behind the news

A tale of two Finkes

Deadline Hollywood doyenne Nikki Finke is not amused by the fake Twitter account in her name
August 9, 2012

The real Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) is the founder and editor in chief of Deadline Hollywood, a website that has become, in its six years of existence, one of the best sites for breaking news on the entertainment industry.

The fake Nikki Finke (@NIKKlFINKE) has 15 cats (Secretary McWhiskers, Deputy Chief Paws McSnuggles, Meow Zedong, and 12 more yet to be named), hasn’t had sex since 1979, thinks the best way to “communicate emphatically” is to send dozens of emails, and is in love with Paramount president Brad Grey.

The real Nikki Finke does not concern herself with fake Twitter accounts, unless people mistake them for her.

For one thing, the real Finke does not tweet about her personal life. Past profiles have depicted her as reclusive and private. Gawker offered a $1,000 bounty for a recent photo of Finke; in three years, it has yet to be claimed, leaving the world with only a black-and-white headshot Gawker aptly described as an “audition photo for the role of the evil headmistress in a 1940s film.” Finke has also been portrayed as a litigious, vengeful bully whose vitriolic articles strike fear into the hearts of those in the industry. Agents, publicists, and studio executives bow at her altar, leaving exclusive scoops as offerings. And so, more often than not, Finke gets and breaks the news first.

But now some are standing up to Finke. First there was this article in the New York Observer that claimed Finke threatened to sue author Bret Easton Ellis (giving his agent’s assistant an “epic, otherworldly screaming-at”), apparently because he tweeted that he lived in the same building as she does.

Then producer Gavin Polone published a column on New York magazine’s Vulture site that affirmed her perceived power in the industry while also questioning it. Her exclusive scoops, he wrote, are immediately aggregated and re-reported by the other trade publications. And he used comScore statistics to show that Deadline’s monthly unique visitor count isn’t much larger than her competitors, and is much smaller than that of The Hollywood Reporter. Polone then dared Finke to quash the TV and film projects he has in the works with various studios to demonstrate how much, if any, power she actually has.

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And in the middle of this, there was the mass shooting in Aurora during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, to which Finke responded with a comment (since removed) that the crime could affect the movie’s opening weekend box office results. As Mediabistro reported, this perceived insensitivity prompted an anti-Finke outcry among some journalists.

Enter the Fake Finke. He says (in a Gchat) that he is an “unnamed man in Los Angeles” who is not a fan of the real Finke, nor of her journalism. He started the account on July 21, on the heels of the Aurora shootings.

The parody account’s handle switches out the second I in Nikki with a lowercase L—a change that is almost impossible to notice in Twitter’s typography—and uses the last known photo of Finke as its icon. Though both the handle and name on the account approximate Nikki Finke, the bio makes it clear that the account is a parody. “I was really curious how long it would take Finke to go ballistic and threaten me with legal action,” he says. “I thought that would happen within six or seven hours, but somehow it has not happened.” He says he plans to stay anonymous to avoid “the wrath of Nikki.”

Many of the account’s 842 followers are the real Finke’s industry peers, such as Vulture’s Josh Wolk, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone, several staffers at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times’s Brian Stelter. The Fake Finke says he was not surprised by the caliber of his followers. “I think that’s really the only audience this account appeals to,” he said, adding: “I am, however, surprised by the people who don’t realize it is a parody account – I think David Carr retweeted something of mine without realizing that it didn’t actually come from Nikki Finke.”

Carr, a New York Times reporter, confirms that he thought the fake Finke account was real. Gabriel Snyder, editor of The Atlantic Wire and a fake Finke follower, admits that he, too, was fooled by the fake account “for a second or two.” He wrote in an email that he follows the fake Finke because he is “impressed by the attention to detail, right down to the fake URL. Using an L instead of an I was a deft touch, too. I’d love to know who was behind it.”

What makes the fake Finke so popular? One Los Angeles entertainment reporter, who requested anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about a competitor, says: “The main reason I follow @NIKKlFINKE is that, as the bio indicates, it’s intended to annoy the real Nikki Finke. That’s a cause dear to the heart of most journalists I know.”

The account is legitimately funny. The fake Finke says he spends “about 30 minutes a day” tweeting from it, broadcasting Onion-esque headlines such as “Dumb Studio Believes They Can’t Open Record-Breaking Foreign Film With Broad Appeal Wide Because It Has Subtitles,” “White Male Writer Surprised To Learn ‘Write What You Know’ Doesn’t Mean He Should Only Write White Male Protagonists,” and “Jeffrey Tambor Once Again Claims He Is Not Dr. Phil.” Other tweets are Finke-centered send-ups such as “there is more to Nikki Finke than just ‘TOLDJA!’ I am a complex human being who contains multitudes” and “Ron Meyer is one of the few decent people in Hollywood. That judgment is unrelated to the fact that he is a source for Deadline stories.”

Asked why he does it—because it’s fun? Because he thinks Nikki Finke deserves it? Because entertainment industry journalism in general deserves it?—the fake Finke responded: “all of the above.”

The real Finke, when asked for comment, responded by email and then phone. Though most of the 25-minute conversation was off the record at her request, she did permit this: “David Carr, because of his sloppiness, could have damaged my credibility during an especially sensitive time of Hollywood reporting,” she says of his inadvertent retweet of Fake Nikki Finke. “He owes me an apology.”

Carr responds: “I’d like to think of myself as a careful retweeter. It was a momentary lapse.”

The Atlantic Wire’s Snyder gives the real Finke credit. “Whatever one thinks of Nikki Finke (the real one), the way she’s established a persona to go along with the often-dry studio news that fills up the Hollywood industry beat has been impressive,” he wrote. “And if not for that self-mythology, there would be very little to parody.”

Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison.