It's a great way to start a new year: a fight between two huge media institutions.
The players are CBS News' "60 Minutes" and Ed Bradley vs. the New York Times' Sharon Waxman. I told you Tuesday and Wednesday that there was trouble with Waxman's reporting on the Michael Jackson story.
On Tuesday most of her reporting was stuff she could have found — and most likely did — right in this column. Waxman wrote all about the Nation of Islam's influence over Michael Jackson without even bothering to interview anyone from the NOI. I'm surprised she didn't lift our own interview with NOI chief of staff Leonard Muhammad.
On Wednesday, Waxman added to the excitement by claiming that "60 Minutes" paid Jackson $1 million for his Ed Bradley interview. She used two sources for this scoop: former Jackson manager Dieter Wiesner (unnamed in the article) and US Weekly's Ian Drew.
This column first revealed to the world two weeks ago that Wiesner is the owner of legal sex clubs in Germany. He has also been cut from the Jackson team, which has made him angry and spiteful.
Drew was the reporter from US Weekly who issued the "exclusive" last week that Johnnie Cochran (search) was taking over the Jackson case from attorney Mark Geragos. It was a totally untrue story, one that Cochran personally told me was fiction.
This is whom Waxman relied on for her reporting.
Interestingly, it was only two weeks ago that Waxman narrowly avoided another huge disaster based on her reporting at the Times.
Just after Roy Disney resigned from the Disney board, Waxman published a story in which she quoted Harvey Weinstein, head of the Disney subsidiary Miramax. The quote looked suspicious.
Waxman reported that Weinstein told her: "All the great executives have been driven from the company. I think there is no camaraderie anymore, no great esprit de corps that I found earlier. I think there was more risk-taking, a more fun company. I don't know why, and it's sad that it is."
In fact, Weinstein did give Waxman that quote, I am told, but three weeks earlier, and in a different context. It was about Disney circa 1994, when Miramax was releasing Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."
Waxman had evidently interviewed Weinstein for a book she was writing about Tarantino and just used the quote out of context. I guess it was easier than getting a fresh statement that might have been different.
So throw Waxman's name on the same list as those of disgraced reporters Jayson Blair, Lynette Holloway, Rick Bragg, Bernard Weinraub, Charlie LeDuff and who knows who else at the Times.
Only this time the Times has taken on "60 Minutes" and Don Hewitt, a man who will not want his name tarnished in the final hours of a much praised career.
6. "The Barbarian Invasions": Denys Arcand's lovely, moving drama would be a big, big hit if it were in English. As it is, many critics' prizes have already been bestowed on the French-language, Quebec-made drama. The story of a straight-laced son's reconciliation with his hedonistic, dying father, "Barbarian Invasions" is strong enough to capture audiences in any language. And look for Stephane Rousseau to emerge as a breakout star.
7. "The Station Agent": Tom McCarthy's indie film — like "Barbarian," bought by Miramax but not made by them — is another gem. Leading cast members Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale all deserve awards. I'd like to see the Screen Actors Guild surprise everyone and award a nomination to "The Station Agent" for Best Ensemble. A beautiful, simple story with honest emotions. Dinklage should get a Best Actor nomination from the Oscars. He deserves it.
8. "Thirteen": Another great indie film no one in the Academy would see unless it came as a screener. Catherine Hardwicke and teenager Nikki Reed (was she named for a soap-opera character?) have made a harrowing, sad, and funny film that should be shown to every junior-high-school kid once a year. Evan Rachel Wood is on her way to big stuff, and Holly Hunter gets an A-plus once again. Isn't it amazing? She is never, ever off. Great work.
9. "In America": Jim Sheridan's daughters help him put together this semi-autobiographical film. I don't think it's been communicated well to the public — too crazy a season — but "In America" is a keeper. Samantha Morton continues the ascent she began in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown." Djimon Honsou, who got his start in "Amistad," should be a big star by now, but "In America" really belongs to Paddy Considine, who gives a performance of intelligence and respect. I mean this in the best way — too often Irish stories show a drunken, irresponsible father who disappoints his family. Considine's Johnny is a good man played by a great actor. And the kids in the movie are cute too!
10. "Lost in Translation": Sofia Coppola's second film is a little over-hyped at this point, but you can't argue with its merits. The winners of the offbeat-relationship award for 2003, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson simply shine. Murray takes everything from his last two successes — "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" — and makes the third push toward respect the big breakthrough. Coppola had a great executive producer in her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, but she also shows that it takes more than a name to get the chemistry right.
I was actually thinking about John Gregory Dunne last week when I read about Donald DeLine becoming a certified honcho at Paramount Pictures.
John wrote a terrific book called "Monster: Living Off the Big Screen" about his experiences when he and wife Joan Didion were trying to make the ill-fated "Up Close and Personal" when DeLine was at Disney. It took eight years and was a disaster.
Of course, when Paramount announced DeLine was coming in, my first thought was, "Another bad exec reshuffled." Bel Air mansions are full of these people who provide crappy commercial entertainment to airplanes and local TV stations' late-night-movie hours.
Dunne saw through the whole process. He was a keen observer and a terrific writer. In "Monster" he wrote of DeLine: "He was like a Schmoo, the Al Capp character that bounce right back up after being knocked down." Just great, no?
Dunne and Didion have also been a gracious presence in the New York literary world. Even at age 71 his death yesterday was still too soon. My sympathies to his whole family, including his brother Dominick Dunne and nephew Griffin Dunne.