Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
It’s always been an ugly word. But I’m not going to try to make this
thing prettier by calling myself a spy, or even an investigative
reporter … though that’s what I was when it all started. In the end,
though, I got down in the muck and rolled around with the rest of the
pigs and the scumbags and the greedheads.
A wee bit of background: Between 1975 and 1989 — when I embarked upon
an expose of the tabloid industry — I had a, well — rather varied
career as a journalist. I’d been a syndicated columnist and a
critic at two major daily papers (the Los Angeles Times and
theDaily News). I’d been a book editor and I’d sold
On the other end of the spectrum, I’d been an editor at Inside Kung
Fu, Hustler, and the short-lived but delightful G.L.O.W.
(Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling) , a gig that will forever remain near
and dear to my heart.
But it wasn’t until I started doing investigative reporting that I found
my niche. Maybe I’d always been a frustrated gumshoe … I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, I loved it; more importantly, I was goodat
My modus operandi was adopting a bogus identity and infiltrating various
organizations. I had used this technique to do pieces on an assortment
of scammers, cults and con artists. I even had the pleasure of seeing a
couple of them (Frederick Lenz ,who at the time called himself Zen
Master Rama, and an ex-motivational speaker who’d reincarnated as
“Reverend” Terry Cole-Whittaker) go down in flames as a result of
articles I’d written. In 1988, I spent six months posing as someone
who’d believed they’d been abducted by aliens in order to write an
expose of a UFO cult. When the UFO gig ended, I was burnt. Serious
de-tox time was in order.
It was not to be. Standing in the checkout line at the supermarket,
something caught my eye.
CRAZED FAN CUTS OFF EAR AND SENDS IT TO CHER!, the tabloid headline
screamed at me.
I picked up the paper. I’d grown up on Confidential and
Uncensored and frankly, I’d always kind of dug the hustle.
Who writes this stuff? I wondered. Do they make it up, or is it
It took about half a second for the proverbial light-bulb to flash.
I had my next gig: an undercover investigation of the tabloid industry.
Using the pseudonym T.L.Wilsher, I made a call to the headquarters of
the National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida. Two days later I
found myself in their L.A. office sitting across the desk from a guy in
a loud yellow Hawaiian shirt named Steve Coz.
Coz got right to the bottom line. “How good are your sources?” he
“Excellent” I said. I could feel the guy looking through me.
“We pay $150 a day,” Coz said after a long pause. “If you come up with a
lead that makes the cover, it’s $1500. Our top people make six figures a
“I’m your man,” I said, standing up.
We shook hands.
I still remember the feel of his hand. It was clammy.
And just like that, I was in. No questions, no background check (or so I
thought) no nada.
My office mates at the Enquirer were John I. Jones, a burnt out old
computer hacker with no thumbs, Neil Hitchens, a “well-connected fag”
(as Coz described him) whose car trunk was filled with disguises which
he’d don when sneaking into various events, and Lydia Encinas, a short
squat Venezuelan woman with a Bob Dylan nose and a foof of bleached
blond hair. Kim, the secretary, had a great set of hooters and a brain
approximately the size of a leseur pea.
My first gig at the Enquirer was to locate a woman named Virginia Moore,
who happened to be the mother of Demi Moore. Encinas gave me a couple of
leads and told me to hit the streets.
I tracked Moore down to an address in Studio City, but when I got there,
it was one of those zillion unit condo jobs. It would take me days to
locate the particular unit.
A $20 bill to the girl behind the front desk did the trick. Once I’d
made the apartment, I used a reverse directory to obtain Moore’s phone
number. It was listed under the name Virginia Guynes.
I dialed. A moment later a female voice answered.
Long pause. “Uh, no,” said a shaky voice, “this isn’t Virginia. This is,
unnnh … her roommate. Virginia’s on vacation. I don’t know when she’ll
I thanked her and hung up.
“I got her!” I said, when I reached Encinas at the Enquirer offices.
“She was pretending to be her ‘roommate.'”
“Good job!” Encinas crowed. “This bimbo is a real mess (Encinas’
favorite term). We’re going to nail this bitch … and good.”
A week later the story came out. The photo that ran with the piece
showed a haggard, pathetic looking woman who looked far older than her
40-something years. The article detailed a history of arrests, multiple
marriages, and an assortment of other humiliations. I felt a twinge of
guilt for the part I’d played in plastering the poor woman’s life across
the pages of the nation’s top selling paper, but I pushed it away.
Two weeks later I got a paycheck in the mail. It was a very fat check,
considering that I’d spent two hours max locating Moore. What was even
more amazing than the size of the check, however, was the check stub. It
read: DEMI MOORE’S MOM IS A DRUG USER, BIGAMIST, JAILBIRD AND DEADBEAT!!
I couldn’t believe it. Not only did the Enquirer libel the poor woman
in their pages, they libeled her again right on the check stub!
Didn’t these guys have any shame?
A short disclaimer: I have no particular love for that most
reprehensible species of (sub)human known as the celebrity. When it push
comes to shove, I think they deserve whatever they get — whether that
means having their dirty laundry aired in the pages of some smarmy
gossip rag, or having a bunch of geeks snap photos of you while you
perform a spastic, humiliating death dance on the sidewalk in front of
Johnny Depp’s nightclub from an overdose of smack. Sorry, I know it’s
crummy, but that’s how I feel.
