Are Media Outlets Inflating Toback’s Credentials to Advance Harassment Story?

By Glenn Lovell

The New York Times incorrectly ID’d him as “an executive.” The San Francisco Chronicle referred to him as “the latest powerful man in Hollywood” to be accused of sexual harassment. And the L.A. Times, which broke the Weinstein-Lite exposé, inflated his credentials, overselling the all-but-forgotten screenwriter-director as a Hollywood insider, a player.

If that weren’t enough both the Washington Post and SF Chron erroneousjames2ly reported that James Toback won an Oscar for the Warren Beatty vehicle “Bugsy.” (He was nominated, but, appropriately, lost out to Callie Khouri for “Thelma & Louise.”)

What’s behind such careless entertainment coverage? Circulation numbers and ratings, of course, fueled by a newsroom directive to keep “our readers” hanging on every sordid disclosure. After the New York Times embarrassed the L.A. Times by breaking the Harvey Weinstein story, a story the hometown Hollywood paper should have been all over, the L.A. Times has been playing catch-up. Which must have played into the decision to oversell Toback, pass off a small-fry as a trophy catch.

Last I looked screenwriter-director Toback, 72, was a struggling fringe-dweller, a talented but marginal indie filmmaker who, throughout his career, has complained of barely having two nickels to rub together.

You wouldn’t know this from media fallout following the L.A. Times’ Sunday story headlined “38 Women have come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexual harassment.” (This number has, in a few days, swelled to almost two hundred, including Oscar-winner Julianne Moore.)

Little wonder the NBC and CBS News anchors who over the weekend reported on the “scoop” couldn’t help looking off-camera for clarification: James who? He directed what?

The best the L.A. Times could come up with to help readers ID Toback wepickupre decades-old credits starring the pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. – “The Pick-Up Artist” (1987) and “Two Girls and a Guy” (1997). More recently Toback was involved in a sympathetic documentary on heavyweight champ-convicted rapist Mike Tyson. (The Times reporter coyly lumped the original 1974 “The Gambler,’’ starring James Caan, with Toback’s directing credits. That film was directed by England’s Karel Reisz; Toback did the original screenplay.)

We’re not disputing that reporting on Hollywood’s endemic mistreatment of women, countenanced by men as an OT perk, is an important story, and that the longer this story remains front and center the more women will feel emboldened and come forward with their stories.

But in the rush to one-up the competition, guys, let’s not oversell what we have, fudge on the facts and reporting. (Where in last Sunday’s story were the comments from longtime Toback friend Downey? Even a “no comment” from the actor’s agent would have helped.) Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the independent film scene knows Toback resides half-a-rung up from Russ “Supervixens” Meyer, a sad, sleazy throwback to the days of the casting-couch audition. He has openly bragged about same.

But in terms of play and importance this bottom feeder doesn’t belong on Page 1 with producer-studio chief Weinstein, only too happy to share the spotlight, I’m guessing. Toback, who denies he forced himself on anyone — and supports these protestations with a doctor’s note (diebetic, he is incapable of maintaining an erection) — is symptomatic of a misogynistic culture that has festered for far too long; Weinstein, a hydra-like producer-exec, hires and fires the likes of Toback. He is illustrative of something deeper, more pervasive and dangerous.




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