Nikki Finke and
the New York Post
It wasn't long after the World Trade Center collapsed that reporters
began to examine the crumbling U.S. economy.
One veteran business reporter, Nikki Finke, had been hired by the New
York Post last December to write about the entertainment and media industries.
But Finke lasted less than two months at the Post. Finke's attorneys
say that Disney, which has numerous business dealings with the Post's
parent company, News Corp., fumed to Post editors about "inaccuracies"
in stories she wrote about Disney's legal battle over Winnie the
Pooh merchandising rights. After Disney complained, the Post fired Finke.
Finke recently sued Disney and the Post, alleging breach of contract,
interference with contract and libel, among other things. She is asking
for up to $100 million. It will take more than a lawsuit, however, to
fix all that went wrong at the New York Post during the Finke fiasco.
The ethical mess began when Finke's stories appeared in the Post
Jan. 29 bearing headlines "Deep Pooh-Pooh" and "Pooh
Scandal is $hred Hot." The articles, quoting newly unsealed court
documents, alleged that Disney destroyed hundreds of boxes of documents
in an 11-year legal battle with a Florida family over Winnie the Pooh
commercial rights. If Disney lost the case, and thus the Pooh rights,
it could lose up to 25 percent of its annual revenue, the story stated.
According to Finke's attorneys, Disney then complained to the
New York Post about the story. News Corp., not wanting to upset an advertiser
and ally, decided to sacrifice Finke.
The Post maintained that it corrected Finke's work, but searches
of Lexis-Nexis and the paper's online archives also turned up no
such corrections. And Finke's original articles, contained in the
lawsuit, reveal that her story underwent substantial revisions after
she filed it. Among numerous adjustments in story tone: Arthur Andersen
appeared in the lead to the article; more material was added referencing
document destruction; and the Post ran a picture beside the story of
Mickey Mouse shredding Winnie the Pooh documents. Finke's attorneys
say the Post made these revisions and Finke did not see or approve of
them before publication.
It is an all-too-common practice in newsrooms for the reporter alone
to take the fall. Gary Webb's career at the San Jose Mercury News
effectively ended when he wrote a 1996 series on how the CIA introduced
crack cocaine into inner cities. Jim Dyer, also of the Mercury News,
was forced to resign after misrepresenting himself for a story he wrote
on Iowa orphans. The editors of both stories evaded public accountability
and possibly discipline, notes William Woo, a visiting professor of
journalism at Stanford University.
"Shoddy reporting ought not to be tolerated, but failures in journalism
are rarely the fault of one individual," said Woo, former editor
of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "The publication of stories that
cause trouble are almost always collective efforts and so the failure
must also be collective. The public accountability ought to be collective,
The Finke imbroglio differs from other cases: Disney's destruction
of documents in the case was a matter of court record. Also, other reporters
wrote on the controversy in a similar manner, and Finke's alleges
that Post editors substantially altered the tone of her article without
The New York Post stands by Disney in its belief that Finke's
stories were unfair and inaccurate. Even if Disney is right, editors
are supposed to watch out for accuracy - at the very least fairness.
The Villlage Voice notes that the New York Post's news desk is
notorious for cutting writers out of the editing process. All of this
makes the firing of Finke looks like a sacrificial hatchet job, with
cowards holding the handle.
- Chris Raphael
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