Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip

Overview

Love it or hate it, create it or repeat it, America is obsessed with gossip. Here is a fascinating look at five decades of dish: a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the personalities that control what we read and see; the unholy and unchanging trinity of celebrity, publicist and reporter that has stoked the American appetite for gossip from the salad days of silver-screen magazines to the instantaneous communication of the scoop-filled Internet.

Insider Jeannette Walls delivers a ...

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Overview

Love it or hate it, create it or repeat it, America is obsessed with gossip. Here is a fascinating look at five decades of dish: a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the personalities that control what we read and see; the unholy and unchanging trinity of celebrity, publicist and reporter that has stoked the American appetite for gossip from the salad days of silver-screen magazines to the instantaneous communication of the scoop-filled Internet.

Insider Jeannette Walls delivers a tantalizing tell-all that features not only gossip itself, but its history, its movers and shakers (including quite a few tony Ivy Leaguers), high and low points, and the watershed events and personalities—like Elvis, Diana, Michael Jackson and O. J.—that altered it forever. Here is the famous formula for People, the astonishing magazine that began amid sneers and snipes but went on to become one of the publishing industry's greatest success stories. Here too is the incredible truth behind explosive material that didn't see the light of day.

From the humble beginnings of the National Enquirer, aided by the avuncular beneficence of crime kingpin Joe Costello, to the lurid Hollywood trial of Confidential magazine, where the "libeled" stars were proved more guilty than not of the salacious episodes the publication revealed, Jeannette Walls expertly traces the formation and development of the hush-hush industry. She shows us that tabloid TV shows are nothing new: they were preceded in the Fifties by the wildly successful Night Beat, hosted by none other than Mike Wallace, who turned the show into a forum for sex and scandal with his relentless prying and probing into the lives of celebrated figures.

Love it or hate it, create it or repeat it, America is obsessed with gossip. Here is a fascinating look at five decades of dish: a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the personalities that control what we read and see; the unholy and unchanging trinity of celebrity, publicist and reporter that has stoked the American appetite for gossip from the salad days of silver-screen magazines to the instantaneous communication of the scoop-filled Internet.

Insider Jeannette Walls delivers a tantalizing tell-all that features not only gossip itself, but its history, its movers and shakers (including quite a few tony Ivy Leaguers), high and low points, and the watershed events and personalities—-like Elvis, Diana, Michael Jackson and O. J.—-that altered it forever. Here is the famous formula for People, the astonishing magazine that began amid sneers and snipes but went on to become one of the publishing industry's greatest success stories. Here too is the incredible truth behind explosive material that didn't see the light of day.

From the humble beginnings of the National Enquirer, aided by the avuncular beneficence of crime kingpin Joe Costello, to the lurid Hollywood trial of Confidential magazine, where the "libeled" stars were proved more guilty than not of the salacious episodes the publication revealed, Jeannette Walls expertly traces the formation and development of the hush-hush industry. She shows us that tabloid TV shows are nothing new: they were preceded in the Fifties by the wildly successful Night Beat, hosted by none other than Mike Wallace, who turned the show into a forum for sex and scandal with his relentless prying and probing into the lives of celebrated figures.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Who wouldn't want to know who Peter Lawford called to "clean" Marilyn Monroe's apartment hours after her death? Or Eddie Fisher's blunt views about dating Jewish women? Or what deal Ted Kennedy made with the National Enquirer to suppress the more incriminating stories about him? Like it or not, gossip is an integral part of our information-driven world; even many who decry its increasing prevalence in mainstream news venues enjoy and even relish it. Walls, a former gossip columnist for the E! Channel and novelist (Pest Control), has written a well-researched, witty history of the role gossip has played in U.S. media, politics and life. While she doesn't hesitate to produce plenty of choice information in the course of her survey, her intent is serious and well executed. Organizing her book around specific historical moments in the gossip industry's evolution--the rise and fall of Confidential Magazine in the 1950s, the power that Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper wielded in Hollywood, Elvis's death (and the endless refutations of it), Tina Brown's editorship at the New Yorker--Walls deftly examines and illuminates her main points: among them, that public figures exploit and benefit from "gossip" as much as they claim to be harassed and harmed by it (Princess Diana is a perfect example); that the thin line between "news" and "gossip" always depends on the media's biases and self-interests (JFK's not-very-secret affair with Monroe); and that the concept of "privacy" for public figures is always political (Monicagate). Provocative and invariably entertaining, Walls gives dishing the dirt its historical, social and political due. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
MSNBC celebrity reporter Walls traces the evolution of gossip in the media from the 1950s through the 1990s. The heyday of celebrity columnists Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, and Walter Winchell ushered in the first star scandal sheet, Confidential, in 1952 and with it a host of imitators like Hush-Hush and Uncensored. Later that decade, the National Enquirer paired celebrity exploitation and gore to reach new circulation heights. Television followed with provocative interviews of the famous, thinly veiled as news reporting. Walls dishes up plenty of gossip while chronicling the escalating American lust for insider information on celebrities. She recounts controversies surrounding the deaths of Elvis, Marilyn, and Princess Di and run-ins between the media and Cher, Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, and others. Both an entertaining insider's look and a solid history of gossip, this will be popular in public libraries and has a place in research collections on media and popular culture.--Kelli N. Perkins, Herrick Dist. Lib., Holland, MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380978212
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/7/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls is the former gossip correspondent for E! Channel and New York Magazine's "Intelligencer". She can now be seen on MSNBC three mornings a week and appears on MSNBC online four days a week. Ms. Walls lives in New York City.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Walls:

"When I sat down to write The Glass Castle, there was no doubt in my mind that once the truth about me was out I would lose all my friends and my job. So far, the reaction has been the opposite. I'm just stunned. I think I've shortchanged people and their capacity for compassion. The whole experience has changed my outlook on the world. My brother and I are closer. My sister Lori and I have discussed things we'd never before talked about. I'm back in touch with people I knew in West Virginia whom I hadn't spoken to since I left. My mother wants to correct something in the book: She wants everyone to know that she's an excellent driver.

