As we left off last week, our intrepid reporter had decided to take a
trip into the belly-of-the bottom feeder in order to write an expose on
the tabloid industry — both print and television. Employing a
pseudonym, our hero is hired by the big daddy of the tabs, the National
A few days after I’d signed on at The Enquirer, I started working –
under another name — for the rival tabloid — The Star. The dough
wasn’t as good, but I wasn’t there for the money. I was there to find
out how these guys operated. The Star ran the same hustle as the
Enquirer– on a slightly less streamlined level.
So now I was a double agent. Cool.
Why not try for three?
Another call, another line of bull and I was working for The Globe
(decidedly the scummiest of the three major print tabs).
In the beginning, I used a different name at each paper. This was
because of some advice given me by (Lydia) Encinas, a 15-year tabloid
“Just about anything goes in this business,” Encinas told me over
Chinese food. “But one thing you must never do,” she continued in
her thick Venezuelan accent,” is double deal. You must to be
absolutely loyal to the Enquirer.”
During that lunch Encinas said something else that stuck with me:
“Once you’re in (as in, “in TabloidLand”) she whispered conspiratorially
” you never get out.”
I still remember how I felt when she said that.
As regards loyalty … at the very same moment Encinas was doling out
this sage advice, she was re-selling her Enquirer leads — under the
table — to the London tabloids, a highly lucrative market. Along with a
group of other similarly “loyal” tabbies, Encinas had started her own
syndicate. The money — which was considerable — was being laundered
through a phony DBA account.
A week later, I became a quadruple agent, having sold my UFO cult story
to A Current Affair, who hired me as a segment producer. I was given a
parking pass, access to the newsroom, a password to the computer system,
and office space on the Fox Television lot in Hollywood.
The Current Affair crew consisted of Dan Jbara, one of those guys who
insists on wearing sunglasses indoors, Lisa Lew — whose tendency
towards wispy little costumes and lack of undergarments had netted her
the title of Story Supervisor, and Audrey Lavin — the office brat
(every place has one, right?). Next door was Dave Sargeant — a
compulsive rump-licker and the sole staffer at The Reporters … Fox’s
“other” tabloid show. Sargeant’s main role appeared to be to serve as
the butt of jokes and taunts from the Current Affair staff.
My office-mate at Fox was a massively obese woman with a teensy-weensy
voice and a thick Cockney accent named Riva Dryan. Dryan — a ten year
tabloid veteran — offered me my first real glimpse into the underbelly
of the tabloid industry. She ran it down — all the scams, the ruses,
the cons and the hustles. Through Dryan I also got a deeper look at the
psyche of that curious beast called the “tabloid reporter.”
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“None of these people count,” Dryan said as soon as she was out of
earshot of her office mates, “They’re f–kin’ losers, babe. If
you’re smart, you’ll say yes to everything the a–holes tell you to do
… then just go ahead and do exactly what you want! Smile at them and
take their money. That’s what I do,” she giggled.
I never could quite figure out exactly what Dryan’s job was at A Current
Affair. Though she fancied herself to be a producer, she never actually
“produced” anything. Her primary task, it appeared, was to scout
potential one-night-stands for senior producer Wayne Darwen — an
incurable alcoholic Aussie and major cooze hound — whenever he came
It struck me as odd that someone as physically repugnant as Dryan (in
addition to being a fatso, Dryan often refrained from bathing for days
at a time — she also, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone, wore her
pajamas to work) could avail herself of so many great looking women.
That mystery was solved when I learned that Dryan’s best pal was a woman
named Alex Adams (since deceased), better known as Madame Alex — L.A’s
premiere flesh peddler (that is, until Heidi Fleiss stole her rolodex).
At the time I met her, Dryan was being sued by Robert Selleck (father of
actor Tom Selleck) for making up quotes in a story she’d written for The
Globe suggesting that the younger Selleck couldn’t get it up.
