Maligned Reporter Anita Busch Breaks Another Big Story
Over the past four months, I've done a 180-degree turn on Anita Busch and have become her biggest defender. Here's another reason why.
Joe Shea writes: HOLLYWOOD -- A forthcoming report by Los Angeles Times staff writers Anita Busch and Steve Barry will reveal a Tinseltown scandal involving at least two former members of the Los Angeles City Council who reportedly shut down films until studios made contributions or bought traffic equipment as a gift to the city, The American Reporter has learned.
Both former council members acknowledged speaking with at least one of the two reporters in recent days and months. According to the source, filming of a 1997 Tommy Lee Jones film was shut down by former West L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer until Paramount Studios paid for a $39,000 traffic device for the city that warns drivers of their speed, the source told the American Reporter.
According to the source, The two will reportedly charge that Feuer - who lost a campaign for Los Angeles City Attorney two years ago - shut down the 20th Century Fox production of "Volcano," a thriller involving the eruption of a volcano in the Miracle Mile area of Wilshire Blvd., until the studio paid for a large $39,000 driver speed warning device that was placed on Temescal Canyon Rd. Such a device was present in another part of Feuer's former 5th District this weekend, but on Coldwater Canyon Rd. north of Beverly Hills.
The story has been repeatedly delayed by the Times, the source said. But such delays regularly occur due to a need for additional editing and reporting, questions about the veracity and authenticity of sources and information, and unrelated demands for editorial space. Sometimes, stories are killed by editors even at the stage where they have been verified and edited, often for legal reasons.
Neither Busch nor Barry responded to messages left for them at the Times.
In addition to Feuer, the source said former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg also engaged in a last-minute shutdown, and the source said the paper - which has supported Goldberg throughout her career on the city's Board of Education and City Council and endorsed her successful 2001 campaign for a seat in the California Assembly - will report that she received a $20,000 campaign contribution from an unnamed studio as the price for allowing a film to begin shooting in the Hollywood area. The allegations as made by the source concerning Goldberg at least suggest a possible crime, although details were far too sketchy Wednesday morning to make any such determination.
EW's Owen Gleiberman Is A Perv
Cecile du Bois writes: Dear Mr. Ford: I read Roman Genn and Rob Long in the National Review. I didn't like Owen Gleiberman in the Entertainment Weekly (EW) once. When I was ten, he liked "Quills" - the movie about the Marquis De Sade with Kate Winslet and Geoffrey Rush. So, I wrote him a nasty letter of how he was a pervert, and that's how I learned the word "sadistic".
What I think of you: (Someone told me that you want to post something juicy on your site): Well, Luke Ford is clever and sarcastic yet should sometimes not post nasty things from MR. XXX or other writers that are just a waste of space and language on his site. It is abusing the English language and the media by giving in to morons. No offense, Mr. XXX. I have to go because of my violin teacher.
Luke worries: Could I be arrested for violating child labor laws by consistently metaphorically squeezing a 13-year old girl for content?
BTW, in case you think me improper - I'm shomer negilla. Like all good Orthodox Jews (not those accommodating modern Orthodox ones who walk in the ways of the goyim and don't revere Torah sages) I don't touch the opposite sex (except for occasional moments of weakness that I repent for on Yom Kippur, which for me lasts two days).
Rejected Again By The Rabbeim
I wanted to discuss Stephen Fried's new book The New Rabbi and the state of Jewish journalism with various esteemed leaders of the Conservative movement and they've all broken my heart. How long Oh Lord must I deal with this stiff-necked people? Must I only know rejection and despair at the hands of my religious leaders?
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum writes: "Dear Luke, I appreciate your asking for my opinion, but I'm regretfully have to decline. I learned quite alot from working with Paul [Wilkes] and from the publication of the book. But, there were also some hard feelings created that took a long time to heal. Time to move on."
Rabbis David Ackerman and Perry Rank did not answer my email requests for an interview.
Why Do All Great Spiritual Leaders Die Violently?
Adella, PR gal from Digital Playground, phones.
Luke answers phone: "Your Moral Leader."
Adella: "You're the best. I love you. I think you are one of the most fabulous people on the planet. I think all great spiritual leaders end up dying violently. You're too evolved for your time. That's why more people don't see you as I do. I don't get it."
What The New York Times Tells Us About Ourselves
Ari L. Goldman, professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, writes for the Jewish Week 12/3/93: This summer, when I was wrapping up my career as a reporter for The New York Times, my father told me a joke that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. It goes like this:
A doctor and lawyer sit together every week in shul. And through the davening, people come over to the doctor. "My son has an earache. Can you take a look?" one man says. "What's better, penicillin or tetracycline?" asks another. "Do you know a good cardiologist?" says a third.
In exasperation, the doctor turns to his friend the lawyer and says, "I can't stand it. These people are driving me crazy. I can't even daven anymore!"
