Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, February 12, 2021

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that this past weekend’s news of a TV movie deal with the New York Times over the bizarre story of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak has turned out to be entirely false.

The disappointment doesn’t stem from my fervor to see a Lifetime presentation of Nowak’s rise and fall. Rather, I’m bummed that this seeming first instance of the Grey Lady’s showbiz-like licensing of its newspaper content to other mediums didn’t happen.

Or did it?

I first found out about the retraction from none other than Times reporter John Schwartz, via a comment he left on my original post. Schwartz has been covering the Nowak story, and was cited as being a critical player in the supposed movie deal with Granada America.

Partly to confirm that Schwartz was, indeed, who he said he was, I emailed him back for further info behind such a major and blatant error by the Associated Press. The following is his version of events (emailed to me and published here with his permission — thanks, John!):

I’ve put various versions of this explanation around the web, but it basically comes down to this: I don’t really know what happened inside of Granada or at the AP, and so there’s not much I can say about that.

I just know what happened in my shop. Early in the week, the New York Times was negotiating to sell the rights to a single newspaper article, the one on Wednesday, to Grenada, through an outside Hollywood guy who handles such things. I was not informed of the negotiations at the outset, and wouldn’t be since it has nothing to do with me. Individual stories are the property of the newspaper.

Then a person from the business development side of the paper called on Thursday, as a courtesy, to tell me that the negotiations for the rights to the single story were in progress, and that the Hollywood guy was also offering to get a consulting contract on my behalf.

I told the business development person that there was no way I could be involved in a consulting contract for a film while working on a beat, since it constitutes a clear conflict of interest and an incentive for me to pump up future coverage.

I then went to see an assistant managing editor of the paper in charge of ethical considerations to say that I thought that even the discussion of a consulting arrangement was inappropriate. He agreed, and sent off an email to the business development folks saying that there could be no further discussion of a contract for me. We all agreed that this was the way to go, and thought that it had all been put to rest.

So on Friday afternoon, I was stunned to see the AP wire, which stated I was going to “serve as a researcher on the project.” I went back to the assistant managing editor, and we kicked off a round of phone calls with our business development folks and public relations staff to get the article corrected or retracted and to find out what happened. From what they tell me, there wasn’t even a done deal with Granada to sell the rights to the individual article.

As you can imagine, I can’t have this meme out there that says I’m hustling a movie deal that would constitute an obvious conflict of interest and be sleazy besides. And I knew that the initial wire story would be spread far and wide, and that the retraction would not. So I’ve been contacting blogs, like yours, that run the original wire to set things straight.

And hopefully, this will go some ways toward clarifying the situation. As of this writing, the false story is still alive and well on the wire, while the retraction doesn’t seem to be registering.

But to the main issue: How could the AP release what turned out to be a baseless story? Standard procedure calls for confirming the facts with the primary players: Schwartz, Times management, Granada’s people, and the rest. Any of them could have debunked this story instantly. Assuming they were contacted, someone along the way obfuscated the situation.

There’s a story here by itself, for anyone who has time to track it (I don’t, unfortunately). I’ll take a highly speculative stab at what I think probably happened:

Someone on the business side of the Times — either the business development or PR departments — got ahead of themselves in promoting the nascent deal with Granada, and preemptively leaked some details to an AP reporter. The Times’ Hollywood representation, Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, may have also pushed this out. Granada’s promo people played along in order to spur completion of a deal. From there, the article broke prematurely.

Again, I’m strictly guessing here. But absent a more obvious smoking gun, it strikes me as predictable behavior for the business/promotional side of a media company. If there’s blame to be assigned here, I’m putting it at the feet of the likeliest suspects. If this is so, then it points to the dark side of the aggressive pursuit of additional newspaper revenue streams.

If anyone cares to follow up further with this, be sure to let me know.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/12/2021 11:07:40 PM
Category: Publishing, Movies, True Crime
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2 Feedbacks »
  1. DRUNKONAUTS…

    Houston, we have a problem. NASA is reeling from allegations of astronauts getting liquored up prior to mission lift-off.
    I’m sure a couple of shots of the “right stuff” take the edge off that antsy time between countdown and achieved…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 07/27/2007 @ 03:17:26 PM

  2. MY 2007 WORDS-OF-THE-YEAR USAGE…

    Grant Barrett, of Double-Tongued Dictionary and “A Way with Words” fame, favors New York Times readers with the contenders for 2007’s “Word of the Year” crown.

    Barrett disclaims this list as being merely partial, and indeed, it’s something of …

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 12/23/2007 @ 02:35:41 PM

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