“Bloody f–king lawsuits,” Dryan fumed, in between bites of a tuna fish
sandwich (half of which wound up on the front of her shirt). “They’re
such a bloody pain in the arse. It’s one of the reasons I want out of
this s–t business.”
Despite her drawbacks, Dryan was made to order. She had no loyalty to
her employers, she had great sources, and best of all — she loved to
blab. Thus, she became my confidante. Shortly after being hired by Fox,
I revealed to her my true purpose for working at the tabs.
“Ooooh,” she squealed. “I’d looove to help. These a–holes need
to have all their pants pulled down to their f–king ankles in front of
the whole world! Let’s get ‘em!”
And so — for a time — Dryan became my collaborator on a project called
“Snitch”– the expose to end all exposes.
I would be lying through my teeth if I said I’d ever experienced
anything like the world of the tabloids, and as I’m sure you may have
gleaned, I’m a fairly jaded guy. Sure, I’d expected to encounter a
certain amount of sleaze. What I didn’t expect was a world in
which lying, backstabbing, bribery, extortion, blackmail, intimidation,
kickbacks, payoffs, mail theft and mail fraud, tax evasion, wiretapping,
leaking of disinformation, smear campaigns, fabrication of stories,
computer hacking, drug deals, procuring of prostitutes — even murder
for hire — would be de rigueur.
I knew I had a great story. What I didn’t know was that I had embarked
upon a nightmarish journey that would eat up, cancer-like, the next five
years of my life.
It was one long, bad acid trip.
The weird part was, I dug it.
Despite the tabloids’ ability to procure virtually anything they wanted,
there was one piece of information that remained outside their grasp:
how to neutralize a man named Gavin de Becker.
De Becker is a security consultant and threat assessor whose clients
(whom he refuses to name) include the likes of Cher, Dolly Parton,
Madonna, Olivia Newton-John, Michael J. Fox, Oprah Winfrey and a host of
others. In addition to keeping the tabs from getting to his clients, de
Becker had made a mini-career out of humiliating them … feeding them
disinformation, forcing them to run retractions, dragging them into
court, and in general, making them look like the buffoons that they
truly are. The tabs wanted de Becker off their backs in the worst way.
And the way the tabs get someone off their back is to buythem.
One of the reasons I had been hired so readily at the tabs, was that
they learned that I’d been an acquaintance of de Becker’s since 1979,
when I’d profiled him for the Los Angeles Times.
“If you can set up a meeting with de Becker,” Steve Coz said to me one
afternoon, “there’ll be a healthy kickback in it for you.” I got the
same line from Fox TV, who, while I was employed there, attempted to
lure de Becker into the fold by hiring him as a “consultant” on some of
their stories. De Becker wisely demurred.
I am quite sure today that the reason that the tabloid vendetta which
would ensue against me was so incredibly vicious was due — at least in
part — to my relationship with de Becker, whom the tabloids hated like
Tabloid people are the biggest bunch of paranoiacs in the world. It’s
quite clear that they believed that de Becker and I were part of a
conspiracy (their terminology, not mine) to have them indicted on
federal racketeering charges. In fact, at one point, the tabloids were
convinced that I was a fed. I know … because I sent a bogus fax to one
of their snitches. The fax read:
BEWARE OF GOLDMAN. HE IS A FEDERAL AGENT.
I’d always been a sucker for a good prank. That particular one would
cost me … bigtime.
In September of 1989, I was hired as a staff producer by a new TV show
being produced on the Paramount lot. It was called Tabloid. It later
changed its name to Hard Copy.
New faces. Same shtick. Where the favored drug of choice at Fox was
alcohol, at Hard Copy it was coke. And sex. Everybody at Hard Copy was
screwing everybody else. In every sense of the word.
After I’d signed on at Hard Copy, I called Dryan. She said she was happy
for me. “Good luck,” she chirped. But I could tell she was PO’d.