"I've got a solution," the lawyer responds calmly. "From now on, if anybody asks you a question, just send them a bill after Shabbos."
"Great idea," the doctor says, feeling a sense of relief.
A few days later, the doctor opens his mail. And in it, there is a bill from the lawyer.
For the last 20 years, I've felt like that doctor. I go to shul Shabbos morning and the questions don't stop. "Why did your paper write this about Israel?" "Why did you write that about Crown Heights?" "Why did you write so much about Israel?" "Why did you write so little about Israel?"
And, in what might be termed "the revenge of the doctors," one of them, a specialist in infectious diseases, berated me for 20 minutes at a recent kiddish about "a terrible" article on Page 1 of The Times about Lyme disease. "But I'm a religion writer," I pleaded. He wouldn't stop. "Write a letter, please," I begged. But he wouldnt' stop. He didn't care what I was and he certainly wasn't going to write a letter. He needed to get this off his chest. And I was the recipient.
Ah, if only I could them all a bill, I've often thought since hearing my father's joke. I'd be a rich man today.
Well, after 20 years at The Times, the last 10 of them as a religion writer, I've decided to tell all - not about The Times, but about the Jewish community.
The Times, while far from perfect, has been very good to me. It took me on as a copy boy right out of Yeshiva College and enabled me to pursue a challenging and fulfilling career as a reporter. And one of the most important lessons I learned at Yeshiva was the principle of hakarat hatov - recognizing and acknowledging the good people do for you. So this is not a kiss-and-tell article.
I, of course, also learned to love Israel and the Jewish community at Yeshiva. But this love was never compromised at The Times. Despite the charges of Jewish "media monitors," who see anti-Israel bias in every picture and headline, I can state categorically that there is no anti-Israel conspiracy at The New York Times.
There are, to be sure, editors and writers who are less inclined toward Israel and others who are more inclined. But the policy of the paper is one of evenhandedness (or should I say evenhandedness with a liberal/Labor bent) and the pro and con voices at The Times most often balance themselves out.
Moreover, what seems like hostility is often ignorance. And the level of ignorance, even among Jewish editors, is astounding.
Editors would often bring photographs from Israel to my desk and ask what the Hebrew writing said. This was understandable; not everyone knows how to read Hebrew. But once a Jewish editor brought me a photograph of a sign in Hebrew and asked me what it said. And to my great surprise, he was holding it upside down. Not only didn't he know our people's language, he didn't even know what was up and what was down.
One Sunday several years ago, the metropolitan editor in charge - a newcomer to the paper from the West Coast - decided not to send a reporter to the Salute to Israel Parade. No need to cover it, he reasoned. He didn't cover the Pulaski Day Parade the week before and no one seemed to mind.
When Monday's paper appeared without a word or a picture about the Salute to Israel parade, hundreds of people called to complain. The editors were so embarrassed that they ran a correction in Tuesday's paper saying that they had made a terrible mistake by missing the parade. And they've never missed it since.
On another occasion, I wrote an article about a woman rabbi near Albany who was a graduate of a Reform seminary but was seeking admission to the Conservative rabbinical organization. I wrote that she wouldn't drive on Shabbos, so if the weather was particularly bad, she wouldn't walk the mile to shul, but her congregants "would come to her house."
An editor added: "...and drive her to the synagogue." Luckily, I caught the error moments before it got into the paper. The editor was Jewish, and when I explained to him that some religoius Jews don't ride in a car on Shabbos, he said in all sincerity, "I never knew that."
The level of Jewish ignorance in journalism is probably no greater than in any profession, but when this ignorance slips into the pages of The Times, it becomes another opportunity for charges of anti-Semitism.
I know this because I've heard from these people over the years, sometimes in shul and sometimes on the job. As a religion writer, it was my job to cover all religions - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, the many denominations of Christianity as well as Judaism and its branches. Still, Jews, who account for only 2 percent of the nation's population, made up 50 percent of my calls and letters.
And the Jewish public relations people were, without a doubt, the most persistent. If the publicist for the National Council of Churches would call to tell me about an event on Sunday and I said that I wasn't interested, she'd politely wish me a good day. But if the publicist for the National Jewish Anything would call and I'd say I wasn't itnerested, the questions would only then begin: Why not? How come you never write about us? Why do you always write about the Conservative/Orthodox/Reform (whatever the caller wasn't)? And then, my favorite: Well, if you can't do it, who else at The Times should I call?
You couldn't get them off the phone. Unless, of course, you were asking them tough questions. The late Irving (Pat) Spiegel, one of my predecessors at The Times (and, as far as I know, the only other Jewish religion writer in the paper's history) told of calling a Jewish publicist during the nursing home scandals of the 1970s.
Once it was established that the publicist's organization was soon to be implicated in the growing scandal, the conversation went something like this:
"Pat, if you print that, you know I'm finished."
