Turf War: Sharon Waxman and Nikki Finke duke it out (again)

What began as a catfight has become a turf war inside the world of Hollywood journalism. And it stars two of the industry’s most prominent online news sources, Sharon Waxman, editor of The Wrap and Nikki Finke, creator of Deadline Hollywood Daily, both of whom happen to be Jewish.

Today, Waxman’s column practically shouted, “Hey, Nikki: How’s That About Relativity and MGM?” Waxman was defending a Wrap story published last May about a Relativity Media takeover of MGM, which this morning Finke dismissed as “bull——.”

“Maybe Nikki’s off her game because she’s on vacation. But I wish for her sake she’d stop embarrassing herself by tsk-tsking others without having the facts to back it up,” Waxman wrote on her blog, Waxword. “Today she decided that TheWrap’s exclusive story in May… which she couldn’t match, and therefore ignored—was wrong.”

But Finke goes further than that. In her post, “Separating MGM Truth from Fiction,” Finke avoids calling The Wrap by name, referring to it only as “a blog” which she then berates by listing examples in which she found The Wrap’s reporting to be inaccurate. “That’s the same error-filled blog that kept telling readers there’d be no William Morris/Endeavor merger, or mistook old merger talks pre-Twilight for a new Summit/Lionsgate deal, or claimed an Avatar trailer would debut with Transformers 2, or thought Peter Chernin working for Bob Iger at Disney sounded plausible, or insisted DHD [Deadline Hollywood Daily] was selling to The Huffington Post.”

Waxman one-ups Finke by posting a copy of the Relativity proposal proving that the facts motivating her story were true (though it appears the implied takeover has since fallen through). “I’m sure Nikki will apologize for her error, and correct her post,” Waxman concludes. “But I’m not holding my breath.”

These dueling Hollywood journos have been going at each other for awhile now. Waxman has been covering Hollywood since 1995; first, as a correspondent for The Washington Post and then, The New York Times. Finke was a Moscow correspondent for The Associated Press and covered Washington for Newsweek before launching Deadline Hollywood Daily in 2006. Together, Waxman and Finke have a monopoly on industry insider information with well-placed, high-powered sources constantly feeding them juice.

Tensions escalated when Waxman debuted The Wrap in January 2009, and the women became each other’s primary competitors. Gawker was the first to pick up on the brewing battle in the summer of 2008 (their post, which features the above image was ironically yet another dispute over facts regarding an MGM sale). Gawker wrote, “With Waxman’s industry/culture site The Wrap soon to encroach on Finke’s daffy dominion, we need to know who to trust, and fast.” In November of that year, during the height of the actor’s strike, a series of “sharp jabs” between the two prompted Gawker to declare their squabbles an “ongoing feud.” Ever since, the feisty femmes have duked it out over who breaks news faster, which facts are more precise and who has better access into the hermetic orb that is Hollywood.

In late June, Finke raised her profile with the sale of DHD to mail.com for a reported multi-million payday. To no one’s surprise, Waxman got the exclusive and interviewed Finke—excuse me, ‘grilled’ her—on the details of the sale.

Waxman: What is your traffic?

Finke: I’m obsessed by the news. Not by my traffic. People keep telling me it’s extraordinary. I know that since the inception of the site there have been 65 million page views this week. Give or take. That’s what I can tell you. That’s what the source meter says on my site. I don’t know. It’s called Sitemeter.

SW: You told me the numbers I published back in March were wrong?

NK: I don’t know the number you seem to desperately want. I don’t have to tell you anything.

SW:What is your vision for taking it to the next level?

NF: I don’t know, but I sure want to find out. We have a strategy that we want to pursue.

SW: What does that involve?

NF: I’d rather not tell you.

SW: Let’s talk about the deal? Seven figures? Eight figures?

NF: I will not confirm or deny anything.

SW: So what was the deal?

NF: It’s the GNP of a small country.

SW: What the f—- does that mean?

NF: It’s cute.

SW: It’s meaningless.

NF: It’s cute.

SW: It’s cute to you.

NF: I’m also using the line, “I’m working for a 30 year old.” I don’t take this as seriously as you do. Hell, it’s just life. Not the second coming. I didn’t hire a publicist. It was a deal worth waiting for.

Finke and Waxman seem to derive a great deal of pleasure going for each other’s jugulars, like two girl bullies on the school playground. This is welcome entertainment in the world of Hollywood, where cutthroat power grabs are all in a day’s work and the psychology of personality—especially of those in power, is a driving force in its economy. If Waxman and Finke were studio heads or publishing magnates, they would become the people they’re writing about. In the meantime, their spirited competition is as compelling as the industry gossip that lands on their blogs.

It could almost be a movie, couldn’t it?