Sometimes in a columnist’s career, there’s one story that’s like his great white whale: it’s his passion, his obsession, the thing that keeps him going. And if that columnist is lucky, that story winds up on the frontpage of the newspaper and on the evening news. Finally, all those years of obsessive toiling, of chasing down leads and cultivating sources pays off and he becomes the go-to guy on the subject, the writer other writers look to for breaking news and critical context.
Take Friedman, for instance.
No, not Pulitzer Prize winning Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman. I’m talking about FOXNews 411 columnist Roger Friedman. (To belabor the Friedman/Friedman comparison a minute longer, both men have branched out into movies: Thomas with Straddling the Fence, Roger with Only The Strong Survive.) While the war in the Middle East has brought Thomas his moment of glory, Roger’s got the Michael Jackson case and all the mini scandals that flow from it like tributaries from a raging, crazy river.
In the past, we’ve made sport of Friedman. It’s pretty easy to laugh at Friedman’s occasional lapses into Jackie Harvey-ish prose (see Russell Crowe: Master of His Domain and supply your own exclamation points) and his Top Ten Movies of the Year is always amusing in spite of itself. Sure, Friedman keeps returning to his five or six pet stories: Rosie O’Donnell (Friedman had the only positive early review of Taboo, which mysteriously resulted in an “exclusive interview” with the fledgling queen of Broadway), Clive Davis, Wyclef Jean, Phil Spector, and Liza Minelli. (Blam! This column hits three of them at once! )
But with the Jackson story, FOXNews.com‘s junketeering gossip has actually played journalist and broken some surprisingly impressive scoops. Friedman is all over Jackson like a Culkin on Spanish Fly.
As far back as 2001, Friedman was knocking Jackson’s then-svengali Shmuley Boteach, spinning the revolving door on Jackson’s management office, and sifting through the numbers in Jackson’s finances. (He didn’t always go negative: here’s Friedman gushing over the Jackson’s Invincible.) Some of Friedman’s best scoops—on Jackson’s phony charities, behind the scenes of the Martin Bashir documentary, and money problems—were picked up and used as “background” by a number of reputable sources. While this provides Friedman with a chance to gloat, he should be genuinely proud that all those years on the Jackson beat sometimes pay off.
In the current Jackson scandal, Friedman is at the forefront, breaking stories dutifully supplied by “Jackson insiders” that eventually make their way to The New York Post and then more legitimate papers and TV news outlets. It’s enough to justify all of Friedman’s years as the lone sleuth on the bread crumb trail to Neverland. While others happily heap scorn on Jackson whenever something really bad happens—airing-out his “Blanket” on the balcony, being arrested for allegedly taking advantage of kid with cancer—you can be sure Friedman was there first, and quite frequently, correct.
So, hat’s off to you, Roger. That is, until you print something else we can laugh at.