Gals Gone Wild
Critics of the Inside Track have long accused the Heraldâs gossip column of being malicious and pandering. Nowadays, those are some of the nicest things you can say about it.
Halfway through lunch with Chet Curtis, it occurs to me that maybe we should have eaten someplace more private. People tend to notice famous newscasters, especially at places like Game On!, a heavily trafficked sports bar in Fenway Parkâs shadow. Weâre seated in a deep booth in the back, but people still fix him with stares. Is that Chet Curtis? I think thatâs Chet Curtis. Check out Chet Curtis. Chet Curtis, Chet Curtis, Chet Curtis.
This is how gossip startsâwhich is what the NECN newsman and I are here to talk about. Weâre discussing the biggest, pretty much the only, mass-media rumor mill in townâthe Boston Heraldâs Inside Track, written by Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa. Curtis, being a public figure who was once married to another public figure, has appeared in the Track often. Some items were complimentary. Others, not so much. And this is how it happens: Someone sees you having lunch, pulls out a cell phone, and, as the Gals implore at the end of each column, drops a dime to them.
I ask Curtis if heâs worried that someone will make a call and twist our lunch into something unseemly: My god, I saw Chet Curtis at Game On! He was hand-feeding calamari to a reporter.
âNah,â he says. âBut I might be if you were a woman.â
Heâs only half-joking. Six years ago, when Curtis and Channel 5 anchor Natalie Jacobson were in the midst of their divorce, the Track ran a story about Curtis having dinner with a gaggle of young babes at a restaurant near his Marina Bay home. They dubbed him âMr. Dating Machine.â Curtisâs dates, it turned out, were his two daughters, his niece, and his nieceâs friend. The Track printed a retraction, but the damage was done. âA lot of people think itâs funny when something is in there,â says Curtis. âIt is, until itâs about you. It can be hurtful publicity.â
Some 15 years after the Inside Track began, Fee and Raposa have burned a lot of people in this town. So itâs not surprising that of the dozens of sources interviewed for this story, most insisted on anonymity. âI understand why people donât want to talk about them or what theyâve written,â Curtis says. âIt speaks to their power.â But if critics are loath to discuss the Gals on the record, in private theyâll rattle off a litany of Track-related gripes: Theyâre too cozy with the townâs major PR flacks. Theyâre mean-spirited for the sake of it. Theyâll resort to questionable methods to get a good story. It seems only a matter of time before someone claims that they can turn their heads a full 360 degrees. âTheyâre a microcosm of all thatâs good and evil with the journalism world,â says someone in the public relations field. âTheyâre the evil hybrid of how journalism is done.â
Itâs unlikely that many professional gossips would be wounded by such chargesâYou think weâre too mean? Well, boo-hoo! A spate of recent incidents, though, suggests a more damning criticism can now be leveled at the Gals: Theyâve grown lazy, arrogant, and complacent, and their work has suffered for it. Because while the Track has never been held up as a paragon of thorough and balanced journalism, the last few months have seen the column hit new lows.
Tracked down: Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa doing the gossip thing at Tawdry Tabloid headquarters. The Damaging Duo were being grilled about their insensitivity and whether people are afraid of them.
File under: Hard copy.
On the second floor of One Herald Square, Fee and Raposa share a cramped, kitsch-cluttered office. On one wall is a picture of the two columnists with halos above their heads. On another hangs a black T-shirt with yellow writing that says, âIf youâve got nothing nice to say come sit next to me.â The overall effect is of shoulder-slapping, all-in-good-fun chicanery. âNo one who knows us is scared of us,â Raposa says. âPeople have to realize: We donât wake up in the morning thinking how we can screw somebody.â
If thatâs true, then the Galsâ late predecessor is snarling in her grave. Fee and Raposa took over from notorious Herald columnist Norma Nathan in 1991âa woman who set the standard for bitchy, bellicose gossip. Before stepping into their present roles, Fee was a city editor at the paper and Raposa a business reporter. Theyâve certainly adapted well. For years now, Bostonâs gossip pipeline has seemed to flow directly and consistently onto the desks of Gayle and Laura.
