This weekend, bloggers and reporters who cover media and Hollywood put in a little overtime to cover a small, but important, bit of breaking news: Would News Corporation fire Foxnews.com’s Fox 411 columnist Roger Friedman over a column in which he admitted to watching a bootleg copy of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was widely leaked on the Web last week?
On Thursday, Mr. Friedman wrote in a column that streaming pirated movies on his computer is “so much easier than going out in the rain,” and that Wolverine “exceeds expectations at every turn. I was completely riveted to my desk chair in front of my computer.” (The column was taken down by Foxnews.com, but a copy can be found on the message board of pop.com’s Counting Down with the tagline, “Thanks FOX, I’ll take your word on this turd.”)
On Friday, Deadline Hollywood Daily’s Nikki Finke reported that Mr. Friedman had been fired. Over the weekend, The Huffington Post’s Danny Shea reported that Mr. Friedman would be meeting with News Corporation brass today to determine his fate at the company.
Mr. Friedman, who’s been writing his column for over a decade (before that he co-edited New York magazine’s Intelligencer column and contributed to The Observer), has been a controversial figure for negative things he’s written, like a recent column on Julia Roberts in which he called her demeanor at the premiere of Duplicity “unexpected and chilling.” But more often than not, he’s been criticized for the positive.
In the book Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Peter Biskind quoted former Miramax SVP and co-head of publicity Dennis Higgins as saying, “There’s no one in the pocket like Roger. It’s almost, ‘Whaddya want him to write?’”
Miramax distributed 2003′s Only the Strong Survive, a D.A. Pennebaker/Chris Hegedus-directed documentary that Mr. Friedman appeared in and produced. (Variety‘s Dennis Harvey called Mr. Friedman’s onscreen persona “nebbishy”; The Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris was a little nicer, saying, “The movie is the product of his big, shiny love of forgotten soul legends whom superstardom … has eluded.”) Mr. Friedman’s friendly coverage of the company also may have led to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein hiring him to edit an Oscar-theme companion magazine to the Miramax-financed Talk in 2000.
On The Wrap News, Sharon Waxman took a look at Mr. Friedman’s story with Fox.com’s [sic.] Roger Friedman Does Himself In Over ‘Wolverine’ Review, and wrote:
In classic gossip-columnist style, Roger Friedman has for more than a decade raised hackles, nursed grudges, launched vendettas, staged bitch-fests and also broken news in his entertainment column for Fox News, Fox411.
He made plenty of enemies in the process.
One person whose hackles Mr. Friedman may have raised whom Ms. Waxman failed to mention was herself.
In 2004, Mr. Friedman complained in print that Ms. Waxman, at the time a Hollywood reporter for The New York Times, had made mistakes and “stolen” his work, according to The Village Voice‘s former Press Clips columnist Cynthia Cotts.
Ms. Cotts reported that after columns with headlines like CBS and Jacko: New York Times Reporter’s Second Mistake?, Mr. Friedman went so far as to send a message to then Times public editor Daniel Okrent that reportedly began, “I can’t believe she’s doing this to me again!” (Mr. Okrent did not push for a correction or editor’s note based on Mr. Friedman’s complaint.)
Reached by The Observer, Ms. Waxman said of that time: “I think it loomed a lot larger in Friedman’s world than it did in mine, which is probably why I think of him as someone who is consistently unpleasant, especially where it concerns me, but not someone I regard as any kind of rival.” In a Twitter post linking to her story, Ms. Waxman tweeted, “roger friedman dumped? couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
It remains unclear if Mr. Friedman was actually dumped or not, as reports vary. The Observer emailed Mr. Friedman and tried to call him several times for comment but was unable to get ahold of the columnist. Gregg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter managed to get this Twain-esque comment from Mr. Friedman last night: “Reports of my death have been extremely exaggerated.”
Soon enough, we’ll see.
Update, 5:40 p.m., EST: Gawker’s Gabriel Snyder reports that Fox News and Mr. Friedman have agreed to part ways, quoting a Fox News statement that reads:
Fox News representatives andmet today and mutually agreed to part ways immediately. Fox News appreciates Mr. Friedman’s ten years of contributions to building foxnews.com and wishes him success in his future endeavors. Mr. Friedman is grateful to his colleagues for their friendship and support over the past decade.