Back Scratching in La-La Land

The recent release of the film America's Sweethearts gave moviegoers a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of movie media junkets, a Hollywood institution. "Junkets have been getting a bad rap lately as cesspools of graft where journalists are supposedly encouraged to write puff pieces and glowing reviews because the studios pay their way, giving them flights, hotel rooms, food and liquor, bags of novelty items bearing the movie's logo (which often end up sold on the Internet auction house eBay) and maybe $150 a day in other expenses," writes Gary Susman, himself a veteran of the media junket circuit. In reality, he says, the graft is less important than other factors in making sure that junketeers stick to the Hollywood script: "We don't think of the jaunts to Hollywood to stay in posh hotels and interview stars as vacations but as giving up our weekends and time with our families to work. It is easy, however, for journalists to be cowed into submission. There's always an army of publicists hovering over our shoulders, all making sure we don't ask anything impolite or that strays too far from the movie. The threats are never spoken but always implicit - if you ask the star about his ex-wife, he'll walk out, and you'll have ruined the interview for yourself and your colleagues; or worse, you'll be blackballed from junkets."