âThey own this city,â says publicist Peggy Rose. The Trackâs near monopoly, in turn, has resulted in an unseemly scrabble from those looking to ingratiate themselves with the Gals. One victim calls the column âa protection racketââyou scratch my back or I might bite yoursâbut Rose, who has a good relationship with the Gals, is more diplomatic. âItâs a favor bank,â she says. âItâs not the money-and-bribe relationship they have in New York. The big thing is having photos or giving them scoops so that you can call in a favor later on when you need one. There is a quid pro quo there, no question, but thatâs how the game works.â
No doubt, thatâs how it works for most gossips, and thatâs how itâs always worked at the Herald. Track-friendly car magnate Ernie Boch Jr. and the Avalon nightclub pop up in the column more than most (14 and 9 times, respectively, over a six-month period), not because Boch and Avalon are disproportionately fascinating, but because Peggy Rose reps them, and she has invested heavily in the Galsâ favor bank. âTheyâll help you if youâre on their good side,â she says. âIf not, they can hurt you.â
For a rookie muckraker, getting people like Rose on your side can mean the difference between a good column and an empty one. But thereâs a tradeoff: As your stable of snitches and snoops grows, your potential hit list dwindles. This wouldnât be a problem in New York or Los Angeles, where celebrities are like fake boobsâeverywhere, and on constant display. On a slow day in L.A., gossips can fall back on Julia Roberts shopping at True Value, Colin Farrell eating with his fingers. Here, where celebrities tend to be not that famous, you have to work harder to make them interesting. You run an item about a mutual fund CEO, heâd better be nailing his wifeâs manicurist.
Back when Fee and Raposa were still relatively new to the gossip beat, there seemed no end to the colorful indiscretions that found their way into the Galsâ earsâa single 1995 Inside Track had âBad Boyâ Bobby Brown smashing up a hotel room and âhairstylist-to-the-starsâ Sandy Poirier being nabbed at the border for carrying contraband Cuban cigars. Today, if recent Track columns are any indication, Boston is in the midst of a gossip drought. On June 20, the lead item was The Game Plan, a movie being filmed locally starring the Rock. On June 21, the lead item was aboutâand this is pretty fantasticâThe Game Plan, a movie being filmed locally starring the Rock. One week earlier, the Gals led with a nugget about former Laguna Beach cast member Stephen Colletti shooting a movie in Rhode Island.
Given such scintillating content, the fact that important people still feel compelled to read the Track six times a week seems to be a product of habit as much as anything else. âI usually hold my breath when I turn to the Inside Track each morning,â Senator Ted Kennedy writes in an e-mail, a canned comment indicating he does no such thing. âIâve learned some interesting things about myself in the Track over the yearsâI wish I were half as exciting as they make me out to be.â At this point in their careers, you can bet that the Gals are wishing the same.
On the rare occasions the Track does get hold of a genuinely salacious story, it tends to beat it to death, and the subject along with it. Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, for example, continues to take frequent shots from the Gals for his off-field transgressions, even though heâs now with the L.A. Dodgers. As recently as April, the Gals implied that Lowe is an alcoholic, a bad pitcher, and a worse father. They filed the item under âLowe Ball.â âThe whole thing about my divorce, thatâs personal,â he says. âI stopped playing there in 2004. This is â06. It gets to the point where they make you look like someone youâre not. They talked about everything I did. Some true, some not true. They donât care. Theyâre all about the juicy story.â
The Galsâ relentless Lowe-bashing might look like pit bull tenacity, an admirable quality for any gossip columnist, but it also smacks of desperation, as if they continue to pick at the pitcher to spare us yet another item recalling the hilarious antics of the Queer Eye quintet. Sometimes it can seem like they are trying to make up for the general flabbiness of their column with a single ruthless bloodletting.
