Last week, the New York Daily News reported that Jared Paul Stern, a contributor to the New York Post‘s "Page Six," the city’s preeminent gossip column, had been caught on tape by the FBI trying to extort money from California supermarket magnate Ron Burkle in exchange for favorable treatment in the column. Below, five gossip columnists discuss the future of "Page Six," and impart their advice on how to deal with sex scandals.
Lloyd Grove, age withheld
Lloyd Grove has written the "Lloyd Grove’s Lowdown" gossip column for the New York Daily News since 2003. A former Washington insider, he was the first person to report Gwyneth Paltrow’s pregnancy (based on her breast size) last year, and in December 2004, he famously banned Paris Hilton from his page, citing her "terrifying campaign for world domination."
I’m a prominent magazine editor and a gossip columnist has some dirt on me. He says he’ll print it unless I sleep with him. I really don’t want my laundry aired. Do I do what he wants?
Looks like this is your lucky day, because said gossip columnist — you don’t mean me, do you? — has given you a whole dry-cleaning store of his own to air. No, don’t yield to this creep’s nefarious demands. Instead, leak the whole story to a rival gossip. Throw chum in the water and sit back and enjoy the feeding frenzy.
The Daily News‘ coverage of the "Page Six" fiasco is all in the hard news section, not the gossip pages. Is there an unwritten code that says gossip columnists don’t write about other gossip columnists?
No code, unwritten or otherwise, prevents me from writing about my competitors, or they about me. In this case, I think the judgment was made that the Page Six scandal is an important and serious story and belongs in the news section.
Anything a person should never gossip about, no exceptions?
There is no line. Once you gossip, you’re already on the dark side, if you believe numerous religious authorities. The rest is hairsplitting. Personally, I think gossip is the glue that holds us together as a society. It shows that we care about one another even if our empathy is not immediately apparent.
How about outing someone: legitimate gossip or off limits?
Call me old school, but I don’t do that. Creeps me out. Unless there’s a compelling reason to make it public — an amateur porn video, for instance — I think sexuality is a "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" kind of thing.
I’m a C-list celebrity and I want my sex life written about in the gossip columns. How can I get it noticed?
Get somebody else’s publicist to call in with a lurid anecdote, then have your publicist confirm it off the record, followed by an official "We don’t comment about our clients’ private lives."
What’s the best way to pick up a gossip columnist?
Be charming, smart, funny, nice and beautiful, and I’ll try not to be rude and obnoxious.
Does being a gossip columnist hurt or help your sex life?
What sex life?
Ian Spiegelman, 32
Ian Spiegelman worked as a reporter for "Page Six" from 1999 to 2000, and again from 2001 to 2004. His forthcoming novel, Welcome to Yesterday (Miramax Books), is about a tabloid scandalmonger. His first novel, Everyone’s Burning, was released in 2003.
What should ordinary people never gossip about?
Each other’s sex lives. I don’t think it’s wrong for a professional to do it about a celebrity, but when you’re just talking about everyday people, talking about their bedroom antics behind their backs, you shouldn’t talk specifics. You want to know when you’re alone in a bedroom, that it’s just the two of you.
I’m a C-list celebrity and I want to get my sex life written about in the gossip columns. How do I do that?
If you’re a girl, make out with another girl. If you’re a guy, don’t bother, because if you’re C-list we’re not interested in your sex life. Unless you fuck upwards. If you date a B-list or an A-list celebrity female, then you’re gold. That’s happening more and more.
Like David Spade reportedly dating Heather Locklear.
I find that almost impossible to believe. But David Spade has dated a lot of incredibly hot women, so you never know.
Maybe Benchwarmers pushed him onto the A-list.
Yeah. Now he’s hanging out with that dude from Napoleon Dynamite. He’s a real hottie now.
So if I’m a celebrity, and a gossip columnist tries to pull Jared Paul Stern’s alleged extortion scheme with me, except he wants sex instead of cash, what should I do?
Well, don’t sleep with him. That’s just going to be one more thing he has against you. Try to get him to repeat the proposition on tape and have him arrested.