"Don't be ridiculous," Pat Said. "We're not talking about you, we're talking about your organization."
"We're one and the same."
"Listen, relax. You'll weather this."
"No, you can't print this. Pat, I want you to know I've brought the phone over to the window. Pat, I've opened the window. Do you hear the traffic? Pat, I'm not sitting on the ledge. And, Pat, if you tell me you are going to print this, I am going to jump. And I'll hold on to the phone so you can hear me scream."
Pat spent the rest of the conversation talking the poor publicist off the ledge.
I came to the conclusion long ago that The Times was mroe than just a newspaper to the Jewish community. It is our common denominator and holds the community together in the way that the old Yiddish papers once did.
Reading The Times has become part of being Jewish in America. For many it's become their daily devotion, their tallit and tefillin, their new kashrut. They don't have breakfast without it.
I've often fantasized that The Times would not come out one Saturday morning. Rabbis all acros sAmerica would get up in their pulpits and have nothing to say.
In many neighborhoods, you wouldn't go out to Shabbos lunch at a friend's house without reading it. How owuld you make small talk? The Times' society page has become our social register. Its Op-Ed page, our town square. Its obituaries, our Jewish cemetaries.
My friend Marvin Schick, the president of my other alma mater, the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, once told me that he proposed to the board of directors of the school that they stop "wasting money" on paid obituary notices in The Times for friends and supporters of the school. The proposal met vehement opposition on the board. One elderly man shot Marvin an angry look. "Are you going to deny me my final resting place?" he asked.
Marvin's proposal was resoundingly defeated.
The first week after I quit The Times, I went to shul feeling like a man freed of a burden. I walked in, took my sat, opened my siddur and waited for the first question. "How about that Tom Friedman?" someone said. "I don't work there anymore," I responded.
"At The New York Times."
"How could you give up a job like that?"
I just smiled and kept on davening.
I've Been Asked To Appear On My First Panel
Cathy Seipp, heart be still, writes me: Please, will you be in it? The organizer is Gary McVey at American Cinema Foundation, which operates under David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Here's how Gary describes it: "The idea--which you can modify freely--is to vaguely tie our usual emphasis on freedom to (a) the overblown, but genuine revolution in telecommunications, and (b) witty younger intellectuals who happen, just happen to be more libertarian and conservative than the boomers who still run pop culture. Suggested duration: 65-80 minutes of Algonquinesque chat."
How About a Little Something for Us?
Skippy McButter, my most loyal WASP reader, writes: I love your web site, but how about writing a thing or two about us gentiles? There are still a few of us left in Hollywood, but we never read about our comings and doings on your web site. And to think you used to be one of us! Otherwise, keep up the good work. For conservative Republicans in the know, your site is a must read.
Jake Alabama writes: Luke I attempted to read your articles on lukeford.net but I fell asleep. Quite embarrassing. Why don't you get back to writing what you're best at? We want to hear about the whores and boars of the adult industry.
I Meet Jamye Waxman
In Las Vegas this weekend for the Consumer Electronics Show, I finally met Jamye Waxman, who's produced talkshows for Bob Berkowitz, Bob Grant and Joan Rivers.
Khunrum writes: She needs to lose those glasses. Not really. It's the Retro Look....I think she is cute......Luke, no excuses...you need to land this gevelta fish. For the record, I got no "JAP" vibe off of her....I for one believe she is a decent individual. Luke, nab her for one of your producer interviews. I'd rather read what she has to say than Sid Bernstein or Jeff Wald.....especially Jeff Wald.
Chaim writes: On at least one occasion I have been in a position where I could have bought a dildo from this woman. (I met her awhile back while taking a walk through the lower east side after stuffing my face with about ten pounds of pastrami at Katz's deli up the street from her store.) For the record, I got no "JAP" vibe off of her.
KhunRum writes: Luke.... In light of the sleazy antics these tabloids will stoop to, are you not concerned about your own reputation? We have a journalist of your stature... Would it not have been wiser to... rather than compromise the integrity of the Luke Ford name? Of course your dirty little secret is safe with us, your Advisory Committee. Bamboo shoots under our nails could not make us talk. Still, others are not so loyal.
Helpful writes: He's right! Should your gay facade be compromised all of gay Hollywood will shun you. Time for damage control. I suggest you immediately purchase a convertible VW bug and go to a Diana Ross concert.
I speak by phone with producer Daniel H. Blatt 1/7/03.
Luke: "When did you first meet up with Edgar?"
Dan: "In 1969. I represented ABC in a termination agreement [with producer Edgar Scherick]. His lawyers were Walter Schirer and Mort Weinbach. As part of the termination agreement, Edgar got two pictures, including Jenny. I was assigned by ABC to be the lawyer on that movie and that's where I got to know him, Walter and Mort.
