GOING POST-AL! is how they’d put the headline, no doubt. Tabloid tempers are flaring at the always spicy New York Post.
It started a couple weeks back, on March 14, when Rupert Murdoch–the Rupe himself–pounced unexpectedly upon a Post newsroom meeting where, sources said, the rakish Australian mogul proceeded to thumb through the paper page by page, pointedly critiquing various stories and sections. Saida News Corp. spokesman of Mr. Murdoch’s visit: “We clearly have the best paper in town, but we’re always looking for improvement. He wants the paper to be the best it can be.”
But Rupert’s impromptu flare-up paled in comparison to the four-star scream-o-rama that occurred Tuesday, March 20, when chirpy Post movie critics Lou (“What Planet Are You From … easily the funniest movie of the year “) Lumenick and Jonathan (“Sugar & Spice … delivers its fair quota of jiggles and giggles” ) Foreman got into an ugly, public newsroom argument reminiscent of a throwdown on a Hollywood back lot.
The heated exchange concluded with Mr. Foreman, playing the Steven Seagal heavy, dressing down Mr. Lumenick, his veteran colleague, by saying, “You’re a sad and pathetic man!”
Post sources weren’t surprised by the pre-Oscar movie-critic meltdown, saying it had been brewing ever since Mr. Lumenick–who himself had once been the Post‘s metro editor–replaced the paper’s chief film critic, Rod Dreher, in late 1999.
Mr. Lumenick, however, wasn’t named chief critic like his predecessor. Instead, he was to share the beat as an equal alongside Mr. Foreman–and that two-headed arrangement hasn’t worked terribly well, according to sources.
Early on, Post staffers said, if the two critics had to share a byline, there were arguments over whose name would go first. (Jonathan! Lou! Jonathan! ) But that diva-like skirmish–which would have made top-billers like Alec Baldwin and Sly Stallone proud–didn’t appear to last long, as Mr. Foreman and Mr. Lumenick shared only three bylines: Mr. Foreman got the first credit twice, Mr. Lumenick once. (Of course, they could have saved themselves some angst with some clever credit language, like “By Lou Lumenick, based on a concept by Jonathan Foreman,” or “A Jonathan Foreman Production of a Lou Lumenick Idea.”)
While the critics kept an uneasy peace throughout much of 2000, tensions were heightened last October when Mr. Foreman was voted into the New York Film Critics Circle–and Mr. Lumenick was turned down. Though Mr. Foreman, who enjoyed Traffic, had been turned down himself the previous year, Post insiders said that Mr. Lumenick, who loved Castaway, felt slighted and hurt.
Mr. Lumenick told Off the Record that was not the case. “To me, the workings of the New York Film Critics Circle are as mysterious as the workings of Skull and Bones,” he said. “I don’t know that I care all that much now.”
Still, Post sources said that Mr. Lumenick was further peeved last month when Variety‘s “Reel Life” columnist, Timothy M. Gray–citing reviews like Mr. Lumenick’s rave over What Planet Are You From and his claim that Bamboozled was “the year’s most important movie”–called Mr. Lumenick a “new blurbmeister.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Foreman and Mr. Lumenick –whose desks face each other in the Post newsroom, with only a short partition between them–had been developing a creepy, Fatal Attraction-esque working relationship (minus all the illicit lovin’, of course).
Last Christmas, Mr. Lumenick sent a holiday card to Mr. Foreman with the caption: “We know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.” Some Post staffers saw the card as an acknowledgment of their rivalry, but Mr. Lumenick, who thought Albert Finney was great in Erin Brockovich, downplayed its meaning, telling Off the Record he had received a bunch of cards from Disney and sent them to a number of people.
“That was the caption that was printed on the cards,” Mr. Lumenick said. “I guess some people here have less of a sense of humor than others.”
Mr. Foreman, who found You Can Count on Me “touching” but “visually flat,” declined comment on the Christmas card. But shortly after the card appeared on his desk, it disappeared, replaced by a sign on Mr. Foreman’s desk warning Mr. Lumenick to keep out, Post sources said.
And that leads us to March 20, when things really erupted between the two Post critics. That Tuesday, Mr. Lumenick and Mr. Foreman were wrapping up a two-page Oscar-pool guide. The guide was primarily written by Mr. Lumenick, and the package also included a chart of staffers’ Oscar predictions.
Originally, Post sources said, the chart was set up so that all the staffers’ names were in alphabetical order, giving associate photo editor Maria Fernandez the left-hand column, Mr. Foreman the second column in and Mr. Lumenick the fifth slot in a total of eight.
But somewhere along the way, sources said, Mr. Lumenick changed the arrangement so that the first column belonged to him.
