Mediaite's Hiring of Nikki Finke Sparks Legal Threat from Deadline Hollywood Parent

Dan Abrams - Southside With You Screening - Getty - H - 2016
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The election of a reality television star as leader of the free world is helping spur a revival of the animosity that occurred upon Nikki Finke's departure from Deadline Hollywood, the website she founded in 2006. Finke's forthcoming return to journalism after a two-year absence has led Penske Media, the owner of Variety and Deadline Hollywood, to send a threatening warning to her new employer that she is prohibited from engaging in any "entertainment industry coverage or reporting," a possibly expanding orbit in the age of President Donald Trump.

Roughly three years ago, Finke and Jay Penske clashed in arbitration after she excoriated him on Twitter and in media interviews and departed Deadline. Finke set up her own website and was accused by Penske of breaching her contract. The dispute was resolved with Finke getting about $3.5 million for a 10-year non-compete, sources told The Hollywood Reporter at the time of the settlement.

Finke, who at one point was rumored to be in talks to join the website Politico, then launched a site dedicated to entertainment industry fiction, but on Monday, Dan Abrams announced Finke's hiring as a senior columnist for the news site Mediaite.

"Because of a non-compete agreement, she won’t be writing about the entertainment industry but everything else, including much of what Mediaite covers on a daily basis, will be fair game for her forthcoming Mediaite column," wrote Abrams in introducing the hire.

Penske soon swung into action, according to Abrams'

Judith Margolin, deputy general counsel at Penske Media, wrote to Abrams that Finke's non-compete restriction "is intentionally broad as it was meant to cover a very wide range of potential subjects involving the entertainment industry ranging from personalities, to business news and legal developments and beyond."

Margolin went on to address Mediaite's wide-ranging mandate and the potential for overlap with Finke's legal obligations. "This is particularly the case as the country has just elected a reality television star as its President-elect," she continued. "The intersection between entertainment and politics has never been more porous."

Finke's new employer has been put on notice of a potential claim for tortious interference.

Abrams' father is Floyd Abrams, the legendary First Amendment lawyer who recently talked to THR about free speech threats in the Trump era. On Thursday, the elder Abrams wrote a response to Margolin.

"We appear to have fundamentally different views about the news media, journalists and our political leaders up to and including the President himself, all of whom the Penske Media Corporation seems to view as 'entertainers,'" wrote Floyd Abrams, reiterating that Finke wouldn't be writing about the entertainment industry, only about "politics and the news media."

He added, "Are you really claiming that because President-elect Trump was a reality television star, that coverage of and about him and his administration should be considered 'entertainment industry coverage'? We may all have our opinions about the election of Mr. Trump, but the notion that, as a legal matter, his election makes 'the intersection between politics and entertainment' so 'porous' that there is no distinction at all between them is either disingenuous or just laughable. Not coincidentally, it is also insulting to the office of the presidency, no matter what view one has of its soon to be inhabitant. It is beyond offensive to suggest that the news media, political journalists or the President himself are entertainers and that covering them is akin to covering the 'entertainment industry.'"

Neither side appears to be ready to back down as a fight about whether a prohibition on entertainment coverage precludes news media coverage appears to be at hand.