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The Strip Sense

[The Strip Sense]

Perez is Burning

My personal screed against America’s celebrity blogger

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Illustration: Colleen Wang

In my line of work, I meet and interview a lot of famous people. Because of the wide scope of my interests, they have included presidents, movie stars, controversial figures in the news, convicted felons and CEOs of major corporations. I am usually struck by how much nicer and more humble they are in private than I would ever expect them to be.

Rare is it that a famous person is about as much of a jerk as you might expect, but such was the case in January 2007 when I arranged the first public appearance in Las Vegas for uber-gossip blogger Perez Hilton, aka Mario Lavandeira. He appeared on a panel of celebrity journalists at the Palms that included the Review-Journal’s Norm Clarke, LuxeLife blogger Robin Leach and Vegas magazine’s Kate Bennett. His overall demeanor was so condescending, so arrogant, so rude that it just made me sorry I was helping glorify him.

I bring this up now, lo these many months later, because Lavandeira has not only blatantly done me wrong but also exposed himself and his questionable methods in a rare and unique way in the process. And nothing gives me more pleasure than showing the world when an asshole is a fraud.

In late April, I attended a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring Cher and Tina Turner at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The news out of that event, which I would go on to write for USA Today, was that Turner would be going back on tour starting this October. Within an hour of the taping, though, I had posted an item on my blog about the Oprah taping in which I described Turner’s account of how she decided to return to the stage.

I wrote: “Tina’s going on tour having been prodded, she said, by Sophia Loren to stop lolling about her Swiss home and go back to work.”

By the next day, there was an item on Tina’s tour on PerezHilton.com, which, if you’re unaware, gets more daily traffic than the Los Angeles Times’ website. That Lavandeira had the story was no biggie; there were 4,000 people in the audience, and I wasn’t the only blogger who covered it.

Yet this sentence startled me: “The 68-year-old legend says that Sophia Loren told her to stop ‘lolling about her Swiss home and get back to work.’”

He put that unique phrase—my unique phrase—in quotes. He did not, as would have been courteous, indicate the source of his information or at least provide a link to the source material. So I wrote him an e-mail asking for the credit and waited a day. Nothing.

By the next day, I blogged about Lavandeira’s theft. And from that, several journalists started taking interest in the matter, including Clarke and LA Times blogger Richard Abowitz, also a Las Vegas Weekly columnist. And finally, upon receiving Abowitz’s e-mail, Lavandeira did write me back.

When he did, he said a reader sent him the item “as their own.” He referred to it as “desperate and pathetic” of me to have contacted Abowitz, and said that I ought to “be careful what you say, making false accusations.”

He also then forwarded me the original e-mail he had received from said reader, blocking out the e-mail address because “it’s none of your business who my sources are.”

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Except Lavandeira didn’t block all the instances of his source. Oops. And his “source” turned out to be a fellow named Drew Mullins, who a little Google work showed is an out-of-work actor in Canada whose claim to fame was appearing in a Nickelback video two years ago.

I contacted Mullins, who explained that he hadn’t plagiarized, he had just sent Lavandeira a copy of something that had been posted by one of his friends on a popular Tina Turner list-serv.

And Lavandeira just threw it right up there. These are his “sources.” Lavandeira then scolded me for my journalistic dereliction for outing his “source,” which was a comment so rich in irony I wrote back a few unkind things myself.

It got better, though. Because a day later, Clarke ran an item about the feud between me and Lavandeira. And after that, Lavandeira wrote Clarke a nasty note telling Clarke he’s “dead to me” and complaining about not getting a chance to respond. Clarke had quoted from Lavandeira’s note to me calling me “desperate and pathetic,” and my e-mailed response to Lavandeira that “it is neither desperate nor pathetic to seek proper credit for one’s work.”

Why does any of this matter? Because Lavandeira’s audience is frighteningly, influentially large. And when I attempted to get other gossip websites to pick up the story, I learned that they were afraid of being blacklisted by Lavandeira. The mainstream media couldn’t be bothered much, because, as one editor wrote me, “it’s not a surprise that Perez Hilton operates with substandard journalistic principles.”

So let’s go back to the beginning here. When Lavandeira sat on that panel back in January 2007, I quizzed him on his sources. Who are they?

“It’s everyone,” he said. “I can’t just put up some random thing that some random reader sent me because I really hold myself to a journalistic standard.”

That’s really very funny, of course, because that’s exactly what he did in this case. And, no doubt, in countless others.

Lavandeira was so livid over all of this that he wrote me another angry e-mail telling me how transparent I was in seeking attention through this incident.

I wrote back: “A fame-seeker such as you calling anyone transparent is funny. You’re successful and popular and wealthy, but you did it by mistreating people, and you know in your heart of hearts you’re a joke. There actually are people for whom the price of fame is just too soul-crushingly high. But not you!”

He didn’t respond. He was probably too busy copying other journalists’ work and calling it his own.

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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