The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters is used to threatening letters from lawyers working to protect people and organizations she covers. But in a piece for CJR, she writes that she’s never faced the sort of trouble getting a story published that she did when trying to report on allegations of Amazon Studios head Roy Price’s inappropriate sexual comments. It is a cautionary tale about the obstacles to publishing a damaging piece about an influential individual and a story that should worry anyone who cares about the ability of journalists to take on powerful figures.
Masters was confident that Price had made the unwelcome sexual remarks to Isa Hackett, a producer on the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle, in 2015. She could report that Amazon had launched an investigation into the incident, and though she couldn’t get initially get Hackett to go on the record describing what was actually said, Masters believed she had enough sources to make the story publishable. Then the lawyers got involved.
— Kyle Pope (@kylepope) October 13, 2017
Charles Harder, who made his name representing Hulk Hogan in the suit that essentially bankrupted Gawker, and Lisa Bloom, famous for her counsel of women who have accused powerful men of sexual assault and harassment, both threatened litigation to any outlet that ran the story. As Masters writes, “in the wake of Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker…we seem to be at a point when the wealthy feel emboldened to try to silence reporters by threatening litigation even if they stand virtually no chance of winning.”
After The Hollywood Reporter passed on the piece, Masters took her story to half a dozen outlets, including BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and The New York Times, before it eventually found a home at Jessica Lessin’s The Information. Masters writes that her struggle to place the story shows both “the lengths to which a deep-pocketed subject will go to shut down a negative story,” as well as “the fear that now permeates news outlets at a challenging time for journalism.”
Perhaps—for the moment at least—that is changing. After allegations against Harvey Weinstein began to pile up, Hackett agreed to go on the record with what Price said to her. This time, The Hollywood Reporter had no qualms about publishing Masters’s story; her piece ran last Thursday. Hours later, Price was suspended.
Below, more on the Masters’s reporting and the impact of litigation threats in the wake of Gawker’s demise.
- “Call it the Gawker effect”: The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan looks at another case in which a bombshell story about a powerful figure struggled to find an outlet willing to publish.
- Why did outlets pass?: Last month, Recode’s Peter Kafka reported on the process that led to Masters’s initial piece ending up at The Information.
- Harder, Bloom, and Weinstein: After Lisa Bloom’s earlier exit from Harvey Weinstein’s legal team, Charles Harder is also out, diminishing the likelihood of a lawsuit over reporting on the film mogul’s alleged sexual assault and harassment.
- Another worrisome case: It drew less attention than it deserved, but the story of ABC’s massive settlement with a food-processing company over reporting about “pink slime” should “scare the hell out of you,” writes Splinter’s David Uberti.
Other notable stories
- Two international stories that deserve attention: A double truck bombing in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu killed more than 270 people on Saturday. Iraqi forces advanced on Kurdish-held Kirkuk, setting up a clash between two American allies.
- Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch on Jemele Hill: “I believe her tenure as a SportsCenter anchor is effectively over. I also think her time as an ESPN employee is down to months rather than years.”
- Tech leaders tout transparency as a core value of their products, but The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg argues that they don’t practice what they preach.
- The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes that Trump’s threats against the press, though lacking sound legal footing, still “undermine American values, both here and abroad.”
- Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo reports on the rumors swirling around Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker’s future.