In December 2004, in one of the more infamous public floggings in recent memory, the Gals announced that longtime Channel 4 sports anchor Bob Lobel was having an affair âwith a woman some 20 years younger.â The item also gleefully informed us that Lobelâs third marriage and his career were in jeopardy (if they werenât already, they probably were after the item appeared). The fact that the Gals and Lobel share the same agent apparently wasnât enough to squash the story. âIt was too good not to print,â says a source. âHeâs a household name.â The same source adds that it was Lobelâs failure to make sufficient deposits in the Trackâs favor bank that made him a target. âIf he had helped them before, maybe they wouldnât have burned him. See the difference? If youâre not doing favors for them, if youâre not on their good side, youâre fucked.â
Lobel wonât talk about the incident. Johnny Damonâs wife, Michelle, a long-time Track whipping girl, also declines to comment. Sports reporter Hazel Maeâthe subject of a recent blind item in the Track about her giving pet names to her breastsâisnât speaking either. To openly challenge the Track, after all, might inspire the Gals to don their brass knuckles and throw down.
To wit: When I first began reporting this story, I received multiple phone calls saying the Gals were on to me. Before Iâd written a word, my boss had received four calls, one of them to inform him that Iâm âa punk.â Restaurant owner Joe Cimino sent a letter to this magazine, insisting his name not appear in the article. Before long, disparaging comments about my loyalty to Boston magazine started seeping into our office. (If you see me panhandling outside Store 24, drop something in my cup.) George Regan, one of the Galsâ PR buddies (who, incidentally, represents BoMag and the Herald), asked me to come down to his gym to âsettle this.â He also issued a fatwa against me, sending out a companywide directive that no one at his firm talk to me. Ever. (Regan confirms he sent the memo âwith pride,â before announcing that any employee who does talk to me will be out of a job.)
In person, the Gals are quite amiable. Theyâre quick with a joke and chatty when it suits them. When I ask if they have any regrets about what theyâve written, though, they almost laugh me out of the room. But then, hardened cynicism is to the professional gossip what makeup is to the rodeo clownâwhich is why the Gals often play up their mean streak. âWeâve gone to events where we know weâre two skunks at a garden party,â Raposa says. âThere are some people out there who donât like usâand with good reason.â
We hear: That the Gals often donât check the âscoopsâ theyâre handed. Our spies tell us itâs because the copy cookers have grown so buddy-buddy with some of their sources thatâwell, facts schmacts.
File under: Sale-acious!
As malicious as the Bob Lobel attack may have been, at least it had some basis in realityâunlike the Chet Curtis item, where a quick phone call would have debunked the newsman-turns-swinger angle. But the Curtis debacle went beyond shoddy fact-checking. The Gals have long demonstrated a kind of willful naivetĂ© when it comes to intelligence from their closest sources. A decade ago, a Boston magazine story reported that PR spinner Charles Cohen had fed the Track a story about an actress singing âHappy Birthdayâ to Teddy Kennedy in the Marilyn Monroe vein. The Gals ran with it, but later discovered that it never happened. Oops. As one longtime gossip notes, âThe people who call [them] arenât the most upstanding citizens.â
George Regan has traded with the Gals so often and for so long that he can withdraw favors whenever he wants. âGeorge has a pact with the girls,â insists one insider. âTheyâll run anything he asks them to.â Following Red Sox opening day this year, someone told me that Regan had dropped a bunch of names to the Heraldâclients of his who he claimed were in the standsâon the understanding that theyâd get boldface coverage the following day. And they did. But according to a source, at least one of the people listedâJoe Ciminoâwasnât actually there.
âI wish we were perfect,â Fee says about the column. âWeâve been doing this for 15 years. So if we write 60 items a week, times 50 weeks a year, thatâs 3,000 items per year. Times 15 yearsâthatâs, what, 45,000 items? Weâre gonna make a few mistakes.â
Deborah Schoeneman, author of 4% Famous, who has written gossip for the New York Observer, New York magazine, and the New York Post, doesnât buy that defense. âThe lesson I learned is that you should call everyone,â she says, âbecause the person feeding you the information could be an enemy or have an agenda. You have to check that stuff. Any reputable publication would.â
No matter how careful you are, the rapid pace of daily journalism invites errors. Whatâs important is the response when potential blunders are pointed out. Cimino, questioned about whether he was at the Sox game, says, âIâm a private person. I have no comment.â Regan, for his part, denies he planted a fake sighting. âI bought him the ticket,â he says, along with some things that canât be printed here. The Gals say they donât know whether Cimino was there. Herald editor Ken Chandler thinks maybe he fed them the item, but he canât remember who gave it to him. The only thing any of them can be sure about is that theyâre not sure. Confused? Youâre supposed to be. Itâs the editorial version of the old shell gameâshift culpability quickly enough and no one will be sure what happened.
