2.24.2005

Hiltzik

I always liked business columnists. Their audience is less susceptible to bullshit than the rest of us who read the A section. (Not that I read the A section, god knows. Sports first. Then straight to Funky Winkerbean.) But when I lived in New York I always liked Robert Reno in Newsday. And I'm starting to like this dude Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times. Today he talks about Deep Throat :

"The publicity pitch for 'Inside Deep Throat,' a new documentary about the movie, made a pair of remarkable claims: that it is the most profitable picture ever made, and that it has grossed $600 million.

The information came from the distributor of 'Inside,' General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, certainly an upstanding company. After a moment's contemplation, though, I knew what to think of these claims: Baloney.

Leaving aside that 'Deep Throat' was financed by mobsters and that therefore any figures are suspect, logic and arithmetic alone are enough to tell you that its box-office gross could not remotely have approached $600 million.

The average U.S. ticket price in 1972, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, was $2.05. By 1980, when the 'Deep Throat' phenomenon was way played out, the average was still only $2.69.

For the movie to have made $600 million at the box office, in other words, it would have had to sell tickets to enough customers to populate the entire United States one and a half times over...

It should surprise no connoisseur of journalistic indolence to know that the press has accepted the $600-million figure as gospel for years. My newspaper database turned up no fewer than 200 references dating back to 1980. The majority have appeared in recent months, thanks to Universal's publicity machine.

Not a single story attributes the figure to an authoritative source. Indeed, it's always accompanied by weasel words such as 'by some accounts,' 'reportedly,' 'said to be,' etc.

....I'm reluctant to criticize NBC Universal for inflating the film's box-office take in its publicity materials. Exaggeration is a natural instinct of movie studios; you can't blame them for doing it any more than you can blame a dog for drinking out of the toilet.

But what about the press?

Have our reporters, editors and critics become so mathematically ignorant that a patently inflated figure like this no longer leaps out and demands authentication? Or have they become so accustomed to hearing the unvarnished truth from Hollywood flacks that they no longer bother to vet what they're told before shoveling it into print?"


I emphasized the question to make it extra rhetorical. Our 30-year campaign of maleducation continues to bear fruit!

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