"Palomar Pictures was the name of a division of ABC [that Edgar ran] when he left ABC TV as head of programming. When ABC decided to go into the movie business, they set up a company in the East called Palomar, that Edgar ran, and a company in the West called Selma that Selig Seligman ran. Then ABC decided to merge the companies into one company called ABC Pictures Corp, which was to be run by Marty Baum [out of LA]. I ended up working at ABC Pictures West. ABC and Scherick decided to terminate their arrangement and I was chosen to represent ABC.
"Edgar and I didn't become friendly right away. There was a mutual respect. ABC sent me to California in March of 1970. In July of 1970, Selig Seligman died and everybody from ABC East came to the funeral - Leonard Goldenson (created the ABC network as David Sarnoff created NBC and Bill Paley created CBS), Si Segal (Leonard's number one man). Edgar asked me to pick him up at the plane. We spent the day and that's when it [friendship] started.
"Edgar made a deal with Bristol Myers [to finance his movies]. He called me up and asked me to come work for him. I left ABC and moved back to New York to work for him as head of business and legal affairs. My condition was that I would only report directly to him. We made a whole bunch of junky pictures in the beginning.
"We had a tiny company, with five employees. I was doing many different things. On The Heartbreak Kid, [Director] Elaine May and [writer] Neil Simon had a falling out. And the contract between Simon and Palomar was that we couldn't change a word without his approval. He agreed to write the script under the Dramatists Guild contract [playwrights have far more power than screenwriters, you can't change a word of their plays without their permission]. It's the only script he ever wrote that wasn't based on an original idea of his. It's based on a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman called 'Change of Plan.'
"Elaine wanted to make changes but she and Neil wouldn't talk to each other. So they had to find a conduit to go back and forth and negotiate the changes. I was chosen for the job. I'd sit with Elaine and she'd tell me what the wanted and I'd go to Neil and I had to find a way to effect creative compromise.
"We had some problems on Sleuth. I was chosen to go to London to meet with [Director] Joe Mankiewicz and the art director Ken Adam. I felt the picture was too long. So now I was getting involved with the script. I learned from the seat of my pants [on how to be produce]. Those two pictures got nominated for six Academy awards."
Blatt's first producer credit came in 1977 on Circle of Children, followed by Raid on Entebbe.
"We didn't get renewed at Bristol Meyers. I was the first one to say that we had to move to California. I moved and produced 1977's Circle of Children."
Luke: "Did Edgar scream at you like he did everyone else?"
Dan: "No. In the beginning, a few times. When I decided to leave, it became rupturous."
Luke: "You screamed at him? You don't seem like someone who screams much."
Dan: "I'm not a screamer but it was emotional. We were together a long time. It started out that he was my employer, then he was a partner, then he was the closest of friends, and then there was a break-up, like a marriage. He was clearly older than me. We'd been through a lot of good things and a lot of bad things together."
Luke: "Was he a father figure?"
Dan: "I wouldn't say that. When I first met him, I thought he was fantastic. I still do. But when you're with somebody 16-hours a day for a long time, everybody gets to know everybody's strengths and weaknesses. We were really close. The breakup [in 1979] was an emotional, difficult situation. There was money involved."
Luke: "You wanted to go out to work on your own because?"
Dan: "That's what I wanted to do."
Luke: "He felt like he couldn't continue to be friends if you did that?"
Dan: "It's like when you breakup with your wife or girlfriend, do you stay friends right away? It doesn't work that way. There were a lot of things going on at the same time. His marriage was in trouble. Moving to California."
It took until about 1984 for Dan and Edgar to re-establish their friendship.
Luke: "I've heard Edgar was one of the legendary screamers?"
Dan: "He was volatile. It wasn't one of his strong suits. I didn't think it was appropriate."
Luke: "Was it pleasant working for him?"
Dan: "It wasn't boring. He was smart with great ideas. He had bursts of energy. The guy that you interviewed at that bed, that's the guy. He wasn't the same person any more but you captured who he was. When I read the interview, I said, 'This is vintage Scherick.' When he said, 'If I could pick a gun and shoot Marge [his second ex-wife].' That kind of stuff.
"Like 99% of all people, he didn't fulfill his potential. He did great things but he didn't come close. With a different emotional makeup, he could've been a bigger producer. I don't want to get into it."
Luke: "He didn't seem terribly interested in money."
Dan: "That's not true."
Luke: "He wasn't terribly successful with money then."
Dan: "Right. He wanted money. Everybody wants money. But that wasn't the driving force. He was interested in making good projects and receiving credit for doing wonderful things."
Luke: "He wanted glory."
Dan: "You're putting words in my mouth. Listen, everybody wants to be recognized."
Luke: "I want glory too."
Dan: "Everybody wants to score the winning touchdown. Everybody wants the cameras going off as they go into the endzone. No one wants to miss the four-footer on the last hole.
