It Ain't Cool News

June 17, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

You have to hand it to publicists (the smart ones, anyway): give them an opportunity, and they'll slurp it up... Recently, I was watching TV and an ad for a movie (I think it was Unleashed, but I'm not 100% sure) came on screen. Included among the quotes of lavish praise were a couple of slavish snippets attributed only to "Ain't It Cool News." No name, just the website. And this got me thinking.

Not knowing the access figures for Ain't It Cool News, it's impossible for me to say whether or not it is the most freqently visited movie-related website, but it's certainly one of the best known. Once upon a time, it was a maverick site, but it has long since lost its "underground" status and has become a clearinghouse for officially sanctioned pre-release rumors, screening reports, and other assorted gossipy paraphernalia.

In order to maintain the steady stream of information needed to keep readers coming back, AICN must rely on anonymous screening reports. These reports often have limited traceability, and, considering some of AICN's past blunders, I'm not sure they do much fact-checking. The truth of the matter is that some of these reports come from publicists, cleverly disguising themselves as fanboys. They report in glowing terms how good an upcoming movie is, then let readers of the site lap up their praise. But now there's a new wrinkle.

AICN is being used as a source for movie quotes, even though it's not a movie review site. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if some of the AICN-attributed blurbs were actually the product of a publicist. So that means it is possible for a movie ad to quote a publicist of the movie, with AICN acting as an (unwitting) agent of legitimization. One is tempted to say that the integrity of AICN has been compromised, but I'm not sure it has much "integrity" to begin with. This is the website that gave all movie-related websites a bad name. Those of us who don't deal in gossip and rumors have been suffering from the fallout for years. (My own "issues" with Paramount and Fox are an indirect result of this.)

A few years ago, Columbia Pictures invented a fake critic, then circulated quotes from him in advertising materials for their films. It didn't take long for the secret to be discovered, and the "critic" was never heard from again. Apparently, the publicists have found a new loophole. Other than applying a more rigourous fact-checking policy (something that won't happen), there's little that Harry Knowles and his sidekicks can do to stop this kind of fakery. So my advice is that when you visit AICN, be skeptical of any praiseworthy comments. And when you see an AICN quote in a movie ad, give it as much weight as you might attribute to the words of any garden-variety quote whore. Considering the possible source, the value is the same.