Mr. Lumenick told Off the Record that he thought the chart should be in that order because he was the one who was asked to organize it. But as the chart was being edited, editor Faye Penn put it back in alphabetical order.
Mr. Lumenick, who found The Mexican “criminally long,” and Mr. Foreman, who thought Gladiator was “exhilarating,” started arguing over the matter, sources said, and soon they were yelling “fuck you” at each other in the middle of the newsroom.
Toward the end of the screaming match, sources said, Mr. Foreman accused Mr. Lumenick of being petty. That’s when he unleashed the “You’re a sad and pathetic man!” line.
A week after the dust-up, however, both men did their best to diminish the outburst.
“It really was no big deal,” said Mr. Foreman, who panned Heartbreakers as “witless.” “Literally 10 minutes later, we were dividing up next month’s movies.” Of his relationship with Mr. Lumenick, he said, “It’s had its ups and downs, but we work smoothly and efficiently together.”
“Movie critics–any kind of critics–are not known as reserved people,” said Mr. Lumenick, who called Sweet November “blah.” “That’s very normal in newsrooms. And at this point, I don’t even remember the conversation. It was over in 15 seconds.”
While Mr. Lumenick said that in an “ideal world,” both men would prefer to be chief critic, he heartily endorsed his colleague. “I consider [Mr. Foreman] an asset to the Post and I continue to look forward to working with him.”
Mr. Foreman echoed the good cheer: “There’s no reason a system of equality shouldn’t work. It’s worked at other papers.”
So-oo-o … two thumbs up!
When it comes to gag- inducing journalistic self-absorption, we figured that Vanity Fair set the gold standard when it included its own associate fashion editor, Patricia Herrera, in its fashion spread on “It” girls in last year’s September issue . (W ran a close second with its 14 pages of male journalists, including the likes of Kurt Andersen and Joel Stein, dolled up in Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren.) But we were wrong. When Rolling Stone‘s April 12 issue–the special “What’s Cool Now” issue, with the moon-faced Julia Stiles on the cover–recently landed on our desk, a new self-promotional standard had been set.
Inside the issue was an eight-page fashion feature, RStyle: The Family Stone, which, in addition to hawking clothes, gave 20 of the magazine’s … staffers a chance “to show you their faces and let them tell you their stories.”
And let us just say: Them Rolling Stoners are lookers! The photos, shot by chief photographer Mark Seliger, show the magazine’s staff looking appropriately rock-crit affected in swank Manhattan joints like Pastis and Ciel Rouge. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner must be dishing out the raises again, because associate designer Lee Berresford apparently prefers a $998 Armani coat for her nights in the meatpacking district, and researcher David Malley keeps a $795 Hugh Boss leather jacket in his closet.
“I think our young staffers are gods and goddesses!” said a proud Bob Love, Rolling Stone’s managing editor (featured on page 133). “The three chicks from the art department [page 129]–they look beautiful!”
But when it came to taking credit for the section, Mr. Love–perhaps fearful of sleepless nights being stalked by the angry T-shirt wearing ghost of Lester Bangs–was very clear. “It was Jann’s idea,” he said.
Mr. Love was also at pains to point out that the staff fashion shoot was by no means supposed be a part of the “What’s Cool Now” package. “We deliberately left it out of the ‘Cool’ section,” he said. “I wanted to call it ‘Almost Cool.’”
Staffers at cross-town rival Spin were, to put it mildly, amused. “We’re all still shocked; we’re still trying to pick up the pieces,” said Spin editor in chief Alan Light. “Our hearts go out to all their families.”
Look, we know an industry-wide ad slump has put magazine editors under the gun. But that’s no reason to pander to the lowest common denominator by putting the pretty boy of the moment on the cover of your rag.
We’re referring, of course, to the recent, shameless rash of Henry Yuen sightings. Inside magazine did it first when it put the 52-year-old Gemstar-TV Guide chief executive on its Feb. 20 cover. Business Week followed suit in its March 12 issue.
Doesn’t anyone appreciate Milla Jovovich anymore?
Like everything else associated with the Internet, The Industry Standard has taken some lumps recently. But they probably didn’t know they’d been on a surfin’ safari. On March 21, departing Standard chief executive John Battelle sent his troops the following e-mail after he stepped aside to be the company’s chairman, and former CNET honcho Richard Marino came on board to run the day-to-day show:
“We’ve ridden a monster wave, and, if you’ll permit me to overwork the metaphor, we’ve tasted a bit of sand as that wave crashed onto the beach. It’s now time to get back on the board and paddle out once again. With Rich joining our team, I am confident we’ll be ready for the next wave, and the ones after that as well.”
Thanks, chief executive Jeff Spicoli!