"It's a generational thing too. Ed was an Eastener. He went to Harvard. He was a product of the Depression. His father lost all his money. Read about Irving Berlin and you'll see a guy who came out of the ghetto. I guarantee you that when Irving Berlin caught a cab and the fare was $1:40, he didn't just flip $2 at that cab driver. He grew up understanding the value of money. You can't escape that. At the same time, Irving Berlin took some of his royalties and sent them to charity. New York and Hollywood are two different towns requiring two different kinds of people. Some guys made the transition easily and other guy haven't.
"Ed was educated. He had an intellect."
Luke: "And he liked to let you know."
Dan: "That was his insecurity. Most people who have done things suffer from a combination of megalomania and insecurity. That's a tough combination to live with - for the person and for those around him. It forces you do things that you hate yourself for doing. Then you're in a business in which no one knows what will really work. There's all that insecurity selling, making and just holding your breath.
"Edgar did quality work, which doesn't necessarily translate into financial reward. The movie he did with [Director] John Frankenheimer, The Path To War, that was an attempt to do a quality piece of work about something. That's not Caddyshack."
Luke: "How well do you think he pulled it off?"
Dan: "By that time, Ed was a sick person. You can't say he made that film. He started that picture. It's a subjective thing. Did you think that guy was Lyndon Johnson who everyone said was so great?"
Luke: "No. The movie didn't work for me."
Dan: "No, he wasn't Lyndon Johnson. When you saw Gathering Storm, was Albert Finney Churchill? It was remarkable. Was Marlon Brando the Godfather? As soon as that picture opened, you said, 'Ohmigod, what is happening here?' Peter Finch was Yitzhak Rabin."
Luke: "Edgar told me he wanted you to speak at his funeral and you did."
Dan: "As I said at the funeral, Edgar had a great eye for talent. He was a charismatic character. He had a command of the room. He was literate. He appreciated good work. Edgar was one of a kind, plus and minus. When they [Brian Grazer, Scott Rudin, Michael Barnathan, et al] worked for him, he was the boss. You may have walked away mumbling but it didn't matter."
Luke: "Was he a happy man?"
Dan: "What do you think?"
Luke: "No. His last years were particularly bitter. The man I met was bitter."
Dan: "The golden years to him weren't golden. This is not a business for older people."
Luke: "When you had dinner with Edgar, what sorts of things came up most often in conversation?"
Dan: "Movies, politics and sports."
Dan is more liberal than Scherick. "I was a legal aid lawyer, a public defender, a civil rights lawyer."
Luke: "Did you ever turn for help to Edgar once you'd gone out on your own?"
Luke: "Did he ever turn to you?"
Dan: "Yes, periodically, he'd call me and ask what I thought. That's more to his credit than mine."
Luke: "Could you give me an anecdote about Edgar?"
Dan: "I was working with a director [Alan Parker?] who was brilliant but not interested in the project. Ed was frustrated with the guy and said, 'You're so arrogant, you don't even know you're arrogant.' I think that's the best line I ever heard."
Luke: "Edgar was an eager mentor?"
Dan: "No. He always wanted good people to work for him. He had the ability to spot them. The truth of the matter is, [Edgar] f---ing hired Roone Arledge. Anybody who tells you differently is a liar."
Luke: "It seemed to really gnaw at Edgar"
Dan: "Yes it did."
Luke: "The amount of success Roone had and didn't acknowledge Edgar and others."
Dan: "Roone took credit for something he didn't create."
Luke: "Wide World of Sports."
Dan: "A lot of great people have the ability to take credit for things they didn't create."
Luke: "Did Edgar falsely grab credit?"
Dan: "Absolutely not."
Luke: "I never got the sense he was intentionally lying to me."
Dan: "No he was not. What I read was pretty truthful."
Luke: "It seemed like he'd been a straight-shooter his whole life."
Luke: "What were his relationships like with guys like Michael Eisner and other studio chiefs?"
Dan: "A lot of these guys worked for Edgar. Leonard Goldberg. Scott Rudin. Brian Grazer. Larry Gordon. Robert Lawrence. Michael Barnathan. Chris Schenkel. Frank Barton. Edgar was there before they were. Eisner respected him. ABC was a distant third when he took over and the shows he put on the air, like Batman, Batgirl, helped propel ABC into competition with NBC."
Luke: "Edgar championed women."
Dan: "When he started out, there weren't many women in the business. Joan Scott was one of the first. Edgar had nothing to do with her but if you want to do a good story about someone in the business, Joan Scott. Do you know who she is? She created Writers and Artists Agency. She saw that there was no way that a woman could become a partner in an agency and she said, 'I will create my own agency.' Harrison Ford, Armand Assante, Jimmy Woods, she found all of them. She's a manager now in New York. She's in her seventies. She's vibrant and beautiful and smart and funny. Joan Scott will demonstrate what a woman could do and couldn't do."