Phantom Fenway sightings, while not exactly ground-shaking, could be seen as part of a bigger picture. A decade ago, the Herald was run by Andy Costello, a respected and, by many accounts, exacting editor. A few years back, Costello was replaced by Chandler, an Englishman known for his fast-and-loose approach to gathering news. âUnder Chandler, theyâve become more sensational,â says Dan Kennedy, a former Phoenix media critic who now teaches at Northeastern. âYouâll find more dubious stories. The Herald was more solid when Costello was the editor.â
One Herald insider tells me the Gals get away with more under Chandler than they did previously. Since his arrival, their space in the paper has doubled, and their freedom has increased along with that. Thereâs also the fact that, after 15 years, the Gals and the Herald have become codependent. The Herald needs them to sell papers or, at the least, to get people like Ted Kennedy to read the rag from time to time. Meanwhile, as the Galsâ grip on power grows tighter, their journalism gets slacker.
Back by popular demand! More tales from the Naked City!âŠ Hear about the naughty newsgirls who passed off another outletâs story as their own? Seems they ârewroteâ some copy without disclosing that they werenât the original authors.
File under: Bad news.
On June 6, Editor & Publisher ran an item reviewing plagiarism charges against author Dan Brown. The next day, in a sidebar to the main column, the Track printed a similar storyâactually, pretty much the same storyâwith no attribution to E&P. The irony of the episodeâan apparent plagiarism of a story about plagiarismâdid not escape the attention of the nationâs media watchers. Within hours of the Track piece appearing, the popular blog HuffingtonPost.com ran the headline âBoston Herald rips off E&P in Meta-Media Plagiarism story.â
When pressed about the incident by the Boston Globe, Fee said she was running out the door when she rewrote the story. âWe should have credited them,â she tells me. The Herald quickly pulled the item from its website, and the staff closed ranks. âIf you want to make an issue of plagiarism,â says Chandler, âwhy donât you call up the radio and television stations that use our material all the time? The TV, the AM talk show hostsâif the Herald didnât exist, they wouldnât have anything to say. And we very rarely get attribution. What we did wasnât plagiarism. It was poor attribution.â
Chandlerâs response, of course, is nonsenseâlike saying New England winters arenât cold, itâs just that the temperatures are low. As any media pro knows, thereâs a world of difference between using someone elseâs report as a springboard for your own story and employing the cut-and-paste option. But this is how it seems to work at the Herald these days. Itâs like theyâre trained in Jedi mind tricks. Blatantly copy from another news organization? No biggie. Happens all the time. These are not the droids youâre looking for.
The Herald brass perform similar semantic somersaults with regards to a May âWe Hearâ item, which detailed how Herald deputy managing editor Joe Sciacca would replace departing Phoenix media critic Mark Jurkowitz on Channel 2âs Beat the Press. That would have been a nice little scoop, except that the item echoed a WGBH press release on the switch. âItâs impossible to plagiarize a press release,â says Herald managing editor Kevin Convey. True, but if you want to get technical, isnât it also impossible to âhearâ a press release? Even funnier than Conveyâs defense is the fact that Sciacca works in the same building as the Galsâreporting the item properly required no more than a walk down the hall.
Greg Mitchell, the E&P editor, doesnât see anything amusing about the Galsâ antics. âIf thereâs any humor in this, itâs black humor,â he says, referring to the Dan Brown item. âWith no credit, how would people know that someone else had written it? To say âwe didnât mislead our readersâ is patently false. That, to me, calls into question the standards there. If thatâs just taken as âstuff happens,â that makes me wonder what else thatâs questionable is carried in that column.â
We hear: That the Track Gals like to spend their weekends among friends. The Gals dress up in chimp outfits and get drunk on Midori; Derek Lowe hems and haws over what to name his testicles; and Bob Lobel rides a Vespa in the nudeâbut Vespa ainât a scooter, thatâs her name! âŠ
File under: Too good to be true!