I was right. When I got home there was a long blistering message on my
machine. “You know what?” Dryan seethed. “You are a f–king c–ksucking
traitor … and you can go F–K YOURSELF UP THE ARSE!”
Ah well. One writing partner bites the dust.
Unlike the staffers at A Current Affair — who had absolutely no idea
what they were doing — the Hard Copy crew were actually pros. The three
main suits — Mark Monsky, John Parsons and Linda Bell Blue — had all
worked network news prior to jumping onboard the tabloid bandwagon.
Senior producer Doug Bruckner (a man fond of wearing trench coats, and
whose overly enunciated style of reportage often found huge gobs of
spittle flying from his mouth) had previously been an on-air reporter at
CBS. Given that background, I figured maybe there’d be at least a
modicum of ethics at the show.
In fact, things were even worse. Anything and everything was kosher.
Stories aired that were never fact checked. Bogus stories. People who
were told they’d get anonymity, or appear in disguise, were identified
on screen. Employees were forced to doctor their time-cards (so
Paramount wouldn’t have to pay overtime). Hookers were sent out to
procure information from various interview subjects. When they were
done, they serviced the honchos upstairs.
Hard Copy wanted to beat A Current Affair in the ratings in the worst
way and they didn’t care what it took to do it. There were nonstop
efforts to sabotage A Current Affair’s stories. Of course, A Current
Affair was doing the same thing to them.
One day, my supervisor– an obnoxious little geek named Tom Colbert –
called me into his cubicle. “Stu, I need to tell you something,” he
intoned, sucking on a pencil. “Certain people here think you’re a spy
for Fox TV.”
It was everything I could do to keep a straight face. After all, who
could take a guy seriously who wears plaid pants?
“A spy?!” I blanched. “Jesus, Tom, you’ve got to be kidding! How could
you even suggest such a thing?”
“Well,” Colbert said, “I just wanted you to know what people are
saying. After all, that’s my job.”
Actually, Colbert’s job was to snitch off the underlings to the big boys
upstairs. He performed his gig with great relish. As a result, everybody
downstairs hated his guts. Besides being a snitch, Colbert — who loved
to preach loyalty amongst his troops — was selling Hard Copy leads
(under-the-table to) the Enquirer.
I know. I set him up with his contact. Her name was Lydia Encinas.
When I got back to my cubicle, I literally fell on the floor, howling
with laughter until my sides ached. Of course I’m a spy, you
pathetic, plaid pants wearing pansy… but not for A Current Affair!
What was even more amusing was that Colbert was undoubtedly unaware that
only a day earlier, Bell and Parsons had called me into their offices.
“We’re very interested in obtaining the Current Affair story rundown,”
Bell said, avoiding eye contact. “We understand you may have, ah …
access,” she continued.
“We’re not suggesting you do anything, mind you,” Parsons added,
sotto voice, “but we know you have contacts at Fox, and, well … if you
can help us, ah … determine what stories they’re working on, we’d be
very … indebted to you.”
The moment I exited their offices, I headed directly for the bathroom. I
had a mini-tape recorder stashed in my pocket, but I hadn’t changed the
batteries for awhile. After I’d locked the bathroom door, I pulled out
the recorder and, crossing my fingers, flipped the “on” switch.
Parsons’ and Bell’s statements sounded like music as they echoed off the
‘”Gotcha, suckers,” I said to myself.
Everything was going smoothly. I now had gigs at virtually every major
tabloid, both print and television (I’d recently been hired by Inside
Edition to produce a segment on a gang killing). Maybe they suspected
me, but so far, nobody had busted my chops. Everything was cool.
Or so I thought.
Stay tuned for the next installment, wherein or hero is arrested by
gun-wielding cops and Secret Service agents (wearing bad wigs). If you
can’t wait, and absolutely must have the entire “Spy Vs. Spies”
story now, click here. Also be
sure and visit the “Spy Vs. Spies” section on The Tongue to find out the latest info on
“Spy Vs. Spies,” the forthcoming feature film from director Oliver