Luke: "Did Edgar's friends stick by him in the last seven years?"
Dan: "Some did and some didn't."
Luke: "Did he have a lot of friends?"
Dan: "What's your definition of friends? He had a lot of people who liked him. They had a nice turnout at the funeral. Bob Daly [former co-head of Warner Brothers]. Barry Myer. Edgar was the last of an era. An era when a person could walk into a room and with the sheer enthusiasm of their passion for a project and sell it. It doesn't work like that any more because everything is so layered and corporate."
Luke: "I'd see people in my research for my book on producers and they'd mention they knew Edgar. I'd mention that I saw him regularly and they'd say, 'Give him my best.' And I thought, 'Why don't you call him and give him your best?' Part of the reason I went to see him so many times was that I thought he wanted the company. And then you'd get there and he'd throw you out after 20-minutes."
Dan: "He was tough on visitors. 'You can leave now.' F--- you, Ed, I don't want to be told I can leave now. I didn't drive over here to be told I can leave now. Right?"
Dan: "Did you feel that way?"
Dan: "Don't tell me to leave. I'm not rude to you. He was in bad shape. He was heavy. He was lying flat on his bed. He had leukemia. It was sad for me to see him like this.
"He liked baseball, fishing, literature. He appreciated a good sentence. He liked a good meal. He loved the business. He was a great salesman."
Rod Lurie Exposes The National Enquirer
An entertainment journalist tells me: "Don't forget that Rod Lurie was writing this series for LA Magazine 'To get the National Enquirer out of my Gelsons [supermarket chain]', said the editor at the time."
I believe the tabloid has professionalized its journalism since this Lurie article was published.
Rod Lurie exposed the tabloid National Enquirer in Los Angeles Magazine in 1990 and 1992.
From the February 1992 issue:
Now they're playing dirty! Hey, if you thought the Enquirer was sleazy before, look what it's up to now - using everything from mail theft, false police reports and even blackmail to set up the town's biggest superstars.
My wife's private line rang. A minute later she returned, slightly ashen, and said an "old friend" was calling.
When I took the phone, he didn't introduce himself. He didn't have to - I recognized his voice immediately.
"I thought I'd never have to call you again," Anthony Pellicano said.
The last time I heard from Pellicano was a year and a half ago, while I was working on a story for this magazine called "I was on the Enquirer's Hit List." Pellicano, a notorious private detective, had been hired by the National Enquirer to "discourage" my story. He was the man who Assistant U.S. Attorney James Walsh claimed had intimidated government witnesses in the John DeLorean case and who, in a recent issue of GQ, bragged he'd beaten somebody with a baseball bat on behalf of a client. Pellicano had said he'd killed "hundreds" of stories and strongly suggested I drop mine.
"What do you want?" I asked him.
"What do I want?" he said, as if the answer were ludicrously obvious. There was a small pause. "'Don R... [Pellicano's attorney Don Re?] whore...Don...Pellicano wants his job...call Patrick about Norm and relationship to Pellicano....'"
I was stunned. Pellicano was reading from the notes I had compiled during my current investigation into the Enquirer. "This is libelous," he said with a drawl. "I spoke to Don. R. He's one of my best friends. He says he never spoke to you... I'm going to subpoena all your notes... You've brought yourself a lawsuit, pal."
"Where did you get my notes?"
"Would you tell me your sources? So why would I tell you mine?"
As I was soon to find out, Pellicano had paid my research assistant $3000 for the notes. Not only that, the Star, which the Enquirer had purchased in 1990, had given my assistant a check for $500 to monitor the progress of my article. For the record, Michael Boylan, a high-ranking executive of Macfadden Holdings, a publishing-investors group that owns a dozen magazines, including the Enquirer/Star, insisted Pellicano was no longer in the company's employ when I called to complain. A few days later, I learned the Star not only had paid my assistant to spy on me but was allegedly researching a story linking me romantically to a celebrity who was married to an actor the tabloid had previously "outed."
So here we went again. Round two. That first time out, I had uncovered what amounted to a sourcing scandal. Tabloid reporters were falsifying sources as a way to meet the publication's three-source requirement and back themselves legally. The Enquirer had gone into a frenzy, hired Pellicano and hit me and Los Angeles Magazine with a barrage of calls and letters, charging, among other things, that I was harrassing and threatening Enquirer employees. Ultimately, the piece became the basis for dozens of TV shows and articles, including segments on 60 Minutes and Entertainment Tonight.
NINE MONTHS AFTER Lurie's article appeared, he got a phone call from an employee at the tabloid's headquarters in Lantana, Florida. Then the employee faxed Lurie dozens of pages of private hospital records of Richard Pryor, Carol Burnett and Burt Reynolds. It's illegal to have those. The Enquirer's public policy is that it does not purchase or accept those that have been stolen.
