If you were to believe everything written in the tabloids or celebrity weeklies, you would think that Jennifer Aniston has been pregnant for 15 years, Kim and Kanye are divorcing and renewing their vows on a bi-weekly basis, and Tom Cruise actually wants to be involved in his child’s life. Thankfully, we have Gossip Cop’s Michael Lewittes to keep the record straight.
Co-founded by Lewittes and Dan Abrams in 2009, Gossip Cop exists as a fact-checker to claims made by print and online tabloids. Say Radar reports that Kristen Stewart had a meltdown in a popular L.A. eatery. A staffer at Gossip Cop will contact the restaurant to see if it actually happened.
“[Publicists] almost never come to us,” Lewittes (pronounced “Lew-wit-es,” despite my flubbed introduction) tells Bobby and I on this week’s DirtCast. “And if we go to them, it’s usually as protocol...There’s this weird misconception, mostly by the places that we debunk—they just feel like we call the publicists and it’s over. And that is completely untrue. If the publicists had their way, we wouldn’t be writing 90 percent of these stories. They’d want it to disappear.”
As for the Gossip Cop process, he says, it goes like this: “Call the restaurant, call the set manager of a movie, call the co-star, call the co-star’s manager, call everyone involved in the production and find out as much as you can. Then you reach out to the reps. That’s when we say, ‘Hey, we’ve got X, Y, and Z...True or not true?’ There’s also a social contract that we have with the publicists, which is lie to us and you’re dead to us. And we have the same thing with celebrities.”
Lewittes has a storied career in the celebrity gossip industry. Prior to Gossip Cop, he worked for the New York Daily News, the New York Post, US Weekly (pay attention at about 56 minutes in to hear the surprising origins of “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!”), and as a producer at Access Hollywood and NBC. In fact, it was Lewittes who produced the highly memorable Britney Spears Dateline interview of 2006:
“She asked me beforehand, ‘Is it alright if I chew gum?’ I said, ‘Listen, I’m not your publicist, I’m just a producer here. I wouldn’t suggest it, it doesn’t look good on TV, but I’m not here to change what you do.’”
Of how the interview came about, Lewittes says that Spears requested it after a few months of bad press (this, as you may recall, was the Federline years).
“I said, ‘You got it,’” Lewittes recalls. “Which I didn’t have the authority to grant...and I hung up the phone and went, ‘Oh, boy. I just promised an hour of network television. Now I better make some phone calls to some of the bosses I answer to.’”
Unsurprisingly, the NBC honchos were into it and the results is one of the most fascinating and uncomfortable celebrity interviews of the past twenty years.
Our show is produced by Levi Sharpe with editorial oversight by Kate Dries. Mandana Mofidi is our Executive Director of Audio. Our theme music is by Stuart Wood. This episode was mixed by Brad Fisher. Listen to our politics podcast, Big Time Dicks, here.