Can you bargain with a gossip columnist? How can a celebrity get an item killed?
You can get them on the phone and try to negotiate something. If a celebrity ever calls you themselves, it’s really hard to write something mean about them. Even if you don’t kill the story, if they call you up and say funny things, you’ll write about that instead of the initial accusation.
Say I’m a celebrity who’s unmarried and pregnant. I’m not supposed to marry my boyfriend for another six months. Should I try to somehow hide the pregnancy?
You’d better just get married. Or why even keep it a secret? Who cares? So you’re pregnant.
Really? Are shotgun marriages no longer scandalous?
Not unless it’s Katie and Tom, in which case it’s evil and he kidnapped America’s sweetheart and should be sent to prison for a long, long time.
There’s a lot of hostility toward that couple.
It’s hostility toward him. He breeds hostility. He says and does crazy things. He’s a serial publicity hound with all of his wives.
Star magazine reported that Katie Holmes will suck on a silencing pacifier while she gives birth because Scientology says so.
Who knows what goes on in Scientology. It seems screwed up to me, and yet there are some Scientologists who seem pretty cool, like Danny Masterson. But I think if you’re gagging a woman’s mouth while she’s trying to give birth, that’s not such a good thing. But then, I’m not a doctor.
Was Scientology big tabloid fodder when you were at "Page Six," or is that a recent phenomenon?
It’s been big as long as I’ve been working. You know not to fuck with them.
Is outing someone legitimate gossip or off limits?
To straight-up out someone based on nothing isn’t legitmate, but it’s totally fair to report on something that happens in public. If you’re a starlet and you’re making out with a girl at a bar, it’s really cool and it’s good press and you shouldn’t even try to hide it.
What should one never do if they want to stay out of the gossip columns?
Leave their apartment. Look, you could be a celebrity who never cheats on his wife, who never solicits sex from an extra, who never stiffs a waiter. And then one day you go and yell at your assistant, and that’s it. It’s practically impossible to stay out of the gossip pages. The person who came closest was Matthew Broderick.
Why Matthew Broderick?
It’s hard to attack Ferris Bueller.
Will becoming a gossip columnist help me get laid?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. We date publicists and we date other writers. Very rarely do any of us get contact with another celebrity sexually. The closest I ever came was when Alicia Silverstone beat me with her shoe because I made fun of her for wearing leather stilettos when she’s a vegan.
That’s not bad.
It was pretty cool. I went home and watched Clueless in five-minute intervals after that.
Would becoming a gossip columnist help or hurt my sex life?
It’ll make you paranoid. Not that people should write about you, but for some reason they do, and then you’re afraid to be in a bedroom with anyone because you don’t want them calling Gawker or the Daily News and saying, "He did all sorts of sick and venal things." You can’t have any fun if you can’t be sick and venal.
Deborah Schoeneman, 28
Deborah Schoeneman has worked in gossip since 1999 at the New York Observer, the New York Post and New York magazine, where she remains a contributing editor. Her first novel, 4% Famous, which follows the lives of three Manhattan gossip columnists, will be released next month.
Did Ron Burkle orchestrate this "Page Six" debacle?
I think Burkle knew what he was doing. He set up the sting. I think he wanted to find immunity in "Page Six" any way he could, and Jared might have been the weakest link. But if he baited him, it still doesn’t make this okay. Jared still said what he said.
How did Stern think he could get away with this? Even I know that a billionaire would have the resources to catch me.
I think there’s the power trip of "Page Six." They begin to think of themselves as celebrities or as indestructible or protected. It’s at the top of the celebrity journalism game, which is a dirty game to begin with. I was surprised it was so over the table. It’s one thing for Harvey Weinstein to give a "Page Six" reporter a book deal. That assures him some favorable treatment. But this was like, "Write me a check." I’m surprised at the brazenness of it.
Will it affect "Page Six" in the long-term?
I think it depends on how much the FBI gets involved. If they’re going to go through all their computers and research everyone on "Page Six," it’s going to delineate between what’s routine and what’s a breach of ethics. I think "Page Six" is pretty indestructible. I don’t anticipate a "Page Six" shakeup.