Over the next six months, Lurie's source would put him in touch with 75 other sources who all had some horror story to tell. Under pressure from their bosses, Enquirer and Star reporters had run amok, getting involved with not only invasion of privacy, filing false police reports, mail tampering and theft but, in some cases, out-and-out blackmail, forcing stars to collaborate with the tabloids on a long-term basis.
ROD LURIE TALKED TO Jim Cruse, who was fired after three years as an Enquirer reporter. Cruse believes the Enquirer fired him when it found out about a book he was planning to write.
According to Cruse, star Enquirer reporter Brian Williams made-up a story about Roseanne Arnold beating her daughter.
Williams has broken such stories as Jill Ireland's "bizarre" cancer treatments and the discovery of Roseanne Arnold's long lost child.
Cruse says Williams telephoned the Child Protection Services unit in Van Nuys and reported Arnold had been abusing her. Brian knew the CPS is required to investigate all charges of child abuse, even anonymous ones. "He said he was a parent of a classmate of Jessica Pentland's [Arnold's daughter by her first marriage] and reported that she came to school with bruises, and that maybe Tom Arnold, supposedly on drugs at the time, had [done] her harm," Cruse stated.
Cruse, another reporter and a photographer, staked out Arnold's home for two days until the social-services representative showed up, talked to Arnold and her family and concluded there was no basis for the allegation. The Enquirer shortly thereafter ran a story that Arnold was being investigated for child abuse.
Cruse said on May 10, his editor, Steve Coz, told him to go to the Benedict Canyon home the Arnolds had been renting. Cruse determined that Tom and Roseanne were packing.
Two days later, Cruse returned to the property with another reporter, Robert Jordan [aka Robert Hudson], to see if the house had been trashed. "What Coz wanted was a pigsty story," Cruse said. The two reporters wandered the house and could find no damage.
When the story appeared in the Enquirer July 17, 1990, it reported broken windows and ruined rugs in almost every room, a shattered $5000 antique chair, a giant tic-tac-toe board drawn in black paint on top of expensive wood paneling, holes punched in walls and moldy, half-eaten pizzas.
What happened? Cruse says Jordan returned to the house and trashed it. "[Jordan] said he'd taken garbage cans and emptied them all over the house and the pool area," Cruse said. "He photographed it right after he had hit set up." The photos were never published.
ROD LURIE discovered that manufacturing stories was common among tabloid reporters. According to one tabloid editor, to add a little zip to one story, an Enquirer reporter informed the police that he'd heard screaming and furniture braeking in Fawcett and O'Neal's home. Though the police found nothing, the tabloids reported the police investigated disturbances at the home.
Stringer Bob Daniels remembers how in late Spring 1989 reporter Neil Hitchens and paparazzo photographer Phil Ramey tried to get photos of Farrah in a compromising position with a carpenter who claimed he was banging the actress. Three sources corroborated the story to Lurie.
Why the need for such photos as the Enquirer does not publish such material? "My understanding," Daniels, said, "Was that we would get the photos to use as leverage with Farrah on future stories."
BY THE END OF ROD LURIE'S investigation, it was clear that Enquirer and Star reporters "blackmailed" a number of major stars into becoming "friends" of the tabloids. One instance involved a major - and wholesome TV megastar. The Enquirer got photos of him in a compromising position. The Enquirer wouldn't run the story because the actor was too popular. To bash him in the paper might backfire, alienating readers. But the photo and story were too good to waste.
The Enquirer used them to blackmail the celebrity. Cruse said he was present when Coz called the star. "Coz told him about the photo," he said. "He also made up some things. He said the girl had told us about bondage and drugs and things like that. It was all a bluff, but he bit."
The star agreed to be accessible to Enquirer reporters. Soon after, he was on the Enquirer's front page, lamenting the drug problems of a family member.
MIDWAY THROUGH LURIE's INVESTIGATION, he began hearing stories that U.S. Postal Service investigators had begun looking into allegations that Enquirer reporters were stealing mail - a federal offense punishable under U.S. Code 18, Section 1708. The press agent who had set up the purchase of Madonna's stolen medical records, in fact, admitted that a few years ago, when Faye Dunaway was going through her divorce, it was his job to stake out her mailbox. Each day for about a week, he would wait for the mailman to arrive, then check all the envelopes in the box. If there was anything of interest - say, a letter from an attorney's office - he would pluck it.
Another Enquirer staffer said rifling mail was routine practice and that reporters even had a name for it: "Playing Mailman." Here's how it worked: A reporter would go to a celebrity's local post office and fill out a forwarding-address form for the celebrity, rerouting the star's mail to a prearranged address. The reporter would then pick up the mail and peruse it for any usable information. (When I asked paparazzo Phil Ramey if he had ever heard of "Playing Mailman," he chortled, "Yeah, yeah. But they do it just to fuck with people. What's the big deal?")
