For the past dozen years, Peter Bart has been one of Hollywood's most feared kingmakers.
As editor of Variety, the trade paper that is essential reading for everyone in the entertainment industry, he has made careers, broken others, been brutally frank about the personal shortcomings of industry players, and racked up a long list of enemies.
According to his colleagues at the newspaper, he has been known to kill stories that denigrate his friends or flatter his enemies. He has allegedly added quotes, changed statistics and openly acted to protect his friends at the studios, to the point of cautioning or even firing staff. Once he emptied a waste basket on a reporter's head. "This is my paper," he has been known to say. "I'll do as I please."
But this has not been a good week for Mr Bart. Last Thursday, Los Angeles magazine ran a long profile that commented: "If a reporter or editor at a major daily newspaper flouted the basic rules of journalism the way Bart does, they'd be shown the door." The next day, Variety's publishers seemed to agree, and suspended him pending an investigation into the magazine's more incendiary allegations. These include selling a script to a studio in contravention of the most basic conflict-of-interest rules.
Now the 69-year-old editor, writer and former studio executive is fighting for his career – to the amazement of those who thought his power-base was impregnable.
The story is not so much a salutary tale about journalistic ethics as it is a classic piece of Hollywood intrigue. Whatever the results of the investigation into allegations about Mr Bart, such claims are hardly cause for surprise in a town where a major studio was recently caught inventing a critic to push its films, and where Variety's chief rival, The Hollywood Reporter, suspended a society columnist who is being pursued in the courts for taking money from people he writes flatteringly about. Mr Bart is not facing similar court action.
Mr Bart is a peculiarly feared and despised figure, however, and there seems to be a sense of pure relish in watching him go down in flames.
Although thoroughly researched, temperately written and fleshed out with long interviews with Mr Bart himself, the magazine piece gave grist to just about every political correctness mill going.
The reporter, Amy Wallace, went to meticulous lengths to show Mr Bart up as a casual liar. She found documents showing him to be of Austrian Jewish descent, even though he refuses to talk about religion and makes a point of working on Jewish holidays – Hollywood being a place where even the hint of being a self-hating Jew goes down badly. She also mentioned his habit – shared by thousands of journalists – of using vulgar language, and quoted him making denigratory remarks about blacks, gays and others.
Each of these things has been repeated around Hollywood . Mr Bart refuses to comment. One of his friends, the former studio head Peter Guber, is quoted as telling Mr Bart: "Never let go of this job, because the wolves will attack." The wolves are now out in force.Reuse content