The words “writer in Hollywood” conjure images of screenwriters accepting Academy Awards and hobnobbing with movie stars. But to Anita M. Busch, editor of The Hollywood Reporter, writing is as much about power plays as it is about screenplays.
The latest tussle came in October 1999 when the controversial Busch took a stand in a column against 20th Century Fox’s Fight Club, a violent fantasy film starring Brad Pitt.
“The film is exactly the kind of product that lawmakers should target for being socially irresponsible in a nation that has deteriorated to the point of Columbine,” she wrote.
In a highly unusual retaliation, Fox reportedly threatened to pull its hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars from the trade journal it needs for publicity. Fox ultimately backed down.
“A good reporter does ruffle feathers,” Busch says. “You cannot write a story and please everyone.”
Since taking the helm at the five-times-a-week paper in January 1999, the 38-year-old journalist has been exactly where she wants to besorting fact from fiction in a town all about spin.
“People will call and say the most horrific and scathing things behind each other’s back,” she says. “They’re trying to taint your view. They’re backbiting. They’ll kiss you on the mouth and stab you in the back.”
The Fox incident isn’t the first time Busch has landed in the headlines. Back in 1995, she received a beautifully wrapped present from Michael Ovitz, president of Creative Artists Agency at the time. Inside was a bottle of monosodium glutamate, to which Busch is deathly allergic. The incident was widely reported in the general media, making Busch a newsmaker in her own right.
“I truly believe he saw it as a joke. A joke with an edge, sure. It was a little startling,” she says. “I think he’s a nerdy guy who thought this was funny.”
Busch has waved her journalistic ethics high throughout her career. After the Granite City, Ill., native completed her bachelor of arts in speech communications from Eastern Illinois University in 1983, she headed upstate to Chicago.
There, she got her first job at Crain Communications as a keyliner, making sure columns of type were straight on the page and other such painstaking detail work. Within a year, she was moved to the Crain News Service, compiling stories to hit the wires via The Associated Press.
By 1986, Crain flagship Advertising Age snapped her up. She moved from production editor to special reports coordinator to associate editor, breaking out of editing and into reporting, a change that suited her.
In 1990, she moved to Midwest editor of BackStage/Shoot. Later that year, she landed a reporting job covering marketing at The Hollywood Reporter in Los Angeles. “I was amazed at how different Hollywood was,” Busch adds.
Being the first reporter to cover marketing for the newspaper came with a few wake-up calls. “Rob Friedman at Warner Brothers was president of worldwide advertising and publicity at the time. I told him what I was doing and he said, ‘Oh, you’re covering marketing? This is going to be a short-lived relationship.’ He hung up in my ear. I knew then it was a different ball game altogether.”
After two and a half years there, Busch’s ethics played a role in her departure from the paper, after a former colleague revealed Busch’s sources. “I couldn’t work there any more. It was a hard decision, but I couldn’t work with her,” she says.
She moved down the street, but to a different world, to rival Variety. After three years, she left, again because of ethical differences. A story about Mike Marcus’ ouster as president of MGM landed on the front page without a phone call to him. “They purposely didn’t call him. He was eating breakfast when one of his best friends called to say, ‘What are you going to do?’ What! Call someone! There’s no excuse,” she says.
So, in 1997, she dipped her toe into freelancing, writing for Time, Vanity Fair, Premiere and George until the offer to edit The Hollywood Reporter came.
“There is no truth, only facts. All you can do is write the facts and the truth will come out of that,” she says.
Julianne Hill has written for The Associated Press Rome bureau, Advertising Age and A&E’s Investigative Reports. She lives in Chicago.