The media today: Kim Masters’s story should worry everyone

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.

ICYMI: “She identified herself as a reporter. He then walked behind her and punched her”

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.

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.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

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.”

From archives: Journalist who broke Trump groping story on why others were slow

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.

 

Other notable stories

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.