I almost feel bad for Richard Johnson. He’s on his honeymoon.
I feel bad. Richard is a consummate professional. But maybe it’s karmic. They’ve ruined plenty of people’s special occasions.
So if a gossip columnist was trying to extort me, but instead of money he wanted sex, do I give it to him?
It might give you protection. On the other hand, they might tell everyone because they’re gossips. It’s kind of a no-win situation. The best thing to do is leave it so they think you’ll sleep with them but never actually do it.
I’m a pregnant celebrity and my marriage isn’t for six more months. Should I try to keep the pregnancy a secret?
Pregnancy before three months is something we don’t write about, because that’s when you could still lose the baby. But I remember there was this thing about how Mort Zuckerman’s wife was pregnant, and New York magazine knew, and Mort was like, "Don’t print it, even my mother doesn’t know." And it ended up in Liz Smith the next day.
I’m a C-list celebrity who wants to get into the gossip pages. What should I do?
A lot of modeling bookers send in the tips to Page Six about their clients’ dating lives, so go out with a model who’s represented by a big agency. Or go out with somebody who has a publicist, or hire one yourself.
It’s funny to read about A-list celebrities who are dating C-list celebrities. I always wonder what it’s like for the lesser celebrity in that situation.
I think a lot of celebrities marry or date people who aren’t celebrities at all, because it’s hard to have two celebrities in a relationship. In the dynamics of any relationship, you alternate between who’s the star and who’s the support network.
As a gossip columnist, do people find you glamorous and want to sleep with you?
I think the wrong type of people want to sleep with you. My current boyfriend asked me if Soho House was in Soho. Someone told him he looked like Marc Jacobs and he said, "Who’s Marc Jacobs?" These are the things that I love about him. A friend of mine, she married her husband and said she loved that he didn’t know who Patrick McMullan was. That was one of her barometers. The people in the best relationships, particularly the women I know, are with guys who have no clue about any of this stuff.
Have you ever slept with someone you’ve written about?
Yes, but not at the same time I was writing about them.
What are the ethics of sleeping with someone for information?
It’s not so much about sleeping with someone for a story, but at certain times, ex-boyfriends have come in handy for someone’s phone number or a tip. But not about them.
How can I bag a gossip columnist?
Free food. Or bring them to some really cool party that they weren’t invited to.
How can I land a celebrity?
They need lots of attention. Hang out with them and just act like you like them a lot, because at the end of the day, they just want to be liked by everyone.
Lesley Abravanel, 33
Lesley Abravanel is the gossip columnist for the Miami Herald. She is a contributor to many magazines, including Black Book, Paper and Conde Nast Traveler.
Last week you reported that Paris Hilton and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had a fling. You started suspecting as much last year when someone hacked Paris’s mobile phonebook. They posted it online and Newsom’s number was in there.
I seem to be the only person on the planet who paid attention to that. We all perused her list of celebrities [when that hack occurred], and everyone was all excited about Wilmer Valderrama. Who cares about Wilmer Valderrama? I’m seeing Gavin Newsom, and I know he’s breaking up with his wife. I’m screaming, "Why is no one else seeing this?"
I have good sources in San Francisco, and one came to me the other day and said, "I have someone on the inside who says [Hilton and Newsom] definitely had a fling." I mean, she’s got the mayor of San Francisco’s phone number and email on her Sidekick. She’s not into politics. Please.
I’m a public figure and there’s a gossip columnist who has some dirt on me. He says he’ll print it unless I sleep with him. Do I do it?
Sure. Sex is cheaper than money. Go nuts.
A gossip columnist called and said he has photos of me canoodling with a woman other than my wife at a party, but it wasn’t me. How should I handle this?
I had a scenario like that. This famous athlete in Miami — not Shaq — was at an event on South Beach. The guys I was with said, "That’s that athlete, but that’s not his wife he’s with." So the next day I write about it. A few hours later, my editor calls me saying the athlete called the paper screaming that it wasn’t him at the party. Then I get an email from the wife’s best friend bitching me out, saying it wasn’t him, he wasn’t out last night, his wife is having a baby. I freaked out a little bit. I end up on conference call with the athlete and his lawyer. My response was, this guy doth protest too much. I’m sticking by my story.
