General News

The Grinch Who Stole the Oscars?

Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

Will journalistic curiosity steal the surprise from this year's Oscars? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is freaked that an "assault" by The Wall Street Journal on the legendary, airtight security surrounding the Academy Awards could very well destroy any major surprises Oscar night on March 26.

72nd Annual Academy Awards

In the never-ending quest for a scoop, the Journal has attempted to get advance winners for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards in six categories -- Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting awards -- by polling Academy members Feb. 24 through March 1.

In a letter sent to 4,800 Oscar voters this week, Academy President Robert Rehme says the Journal has "made the most concerted attempt in history to predetermine the outcome of our awards."

Rehme speculates that the newspaper somehow obtained a "very good list" of Academy voters, with confidential information including telephone numbers, from one of the movie studios.

"The Journal had at least a dozen reporters on the project who attempted to phone as many of our members as possible," Rehme says in the letter. "It is clear that most of us recognized the threat to the Academy Awards process and quite properly declined to provide data, [but] if just a few hundred of us were inveigled into participating, the Journal stands a good chance of scooping us before Oscar night."

And the Academy does not stand for being, you know, inveigled. (Vocabulary note: Inveigle is a transitive verb that means "to win over by wiles." And now we know.)

On Wednesday, Wall Street Journal spokesman Richard Tofel wouldn't tell when (and/or if) the newspaper planned to publish the story.

"We make it a policy not to comment on stories we may or may not publish. We have never done in the past what has been suggested we are doing now," Tofel said.

However, Academy spokesman John Pavlik tells Reuters that Academy officials have confirmed with the newspaper's editors that the poll is real and a story is forthcoming. They have also talked to the reporter in charge of the story.

Academy members are not forbidden by any rules or bylaws from participating in such a poll, but there is a "gentleman's agreement" that the voters will keep their choices secret.

"I know some of the members have said that they are lying, they're not telling the truth about who they're voting for," Pavlik said. "But we won't know until we see the story."

The Journal poll is just the latest snafu to hit the 2000 Oscars. Last month, Internet movie guru Harry Knowles caused a flap when he claimed to have posted an advance list of Oscar nominees on his Ain’t It Cool News Web site one day before the official Academy nominations were announced; Knowles’ list proved to be a fake.

Earlier this week, the Academy was forced to remail 4,200 Oscar ballots to voters, after the U.S. Postal Service mistook the ballots for third-class bulk mail and failed to deliver them promptly.

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