I can however, muster up some sympathy for the parent of a
celeb, who is, after all, essentially an innocent party to the
shenanigans of their morally reprobate and pathologically narcissistic
In the beginning, I got the grunt work — the stakeouts, the follow home
jobs. I surveilled the homes of Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone,
Justine Bateman, Chuck Norris, Tom Hanks, Michael Jackson, Axl Rose,
Magic Johnson, Liberace, Arsenio Hall, Sandra Dee, Ed McMahon, Emma
Samms (whoever that is), Sammy Davis Jr. and Lisa Marie Presley.
I hung out in dank hospital hallways holding the standard tabloid prop
(a bouquet of flowers), hoping to ID Marlon Brando (after an alleged
vasectomy) and Ringo Starr — who was drying out after a severe coke
One afternoon I tailed Roseanne Barr and her lesbian sister from Art’s
Deli back to Barr’s Benedict Canyon hideaway. My orders were not to
leave the location no matter what. I had to relieve my poor aching
bladder in an empty coke can (no bushes available) and spend the night
in my car, where I froze my tail off. I passed the time by playing the
only tape I had (The Monkees Greatest Hits) until it finally busted.
It didn’t take me long to convince my editors I had a higher calling
than stakeouts. My forte was “social engineering”
— better known as
telephone spoofing. (For the uninitiated, that means pretending to be
someone you’re not in order to obtain information). I was highly skilled
in this area.
One thing I’d always wondered was how the tabs got the dirt on their
victims. You didn’t get the really good stuff through spoofing. I’m
talking about things like credit records, sealed court documents,
private hospital records, unlisted phone numbers, the balance in
someone’s bank account, the contents of their safety deposit boxes, and
the messages on their answering machine.
So how do the tabloids get this stuff?
They steal it, of course.
Naturally, the tabs are not dumb enough to do this themselves. So they
pay other people to do it for them. We’re talking Scumbag City here:
sleazoid PI’s, ex-cops, shyster lawyers, skip tracers, hackers and
information brokers. Scufflers and lowlifes willing to grease the right
palm, access that unauthorized database … whatever it takes.
Then there are the (so-called) “sources.”
“The tabloids have a more powerful network of informants than the FBI
… or any other government agency for that matter,” one ex-tabloid
reporter told me.
That was no exaggeration. The tabloids had snitches (colloquially called
“sources”) in virtually every major film and TV studio, record company,
literary and PR agency, law firm, court house, bank, police department,
social security office, DMV, hospital — you name it. In addition, there
are a host of masseuses, bodyguards, hairdressers, bartenders,
gardeners, limo drivers, agents, friends, neighbors relatives and lovers
— people who regularly peddle dirt for bucks. The result is a national
intelligence network which is capable of gaining access to virtually any
piece of information it desires.
Another question that’d always bugged me before I embarked upon my
little adventure into the Land Of The Bottom Feeder was … just who
wrote these stories with the wonderful attention-grabbing headlines that
we gobbled up each week?
Just who were tabloid reporters, anyway?
Remember those kids back in high school? The ones that hung out way in
the back of the lunch area by the fountain where the water was always
too hot? The ones that had big sweat rings under their arms … the fat
girls with mustaches and the scrawny little guys that always had big
green globs of gunk hanging out of the corner of their eye?
Right, The misfits. Well, they all grew up and became tabloid
Tabloid reporters are by and large extremely ugly. Many of them have bad
teeth. They often smell oddly sour. Tabloid reporters include a high
percentage of alcoholics, drug addicts and sexual deviants of every
stripe. They tend towards paranoia, megalomania, and have extremely low
self-esteem. They are cowards of the lowest order. But the most
important thing you should know about tabloid reporters is that they are
mean little people. They are full of jealousy and hate. Which is why
they’re so good at what they do.
The tabloids have only one mission in life: to trash people. To ruin
reputations. To smear, to injure, to maim, to damage, and to destroy.
That is their purpose and that is their stock-in-trade. In between the
articles on Oprah’s latest diet or the guy that’s still alive despite
the fact he’s got a bullet embedded in his brain, what the tabloids do
— and they do it better than anybody in the world — is to knock the
high and mighty off their pedestals. They do it so that their reader —
the little guy with the lousy nine-to-five gig living in the crummy
tract house in Reseda — when he reads that Liz Taylor is in drug rehab
or that Tom Cruise just got caught humping his houseboy — can say to
himself: Hey, their lives are messed up too … just like mine!
Yes, the tabloids are the Great Equalizer.
In addition to finding out how the tabs got dirt on the people, I
finally got the answer to another question that’d always puzzled me: how
do the tabloids get those incredible quotes that make up 90% of their
I was supposed to write a piece about — of all things — how Buck Owens
was (allegedly) engaged in a threesome with two of his backup singers.
(Now that would make a helluva country song!)
I banged out a draft and handed it to Encinas.
“This is no good,” she said, tossing the pages back at me. “When you
write for the Enquirer your story has to be all quotes.”
“Where am I going to get somebody to give me quotes on this!” I
Encinas quit typing and looked at me as if I were a moron. “Just make
them up,” she replied.
Which is exactly what I did.
Editors note: this story will be continued in installments — on an
irregular basis — in this column. If you don’t want to wait. and wish to
obtain the complete article now — please click here.