Weekend Read: 'Tabloid Prodigy'
Timing is everything and for Marlise Elizabeth Kast, May 2 turned out to be a propitious day to have an item about Tobey Maguire run in the New York Post. The release of Kast's book, which included a juicy tidbit about the time she'd been assigned to investigate rumors that Maguire and close friend Leonardo DiCaprio were once lovers, was picked up by Page Six just two days before the U.S. release of "Spider-Man 3."
This week, I exchanged e-mails with Kast to talk about her book, "Tabloid Prodigy" -- her account of years spent as an undercover infiltrator of the Hollywood scene and her own growing internal struggle to reconcile her career with her own moral code.
Read on to find out how far Kast went to get her stories, why she thinks celebs need the tabloids and which story she wishes she could take back...
Liz: You basically lied to Tobey Maguire's mother. Isn't that unethical? How often does that kind of "reporting" happen in the tabloid biz?
Marlise Elizabeth Kast: In my effort to obtain the truth about Tobey McGuire's relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, I told Tobey's mother that I worked for a gay publication. Regardless of my identity, she freely divulged information, knowing that I was a reporter. It is possible that had I actually been representing a gay publication, her information may have still been picked up by mainstream media or the tabloids. The role playing approach I utilized as an undercover reporter was my own idea. At no time did the editors ask me to use this tactic.
Tabloid reporters are given assignments and are left to their own devices to meet the deadlines. Whether or not other reporters relied on these same techniques is something only they can answer. I can only speak for myself based on my own experiences.
Lying about my own identity in order to obtain the truth is unarguably unethical. The core of "Tabloid Prodigy" is about my personal dilemma and inner struggle in utilizing such methods. At the time, it seemed that role playing was the most effective tool I could use to get at the truth.
Although I lied about who I was, I did not lie about the celebrities I was covering.
Liz: In the book you detail how you also variously posed as a florist, bridesmaid, mourner and a drunk to get the scoop on celebrities. How did you feel about that at the time?
MEK: While writing for the tabloids, it eventually became second nature to assume countless identities in order to get the information I needed. Perhaps the fact that I was working in the plasticity of Hollywood only fed into my justification that I was merely "acting" a role. As a risk taker by nature, I initially found it exhilarating to outwit high-profile celebrities. Being young, I felt invincible and daring.
Readers of "Tabloid Prodigy" will realize that this ultimately took a huge toll on my mental and emotional state. In assuming the various personas, I ultimately lost sight of my own identity.
Liz: Do you think anyone was hurt as a direct result of your articles?
MEK: Whether or not any of the celebrities I covered were hurt as a direct result of the articles I wrote is a question that only they can answer. Ironically, some of those whom I had potentially harmed ultimately thanked the tabloids for helping them come to terms with their secret lives. Clearly, their acknowledgement does not justify what I did.
I still regret that some of my sources were hurt by assisting me. In reality, I believe that the person who was hurt the most by my tabloid career was Marlise Kast.
Liz: Were you sued by any of your articles' subjects?
MEK: None of the subjects of my tabloid articles ever filed suit.
Liz: Do you think celebrities, who lead somewhat public lives, are fair game for tabloid reporters?
MEK: Those who elect to live in the glare of the spotlight leave themselves open to public view. There are many celebrities who have chosen to move out of Hollywood to live more private lives away from the hub of the industry.
There is a common misconception that celebrities are the hunted and tabloids are the hunters. Often, there is actually a symbiotic relationship between celebrities who need exposure in publications and publications which need headlines. Stars frequently depend on media attention for career survival. As the saying goes, "Good publicity or bad publicity -- it's all publicity."
Whereas the tabloids come under the greatest criticism for their pursuit of stories, this type of celebrity coverage is now equally shared by mainstream media.
Liz: What about children of celebrities? Basically, where is the line -- both for you and for tabloids in general?
MEK: It has become increasingly difficult to "draw the line" when many celebrities themselves have taken the lead in exploiting their children. (For example, Brad and Angelina's children or the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.)
Liz: What made you get out of the tabloid reporting business and what would your advice be for aspiring journalists who may be considering a similar career path?
MEK: The premise of "Tabloid Prodigy" is the journey that led me full circle out of tabloid reporting and back to my faith. Contributing to that decision were corporate betrayal, terrifying experiences, high-speed chases and inner doubts. Somewhere in the cut throat environment of tabloid reporting, I had lost sight of myself.
To any aspiring journalist who may be considering a similar career path, I would encourage them to give me a call before making such a life-changing decision.
Liz: Part of the book's focus is your inner struggle to reconcile your morals with the demands of the tabloid news cycle. How did that struggle manifest itself? Describe some of the moments that posed ethical dilemmas for you and really got your stomach churning? And what story would you take back if you could?
MEK: The inner struggle to reconcile my personal morals with the demands (and lifestyle) of the tabloid news cycle took me to the brink of depression. Undoubtedly, sleep deprivation played a large role in the conflict. Interestingly, although I had lost the inner drive, I was still generating as many headlines as before. Apart from my family and close friends, no one realized the depths of my sadness.
In retrospect, I have to take responsibility for the decisions I made in bringing me to this breaking point. There was not a single isolated incident that pushed me to the edge, but rather a slow chipping away of my inner core.
The one story that I would take back if I could, would be "Titanic Leo's Kinky Sex Life." Within days after the article was published, I ran into Leonardo's step-brother and his friends at an L.A. club. Getting to know them outside of my job, made me realize that I had painted a negative image of someone about whom I knew very little. Despite the fact that DiCaprio was a public figure, I began to experience remorse that I delved so deeply into his private life. As a result of my story, Leonardo was forced to relocate to a new residence. Worse yet, my sources from the Leo assignment were forced to find new jobs. Through my writing, I had drastically affected the lives of nearly a dozen people
Liz: Give us a taste of some of the juicier tidbits from the book...
MEK: Although there are almost 200 celebrities mentioned in "Tabloid Prodigy," I would not characterize it as a "juicy" book. Essentially, it is my own story of how I came face to face with my conscience. The book details many of my adventures in covering the celebrities whose stories have already been published through my articles. There are, however, a handful of alleged celebrity infidelities that are being shared for the first time.
Liz: Do you still follow celebrity news and give my readers a quick how-to for spotting BS.
MEK: Even before I worked for the tabloids, I was not star struck nor was I personally intrigued by celebrities. This objectivity was actually beneficial in my tabloid career. Now living in San Diego, I am completely outside the Hollywood lifestyle and am no longer exposed to Hollywood celebrities. I do not read the tabloids and I do not watch television. I am completely out of touch with the private lives of that scene.
Liz: Did Globe -- or any of your other former employers -- try to block any portion of your book?
MEK: No one at Globe or Star has attempted to block the publication of my book. In actuality, these publications, at least during my tenure, were much more thorough in their fact checking than casual readers might have assumed.
Liz: Tell us about your next project.
MEK: At the moment, I have begun work on my second manuscript which chronicles the events following life at the tabloids.
Marlise Elizabeth Kast's official Web site
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