On May 1, the Gals ran an item about Tommy Lee getting loaded at Avalon before retiring to a local hotel âwith four lovelies for a little (Fe)Male Encounter.â This time, Fee and Raposa had an eyewitness to back up their claim: Track assistant Erin Hayes. âErinâs a hot twentysomething and she got invited backstage,â explains someone with knowledge of the situation. âThe four hotties who went back to the hotel? One of them was Erin. Tommy Lee was having sex with people, and she saw it all.â Naturally, Tommyâs people werenât happy. For one thing, there are questions about whether Hayes made it clear she was a Herald reporter. The Gals dispute this, saying that Hayes did identify herself to the rockerâs handlers, and that âif he didnât get the memo,â then tough luck.
(As this article went to press, I received a call from the person who suggested Hayes hadnât sufficiently identified herself as a reporter. The source sounded worried. The gist of the call was that Iâd gotten it all wrong, that Iâd misheard or misunderstood large chunks of our conversationâapparently, nobody ever said or even implied any subterfuge on Hayesâs part, despite my notes suggesting otherwise. The same day, Gayle Fee sent me an e-mail saying she was âconcernedâ and that Iâd âmisquotedâ her on the Tommy Lee matter. Once again, the Gals had gone on the offensive; the source had seemingly flipped, and I found myself under renewed pressure to tone down my criticisms. It was like being in a bad mafia movieâat one point, gripped by paranoia, I worried that the Gals might try to clip me.)
Despite the barrage of caveats, qualifications, and veiled threats directed at me, no one denies that Hayes was in the hotel room when things got freaky. âHow in Godâs name can you offend Tommy Lee?â Fee says. âI mean, his penis has been all over the Internet for the last five years.â This point, while indisputable, raises an important question: Does the world really need another story about Tommy Leeâs package? And even if it does, do the ends justify the Heraldâs means?
By the standards of conventional journalism, the answer to this question is easy: Uh, no. Gossip, though, isnât conventional journalismâhell, itâs not journalism at all. Itâs a form of schoolyard sniping that happens to appear in newsprint. In the end, whether Hayes used clandestine tactics in that hotel room is irrelevant. What matters is that she showed initiative, she did the legwork, and she came back with a legitimate piece of sleaze. It was ugly, yes, but good gossip ought to be.
âThereâs a dirtiness of it, an underbelly,â says one publicist. âIt affects lives and families and children, but [the Gals] donât care as long as they get their so-called scoop.â A similar charge could be leveled at the Galsâ readersâwe donât care about the families and children either, as long as we get the dirt. We want the Track to tell us that Chet Curtis is a pair of plaid pants and a cheap gold necklace away from being the next Ron Jeremy, absolutely. Butâand this is the important partâonly if itâs true.
âIn terms of standards, I would urge you to consider the context,â says Convey, the Heraldâs managing editor. âMaybe you think this particular gossip column should be held to the same standards as pages one through eight.â Good pointâitâs not like the Track affects national security. In the end, we can forgive the pandering and the bullying and the backroom dealing. But there are rules.
The thing is, if we stop buying what we read in the Track, we will stop reading it entirelyânot out of moral outrage, but because the thrill will be gone. As Dan Kennedy puts it: âAre we supposed to believe what theyâre writing or not?â And if not, why stop at Chet Curtis dating his daughter? Why not have Curtis dating Ted Kennedy? Or Dan Kennedy? Or Dan and Ted Kennedy? Go nuts.
One prominent Boston media observer points out that before they started working on the Track, Fee and Raposa were regarded as good reporters. Even now, the duo will occasionally display a certain knack for getting to the core truth of a subject. Fee, for instance, wittily and succinctly sums up her career path: âIf the Herald were to close tomorrow and we didnât have the Inside Track anymore,â she says, âthen Iâd be greeting people at Wal-Mart, because thatâs all Iâm qualified to do at this point.â
Published in Boston Magazine, August 2006.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2006/08/gals-gone-wild/