Hollywood Ethics: Variety’s Conflict of Interest Problem

That show biz media “bible”, Variety, finally seems to have reached the point where it can no longer pretend that its inherent conflicts of interest don’t exist. The magazine is simultaneously in the business of promoting movies, TV and stage shows, accepting expensive ads from producers, and depending on inside access for its reporting,  yet it purports to offer objective critical reviews of the output of the very people and companies whose patronage it depends upon to exist. It’s an impossible balancing act, and truth be told, Variety reviews have never had much credibility in Hollywood or anywhere else. But whatever pretense of integrity the publication had came crashing down with a lawsuit by Calibra Pictures, a small independent film company that had signed a $400,000 contract with Variety in which the publication promised to help Calibra’s new release, “Iron Cross,” ( featuring the final performance of the late, great, Roy “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Scheider, who died in 2008) find both a distributor and critical acclaim. [ Ethics Violations #1 and #2Dishonesty and Breach of Integrity: Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and don’t sell your independence and objectivity]

When Variety published a review that panned the movie, Calibra screamed, so Variety pulled it, citing “errors.” [Ethics Violations #3 and #4–Conflicts and Dishonesty: If you accept money for your integrity, the only way out of the conflict is to give back the money, not to pretend the sale never took place, and don’t float a cover story that is not only a lie but completely unbelievable (See: Coca-Cola and the Step Dance fiasco)]

THEN Variety decided that it couldn’t get away with that maneuver, so it posted the negative review of  “Iron Cross” yet again, sparking the lawsuit. This is what happens when financial pressures weaken ethics alarms. Two seconds of quality thought would have warned Variety’s executives that to accept a six-figure deal to promote a film and amplify its “buzz” would create a conflict with the publication’s role as a legitimate critic, but times are tough. (Unless, of course, such deals have been made before. Who would be surprised if this were the case?] Now the magazine is attempting to repair the damage by eliminating its in-house movie and stage critics completely.

Or is the purge just sending the message that “independent” reviews better not clash with the bottom line? Watch for the sequel, coming soon.

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