Fox News bowed to pressure from Kelly Preston, Tom Cruise and other members of the Church of Scientology when it fired columnist Roger Friedman, the entertainment journo is expected to charge in a wrongful termination lawsuit this week.
In April, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced it had "terminated" Friedman after he wrote on FoxNews.com about watching a pirated Internet copy of 20th Century Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
Friedman is convinced that was a cover story. Last August, Friedman went to Memphis for the funeral of his friend and R&B legend Isaac Hayes, who was a Scientologist. Preston was also in town for the funeral. Friedman, who now writes for The Hollywood Reporter, tells us that when Preston saw him at the Peabody Hotel, Mrs. John Travolta loudly blasted him for his columns criticizing Scientology.
"She called me a ‘religious bigot,'??" Friedman recalls.
The following month, says an ally of Friedman, Preston voiced her complaints about Friedman to Fox News chief Roger Ailes and his then-EVP, John Moody.
"Moody talked to her on the phone," says the source. "When she couldn't get Moody to fire Friedman, she called him a [obscenity]."
Ailes and Moody later agreed to meet with Preston and Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis (the son of actress Anne Archer), according to the source, who says Friedman's editors subsequently forbid him from writing about the death in January of Preston's son, Jett.
Meanwhile, Friedman says, 20th Century Fox chairman Jim Gianopoulos had been encouraging him to lay off Cruise's movie "Valkyrie," which Fox was distributing internationally.
Last month, Variety reported that Cruise was in advanced talks to star with Cameron Diaz in a Fox action comedy, "Wichita." A source suspects that Cruise may have made Friedman's ouster a condition of the actor appearing in "Wichita.??"
After the studio accused Friedman of "promoting" piracy with his positive "Wolverine" review, "nobody from Fox News defended me," says Friedman. "They let the studio dictate to the newsroom."
Friedman's attorney, Martin Garbus, says: "It's outrageous that Rupert Murdoch made a decision to fire Roger after four of Roger's editors and superiors reviewed his column and found it very good. In falsely claiming Roger engaged in piracy, they attempted to destroy the reputation of a fine journalist." Friedman's "411" column is said to have attracted 50 million hits a year.
Murdoch is reported to have bristled a few years back when Scientologists tried to recruit his son Lachlan. But Garbus said, "I've seen how Scientology intimidates even the most powerful media. That seems to be what happened here."
According to Garbus, the leak of "Wolverine" onto the Web traced back to Murdoch asking the studio to make him a DVD copy of the unfinished movie. "Apparently, someone made another copy for themselves," says Garbus.
Garbus crows that the suit, due to be filed in Manhattan Federal Court, is a "slam dunk."
A Fox News rep declined to comment. Cruise's attorney said it was "utterly false" that the actor sought Friedman's removal. Preston's lawyer, Martin Singer called Friedman's claim "absurd and ridiculous. He was terminated just days after [his 'Wolverine' column]. It is outrageous to try to blame my client... on the basis of something that supposedly took place eight months earlier."