Media Minutiae, Fishbowlosity Edition

  • Fast Company, faster losses: Fast Company and Inc. lost a whopping $10 million in 2005. Jon Fine has the scoop, and the cheerfully frank memo from bossman John Koten. [BW]
  • Carl Bernstein is a model of truthiness: Which we knew from Heartburn, anyway. We kid! Interesting stuff from his turn on the Colbert Report, via our Beltway brethren at FishbowlDC. Bonus funny Atlantic post here.[FBDC]
  • Gay Talese thinks a memoirist ought to be held to a high standard of truth and accuracy but his wife is having Nan of it: That pun alone makes this worth linking again. [GC]
  • Heaven’s to Betsy, Lloyd Grove’s a-gonna faint! It’s true, Page Six, the Globe & Mail‘s Simon Houpt did say that “PAGE SIX is the manifest lodestar of the American gossip scene, a daily scorecard and hip-check of power and privilege in this city and occasionally the rest of the U.S.” He also said some, er, other things. Hint: it involves Rob Shuter, and a Lloyd Grove throwdown. Let Fishbowl carry you beyond the frigid Canadian subscription wall; full text after the jump. [NYP]


The Globe & Mail – New York Diary

Extra, extra! Get your true lies here.

By SIMON HOUPT

What a way to start the new year. After the journalistic scandals of 2005 — when, among other incidents, Judith Miller of the New York Times was accused of being too close to her sources Scooter Libby and Ahmad Chalabi — you’d think the newspaper industry could catch a break. But a court case unfolding now in Los Angeles that revolves around another incident of dubious sourcing is rattling one of the few lofty corners of journalism still untainted by scandal: the esteemed gossip column.

Last July, the New York Post’s flagship gossip column Page Six reported that Paris Hilton had been assaulted on the dance floor of the London club Kabaret by Zeta Graff, an occasional actress who also happened to be the jealous ex-girlfriend of Hilton’s then-fiancé, Paris Latsis.

According to the item, Graff was set off by the fact that Hilton was wearing a $4-million (U.S.) necklace loaned to her by Graff’s ex-husband, the scion of a jewellery empire. The Post quoted three unnamed sources on the story, one of whom quipped, “It’s one thing to lose your boyfriend to Paris Hilton — it’s another to find her wearing your family jewels.”

Care to guess who the Post’s “sources” were on the item?

Days later, Graff, who presumably knows her way around a courtroom after winning an estimated $15-million (U.S.) divorce settlement in 2003, hit Hilton with a $10-million slander suit, saying the Post article was entirely fictitious. “None of the . . . statements is supported by even a scintilla of truth,” her lawyers state in court papers, which also allege that Hilton greeted Graff at the club by tapping her on the shoulder and saying: “You’re a . . . bitch. I’m going to destroy you.”

In a deposition given in Los Angeles last month and posted on the website of Court TV, Hilton’s ex-publicist Rob Shuter said the item originated after he received a panicked call from his client on the morning after the alleged incident. Hilton insisted he call Page Six immediately because the news was sure to break in the London papers that weekend and she needed to get out her side of the story. “I think Paris is very media savvy, and I think she knew that the New York Post would have the most impact,” Shuter explained.

That’s a bit of an understatement: Now in its 30th year, Page Six is the manifest lodestar of the American gossip scene, a daily scorecard and hip-check of power and privilege in this city and, occasionally, the rest of the U.S. It is read around the world via the Post website (and its own domain, pagesix.com).

Its items are regularly picked up by hundreds of outlets and translated into many other languages. (That Hilton-Graff item appeared in French, Spanish, Italian, and German.) The column has been edited since 1985 (with a couple of brief breaks) by Richard Johnson, a modern day Walter Winchell who is greatly feared, loathed, and loved in about equal measure.

In the deposition, Shuter pleaded the Nuremberg defence (he was only following orders) and said his participation was limited to taking dictation from Hilton. “I listened carefully, I took notes, and then . . . I called [Richard Johnson],” said Shuter. Johnson apparently did no further reporting: He didn’t attempt to contact Graff, her representatives, or the club for confirmation of what actually went down.

Page Six is rarely anything more than political, social, and financial agendas being nakedly prosecuted: That’s what makes it so much fun. But there’s supposed to be some sort of journalism at work. The Post refused comment when I asked if it was common practice to run comments from an obviously biased source working an angle, attributing them to unnamed and supposedly objective sources. Someone inside the paper who insisted on anonymity (I’d like to say it was three people, but it was only one) told me that, in this particular case, the Page Six team was likely just a little strung out at the end of a long week and didn’t think more reporting was necessary. Besides, the column regularly feeds on — and feeds — boiling resentments, so it’ll often publish an item it hasn’t confirmed and then follow up the next day by giving the other party an item of its own.

This may not be surprising to those who have always dismissed gossip as being little beyond fiction. But even some hardened columnists are at least feigning shock at the news. “I have to tell you,” began Lloyd Grove, one of the gossip columnists at the Daily News and a primary competitor of Page Six, “after reading Mr. Shuter’s deposition, and how he planted this item lock, stock, and barrel in a reputable newspaper, I had to reach for my smelling salts. Call me naive, but yikes!” (He insisted his characterization of the Post as a legitimate newspaper was not ironic.)

The fact is, Page Six is the victim of its own success. Where it once faced little competition, it is now being crushed from all sides in its need for scoops to stay ahead of the pack. Veteran columnists carp about the way gossip has overtaken the rest of journalism, where outlets are always looking for an edge. At the Post, you can find gossip in the business, news, sports, real estate, and entertainment sections, all of which have reporters trafficking in the barely substantiated items that used to be the sole province of Page Six. And it’s not the only newspaper that has gone that route.

It’s a Page Six world. We just live in it.