could find, even anonymously, to say something vaguely critical of these two seemingly wondrous Hollywood executives?

Beyond that, Arango has to stretch the facts to represent Sony as a success story. He notes that under their leadership, Sony had its most successful year in 2006. Well, this article is appearing in 2009!

Oh wait. To be fair, in the story's 47th paragraph, Arango notes that the studio's operating income is $305 million in the current fiscal year -- down from $339 million in 2004, the year they took over Sony.

That profit decline comes despite an increase in ticket prices in that five-year period, and the supposed string of hits they've produced in 2009, including the excorable film, "The Ugly Truth." Was that Katherine Heigl crapfest seriously a hit that these two can be proud of?

And we're not even going to mention that Arango -- who devotes considerable space to Lynton's marriage and personal life -- leaves out the fact of Pascal's marriage to former NYT movie reporter Bernard Weinraub. Whoops, we just did.

Arango is about to leave the NYT media/Hollywood beat for a tour of duty in Iraq. Let's hope the foreign desk pushes him for a bit more balance and depth than this sychophantic puff piece offers. Which is to say, any at all.

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