Peter Bart will be reinstated as editor in chief of Variety and Daily Variety, the influential entertainment industry trade papers, after completing a 21-day suspension without pay, the papers' parent company announced Thursday.
Bart, 69, an increasingly powerful and controversial figure in Hollywood during his 12-year reign at Variety, was suspended Aug. 17, the day after Los Angeles magazine published a 14-page cover story on him. The article reported that Bart had engaged in various forms of unethical journalistic behavior and frequently used racist, sexist and anti-gay language.
In a statement, Bart said he was "deeply sorry" for any offensive language he used. As part of his reinstatement, Bart agreed to participate in diversity training.
The disciplinary action followed an internal investigation by Cahners Business Information, the owners of Variety. Tad Smith, president of the media division of Cahners, said the investigation "did not substantiate allegations that Mr. Bart sold a movie script while editor in chief of the newspaper," which would have violated the paper's policy.
"However," Smith said, "the company did find that Mr. Bart's actions created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and it directed Variety to strengthen and publish its editorial policies shortly after Mr. Bart returns to work" Sept. 10.
Amy Wallace, who wrote the Los Angeles magazine profile, said her story revealed that Bart sold "a novel that was based on a movie script" written by Bart, an assertion that he acknowledged in the story.
Wallace also reported that Bart sometimes changed facts and inserted quotes in his reporters' stories after they'd written them, allowed friends in the industry to vet and change stories before publication and, in these and other ways, used Variety to reward his friends and punish his enemies.
Greg Flores, senior vice president for human resources and communications at Cahners, said he and others in his department, "along with outside counsel . . . interviewed dozens of people inside and outside the company and found no evidence that Peter abused his power or influence as editor.
"It was a very serious investigation, done in the most professional and in-depth way," Flores said. "All aspects that were covered in the Los Angeles magazine article were investigated."
Smith said it was clear from the investigation that the Variety staff wanted Bart to return and "does not believe the quotations [in the article] fairly represent the Peter they know."
Although Bart is often abrasive, most on the Variety staff seem to enjoy having so dynamic a Hollywood figure as their boss, and there was widespread enthusiasm when his reinstatement was announced in the newsroom Thursday afternoon.
Still, Smith said that as part of the agreement for his return, Bart would be required to participate in diversity training as a result of the offensive language attributed to him in the story.
'He Knows That He Made a Mistake'
"Peter understands the distress which such comments can cause and he knows that he made a mistake," Smith said. "The company takes its values very seriously and expects all of its employees, no matter how prominent or distinguished, to set an excellent example."
Bart's compensation during the 21-day suspension will be "donated to appropriate organizations dedicated to the promotion of diversity," Smith said. Cahners will make a "substantial donation" to the same, as yet undetermined, organizations. Flores said he asked the NAACP to recommend such groups.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization would not make any such recommendations but appreciated Cahners "reaching out to us" and would be willing to "talk with them about putting procedures in place to prevent such things from happening in the future."
Mfume said the NAACP "strongly disagreed" with Cahners' action in the case. "We hoped Mr. Bart would do the honorable thing and step aside," Mfume said. Failing that, he said, Cahners should have "let him go." In a prepared statement, Bart said he agreed with the company's decision.
"I was quoted making several statements to a Los Angeles magazine reporter that do not reflect my personal beliefs and values nor the way that I run the newsroom," he said. "Nevertheless, I am deeply sorry and regret that they offended anyone. It will not happen again."
Bart would not say anything beyond that statement. Part of the agreement for his return was that he not make any additional comments. Calls to others at Variety were directed to Cahners spokesmen.
In the Los Angeles magazine story, Wallace wrote that Bart used a slur in referring to African Americans and that, according to more than half a dozen people, he peppered meetings at Variety with derogatory terms referring to homosexuals, women and Japanese Americans.