Imagine if your school newspaper ran a story reporting that some anonymous hater on JuicyCampus said that you were, I don’t know, hooking up with your calc professor. That would be pretttttty insane, right? Well, that’s basically what Defamer, Gawker’s Hollywood gossip blog, did today.
“Secret Sharing App Claims Gwyneth Paltrow Is Cheating with Lawyer,” their headline bellows. The story first contorts rumors about that Vanity Fair takedown piece that never was, and VF editor-in-chief Graydon Carter’s response to those rumors, into evidence. Then, they get to the real proof: a posting on the app Whisper.
You may know Whisper as the anonymous network your tweenaged cousin uses to broadcast messages like, “MEREDITH POOPED IN WALMART SHE IS A SLUT.” It’s basically the 2014 equivalent of the Mean Girls Burn Book, only with more pathetic contributors. This Gwyneth thing isn’t even a rumor, it’s a lolcat.
Adding to this bonfire of journalistic ethics is the fact that former Gawker traffic magnet Neetzan Zimmerman now works as Whisper’s editor-in-chief. He provided this comment to Defamer:
“I can’t reveal [the Whisper user’s] identity for obvious reasons, but it’s a person with extremely close ties to Gwyneth who came to us directly after Graydon Carter wrote that missive about why VF walked away from the Paltrow profile last year.
“I have no reason to suspect they’re lying about this, and if anyone would know the truth, this person would.”
Of course Mr. Zimmerman would attest to the veracity of this secret; he’s employed by the company that spewed it forth. And of course no one would ever make up gossip about the personal life of one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Isn’t just being bored a good enough reason? The real question is why that person would go to Whisper, of all places, with this information.
Maybe Whisper is trying to position itself as an app that works for whistle-blowers as well as angsty teenagers, or maybe they’re just trying to put themselves on the map. One thing’s for sure: they’ve done the unthinkable and inspired sympathy for Gwyneth Paltrow.
But we assume this fiasco will only inspire more people to contribute fake celebrity confessions to Whisper, rather than take all their juiciest information to the app. That’s unless Whisper is paying for the info, which would be a whole other issue.
Ms. Paltrow’s publicist, Stephen Huvane, denied the charges, had never heard of Whisper, and said he will notify Ms. Paltrow’s attorneys, meaning there may be a libel suit in Whisper’s future. Meanwhile, Mr. Zimmerman had these things to say:
Who is “higher on the food chain” than the person Gwyneth pays to speak for her? Is the source Gwyneth herself?
Yes, it’s Vanity Fair minus that… and a lot of other things.
For fun, here is a thing Mr. Zimmerman once said to a Wall Street Journal reporter: “For me to be plugged into this stuff is like being plugged into the foundation of man. This is the stuff that people really care about, not the stuff that they’re pretending to care about at cocktail parties.”
So, is this a trend now? Will rumormongering social networks start to employ their own PR flacks — sorry, “editors” — to push their users’ most scintillating confessions to news outlets? How long until information found in an anonymous YouTube comment is reported as news? We at Betabeat aren’t ones to clutch our pearls over declines in journalistic standards because of the Internet, but seriously, we can all do better than this.