One of my sources, whom I'll call Jerry, a three-year veteran of the tabloid, also admitted he had been involved with mail theft. "We paid a live-in friend of Tony Danza to steal one specific piece of mail...a letter from the Screen Actors Guild," he said. "My bosses felt it contained information we needed. We made arrangements through one of Danza's employees to have this friend pick up the mail when it came in and bring it to me."
Dr. Park Dietz, an expert on obsessed fans and the prosecution's psychiatric expert in the John Hinckley trial, once said that obsessed fans have an "unholy alliance with the tabloids." Many rely on the tabs for personal details and the latest information on their celeb idols.
For their part, the tabloids don't seem averse to exploiting these delusions - or, in fact, aiding and abetting them. According to Cruse, on several occasions Enquirer reporters allegedly sold the addresses and phone numbers of celebs to overzealous fans. According to a friend of Greg Louganis, a mentally ill man who had approached the Olympic diver said he had gotten his address from a reporter at the Enquirer looking to make a few bucks.
The Star and Enquirer sometimes print the delusions of fans as facts (e.g.the claim of a San Diego photographer he had an affair with Kirk Cameron's bridge Chelsea Noble in 1991).
According to Dr. Walt Risler, a University of Indiana professor and a nationally recognized expert on the subject of obsessed fans, playing into the fantasies of an obsessed fan is not only shoddy journalism, it's potentially dangerous. "Tabloids are already part of the lives of celebrity stalkers. When they validate their delusions like this, they are lighting a fire under a combustible situation."
Why are tabloid reporters running amok? ROD LURIE concludes it's because the tabs went public in 1991 and are driven to find sensational stories to attract readers, advertisers and profits.
Journalist Stuart Goldman writes on tabloidbaby.com about a 1990 incident: The Enquirer's chief goon, Anthony Pellicano, ("The Nation's Most Publicized Private Investigator") began a nonstop campaign to hound [Rod] Lurie, [Gavin] de Becker and myself. Pellicano was right out of a bad Fifties B-movie. He loved to do the good cop/bad cop bit. He threatened, he bullied, he wheedled, he cajoled. (At one point, Pellicano sent me a personal check as "hush" money to keep me from incriminating the Enquirer.) When I changed my private telephone number -- which I did frequently -- he'd call just to let me know he'd made the new number (Pellicano enjoyed a rep and expert bug/wire man).
On March 11 [1990?], Rod Lurie was riding his bicycle near his home in Pasadena. An unmarked car (no plates) drove up behind him, suddenly sped up, and whacked Lurie fifty feet into space. The bicycle was instant scrap, and Lurie wound up in the hospital with two broken ribs and a busted back. When I called him after the accident, Lurie was resolute: "It was no accident," he said hoarsely. "That car hit me on purpose. There's absolutely no doubt about it ... I saw the the guy veer over and go right for me." I asked him if he had any idea who was behind it."Lemme put it like this," Lurie said. "The tabloids warned me if I didn't back off I'd be sorry. I think they just made good on their threat."
...[In] 1990 when Rod Lurie was researching his Los Angeles magazine piece on how the National Enquirer gets its information. Lurie got a call from Pellicano, who identified himself as a private investigator working for th Enquirer. Indeed, as Lurie recalls, Pellicano said, "I am the Enquirer." He demanded to know the identity of Lurie's source at the tabloid. When Lurie wouldn't cooperate, Pellicano said he would find out, adding, in what Lurie termed in the article a threatening manner, "I am relentless." In the ensuing months, Pellicano lived up to that image. He called Lurie on his unlisted phone number, bad-mouthed him to his sources, accused him of extortion and threatened him with a "nuisance suit" to block the article's publication. The piece was published without further incident, but the following year, when Lurie was working on another Los Angeles story about tabloid dirty tricks, he again crossed paths with Pellicano. Lurie was told by his assistant that Pellicano had approached him and asked him to spy on Lurie. Although the assistnat said he turned Pellicano down, Lurie remained suspicious.
The next day, he fabricated some notes about the Enquirer and asked the assistant to type them into the computer. Two days later, he got a call from Pellicano, who smugly read to him the very notes he had written. Late last summer, I tracked down the assistant, who admitted in a taped interview that Pellicano had paid him $3,000 for the notes. But Pellicano wanted to be sure he was getting his money's worth. To guarantee the assistant wouldn't try to pass off counterfeit information, Pellicano threatened him. According to the assistant, Pellicano said, "I make a living knowing if somebody's bullshitting me! I can look up a bull's asshole and give you the price of butter." Then, pointing to a blue aluminum baseball bat in the corner of his office, Pellicano told the assistant, "Guys who fuck with me get to meet my buddy over there in the corner."