"When I was growing up, I always loved animals. But it was a part of myself that I'd let go dormant as an adult. Writing The Glass Castle, I was reminded of how important animals had always been to me, and that love was reawakened. Not long ago, I rescued two racing greyhounds, Emma and Leopold, and I'm irrationally devoted to them.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jeannette Barrett Walls
    2. Hometown:
      Culpeper, Virginia
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 21, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Phoenix, Arizona
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1984

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Citzen Reporter"

"My reaction to having our speaker today at the National Press Club was the same as a lot of other members," Doug Harbrecht, the club's president and Business Week's Washington bureau chief, told the two hundred journalists gathered before him on the afternoon of June 2, 1998. "Why do we want to give a forum to that guy?"

"That guy" was Matt Drudge, who, said Harbrecht, "mucks through the hoaxes, conspiracies, and half-truths posted on-line in pursuit of fodder for his website." Six months earlier, Drudge had posted the sordid story that had subsequently exploded into the biggest political scandal since Watergate. But while journalists had gloried in the heroic part they had played in Watergate, most reporters were repulsed by their role in the Lewinsky affair. Despite charges of Clinton's alleged perjury and obstruction of justice, this story was driven not by issues or by questions of national security and the abuse of power-but by sex. It was the stuff of gossip columns. Yet because the scandal dominated the news for months, Matt Drudge, who never studied journalism and had never worked for a news organization, became one of the best known reporters in the country. Matt Drudge was the personification of how scandal had hijacked the news—and those in the establishment media hated him for it.

"So, Matt, know this," said Harbrecht. "There aren't many in this hallowed room who consider you a journalist. Real journalists pride themselves on getting it first and right; they get to the bottom of the story, they bend over backwards to get the other side. Journalism means being painstakingly thorough, evenhanded, and fair.Now, in the interest of good journalism, let's hear Matt Drudge's side of the story."

An awkward moment of silence followed, and then polite applause. Matt Drudge stepped up to the podium. He was only thirty-one years old, a young man dressed in old man's clothes: a cream-colored suit with unfashionably wide lapels, a blue shirt and striped tie, and tortoiseshell glasses. He was pale with a somewhat asymmetric face and small but intense dark eyes. He somehow appeared more vulnerable without his trademark fedora, which made him look more like a vaudeville character than a pasty-faced, self-described "computer geek" with a slightly receding hairline.

"Applause for Matt Drudge in Washington at the Press Club," Drudge joked. "Now there's a scandal." He was nervous at first, but just as his voice was about to falter, he reached over and grabbed his fedora and placed it on his head. With his talisman, this relic that evoked populist tabloid journalism of Walter Winchell's days, Drudge found his voice. For the next forty minutes, he spoke passionately—if not always eloquently—about his love of journalism, about the importance of the unfettered flow of information, about how scandals, while sometimes ugly, were important to democracy and to "individual liberty." Drudge spoke of being a loner, a little guy in a business dominated by conglomerates, about the importance of persevering to tell the truth, even when it embarrassed and infuriated powerful people.

"'Freedom of the press belongs to anyone who owns one,'" he said, quoting the legendary journalist A. J. Liebling. The Internet, Drudge's medium, was a great equalizer, he insisted. Now, everyone who owned a laptop and a modem could be a publisher and a reporter, a "citizen reporter"—as Drudge called himself. He looked forward to the day, he said, when everyone in America would have an equal voice and the country would be "vibrating with the din of small voices." The Internet was going to save the news, he declared: "It's freedom of participation absolutely realized."

Many journalists in the crowd were unimpressed. It was that elitism, those rules, they maintained, that had long kept lurid, irresponsible stories like Drudge's out of the press. The real reason that Matt Drudge had come to Washington that day, most of them knew, was that he was being forced to testify in his own defense in a $30 million libel lawsuit. Drudge had inaccurately reported that Sidney Blumenthal, a former journalist who had become an aide to President Clinton, had beaten his wife. Soon after he posted the erroneous item, Drudge posted an apology and correction. But he had made plenty of other bloopers, as well: He had posted items saying that Clinton had a bald eagle tattoo in his genital region, that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had seventy-five pictures of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky together, and that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted. He once estimated that he is accurate eighty percent of the time.

"Could you succeed as a journalist," someone in the crowd wanted to know, "if you worked for an organization which required an accuracy rate of one hundred percent?"

"I don't know what organization that would be," Drudge shot back.

There was some embarrassed laughter, and then applause. Despite Harbrecht's pronouncements about high standards of journalists, Matt Drudge and everyone else in the room knew that by the late 1990s, the media was in a state of absolute crisis. The always fuzzy line between news and gossip had become a complete blur. Tabloid topics and sensationalism repeatedly overshadowed serious news. It wasn't Drudge's mistakes that angered many in the crowd; it was the stories he got right: Clinton's trysts with Monica Lewinsky; the semen-stained dress; the infamous cigar.

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