So what should he have done instead?
All in all, he was out there with someone who wasn’t his wife. Instead of saying, "Oh, it was my cousin, it was my sister," he kept saying it wasn’t him at all. Don’t go to a public event and then deny you were there.
Why would someone do that in public? Do these people want to get caught?
That’s what I thought. I thought, maybe he’s having problems with his wife and wanted her to know, "I don’t care that you’re pregnant, I’m going out with another chick." I think they’re very manipulative, celebrities. And when they start crying and screaming afterward, pulling a Tom Cruise and trying to sue everyone, that only makes them look more moronic.
I’m thinking about becoming a gossip columnist. Will it help or hurt my sex life?
Well, I’m getting married this weekend, but before I was with him I would say it hindered my sex life. Everyone’s so egomaniacal, they think you’re going to write about them.
Did any of these people you slept with think you’d write about them because they’re worthy of being written about?
Most of them weren’t. Now, this is the case for female gossip columnists. I’d say male gossip columnists have better luck. I think guys are intimidated by girls with big mouths.
David Hauslaib, 22
David Hauslaib is the editor and publisher of Jossip, a Manhattan-based media- and celebrity-gossip blog.
A gossip columnist is trying to extort me, but he wants sex instead of money. Should I sleep with him?
The first question is whether the gossip is cute enough that you’d sleep with him anyway. If the answer is yes, as it would be in the case of, say, Chris Rovzar [of the Daily News], it’s safe to say you won’t be violating any ethical boundaries by teabagging him. You’re merely fulfilling a fantasy that you just made up. If the gossipist ain’t so hot, you’ll need to consider whether it’s worth the morning commuter not learning about your diaper fetish.
Is outing someone legitimate gossip or off limits?
You’re probably doing him a favor if you out him, but that’s not really your call. My policy on outing someone is linked to whether the person has an anti-gay stance, especially if she influences public policy. Since Queen Latifah isn’t going to impact my ability to get gay-married, I’ll probably stick to lewd references about her having her birthday party at a place called Snatch.
How can I keep a pregnancy a secret even when I start showing?
Hire Leslie Sloane Zelnick. That woman can spin anything. Showing a bump? Leslie will wave that away as post-workout bloating. Morning sickness becomes "exhaustion." Inhaling Patron at an afterparty becomes drinking water with lemon.
I’m a C-list celebrity who wants to get my sex life written about in the gossip columns. How can I get it noticed?
The general progression for such a proposition is, 1) get spotted tonguing Bam Margera at Bungalow 8 (though any B-lister that’s semi-attached will do); 2) let everyone see Wilmer Valderrama’s hand up your skirt at Mood; 3) fuck a gossip columnist at one newspaper, and the other is sure to report it.
Is withholding sex an ethical method of extracting information from a lover?
Withholding sex isn’t just ethically sound, it’s encouraged. The couple that gossips together stays together. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever withheld sex for a story, but only because a source is always more willing to talk post-coital.
How can I pick up a gossip columnist? Are people intimidated by you?
Gossips are normal folks just like you and the next celebrity whore. They just get more gift bags. There’s no reason to be intimidated. Hit on a gossipist the same way you would anyone else at a club: put your tits on the bar and offer a blowjob.
Will becoming a gossip columnist help or hurt my sex life?
Help. You’ll have your pickings from a bevy of model types, should you so choose, but they’ll be looking for some editorial cunnilingus in return.
Ever sleep with someone you wrote about?
Ever sleep with a source?
Let’s just say they were my lovers before they were my leakers. I’m not Judith Miller.
I want to fuck a celebrity, but I’m just a nobody. What’s my best course of action?
That’s your appeal, baby. There will come a day when Jessica Simpson tires of sleeping with just Hollywood’s bargain-basement types. If you’re more Kevin Federline than Guy Ritchie, okay, you might have a problem. But otherwise, there’s a reason Nick Lachey sleeps with college co-eds. They’re easy. So should you be.