(The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part two.)
IFIRST learned about the tabloid wars during the after-service coffee hour at my church, in Auburndale, Massachusetts. An older couple were introducing their son, Jay Lavely, to the congregation. Lavely is a lawyer in Los Angeles. Like most of the L.A. lawyers I would later meet, he looks a decade younger than his age, which is fifty-five. Whether they are well preserved or re-engineered I have no idea.
As we chatted, Lavely told me what kind of law he practices. He represents celebrity clients in lawsuits against the supermarket tabloids. He and his partner, Martin Singer, have represented Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Selleck, Brad Pitt, and many other stars. We briefly discussed an article I had read in the tabloid Globe, which claimed that Schwarzenegger's heart-valve surgery had rendered him unfit for action-hero roles. I thought the article was silly, but Lavely took it quite seriously. His partner had already filed a $50 million libel suit against the paper.
Upon further acquaintance I learned that Lavely and his handful of colleagues in the anti-tabloid bar despise the excesses of the three mass-circulation weeklies -- the National Enquirer,the Globe, and the Star. To those on the receiving end, the excesses are quite real. The tabs routinely print confidential medical information about celebrities, or compromising, invasive photos of them. The reporters harass, bribe, and eavesdrop in their pursuit of tab-worthy stories. I suppose it's a character failing, but I like the tabs. For one thing, they have a puckish sense of mischief, borrowed from London's Fleet Street, which is sorely lacking in America's self-important mainstream newspapers. In surveys hardly anyone admits to buying the tabs. "I glance at them in the check-out line" is the stock response. But somebody must be buying them; five million copies are sold each week.