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For Studios, Junkets Are Just Cost-Effective

June 04, 2001|JOEY BERLIN | Joey Berlin, a resident of Los Angeles, is president of the Broadcast Film Critics Assn

Apparently, the Los Angeles Times is shocked--shocked!--to discover that movie studios go to great lengths to secure favorable media attention for their expensive new releases. For a publication that has faced its own accusations of "soft" coverage of the entertainment industry, The Times seems obsessed with decrying press junkets as an affront to honest journalism. Howard Rosenberg's screed against the recent "Pearl Harbor" junket in Hawaii ("A Junket That Will Live in Infamy," May 25) and Charles Fleming's misleading attack on film journalists ("The Journalism of Adoration," Opinion section, May 20) are merely the latest smears.

As a film critic and reporter, I have attended hundreds of movie junkets, from Hawaii to Paris. The essence of my job has been to inform my viewers, listeners and readers about new releases and about the stars who fascinate them. Junkets provide me with the opportunity to do my job.

Junkets have become a Hollywood institution because they are a cost-effective way for studios to generate publicity (oddly referred to as "free media") for their movies. They allow dozens or even hundreds of entertainment reporters to get timely access to actors and directors who could never be available to as many people without the assembly-line efficiency of a junket.

Are four-minute, wham-bam television interviews or 20-minute small group "round table" interviews an ideal communication forum? Of course not. But the alternative is providing access to fewer reporters, thus serving the needs of far fewer media outlets and their audiences. The only winners in the latter scenario would be, hmmm, the most powerful media outlets. Like, for example, The Times?

I would not be as upset by Rosenberg and Fleming (and their Times editors) if their disingenuous accounts were merely self-serving. But they are also false and defamatory.

Fleming boldly states that reporters must "refrain from any negative criticism of the movie" to be invited to attend junkets. This is flat-out wrong and spits in the face of the hard-working journalists who spend up to 40 or more weekends a year on the "junket circuit," gathering whatever juicy morsels they can to satisfy the insatiable appetite for news about Hollywood. Even Rosenberg, after castigating KTLA's Sam Rubin merely for attending the "Pearl Harbor" marketing events, admits that Rubin gave the movie only a B- in his review.

I have conducted literally thousands of junket interviews and never once submitted, or was asked to submit, my questions to a publicist beforehand, contrary to Fleming's offensive and inaccurate depiction of the junket system.

I did chuckle, however, at the juxtaposition of Rosenberg's smug "expose" and Kevin Thomas' rave review of "Pearl Harbor." Rosenberg mocks reporters such as KABC's George Pennacchio and KCAL's Cary Berglund as "suckers and suck-ups" for being moved by the experience of watching a vivid reenactment of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier, the John C. Stennis, on the very spot of the devastating attack. But right there next to his rant, Thomas is praising the film as "especially moving for those of us old enough to have heard FDR proclaim Dec. 7 'a date which will live in infamy.' "

As a Times reader, I appreciate when your reporters pull back the curtain and reveal hard truths that powerful interests seek to keep under wraps, whether in public affairs or show business. But these cheap shots aimed at the modern movie marketing system betray the disrespect and contempt The Times has continually shown for its competition in entertainment news coverage.

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