July 16, 2011

Murdoch and Pellicano scandals II

In a sign of the times, analogy questions were eliminated from the SAT a few years ago. 

These days, people don't seem to be very good at noticing that news story X, which everybody currently agrees is the biggest and most unique and most newsworthy story of all time, is an awful lot like news story Y from a few years ago, which everybody has completely forgotten about already and didn't even pay much attention to while it was in the papers.

For example, as I pointed out in my last Taki's Magazine column, the wrongdoing in the ongoing brouhaha over Murdoch newspapers in London hiring a private investigator to tap into voice mail is an awful lot like the wrongdoing in the last decade's now forgotten Hollywood scandal in which moguls and stars hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap people they wanted to abuse.

And yet, if you check Google News,

Murdoch hacking

brings up 25,900 news media pages. But,

Murdoch hacking Pellicano

brings up exactly one page.

Personally, I found the Pellicano scandal pretty interesting because it played out in the 2000s like a nightmarish episode of that 1990s sit-com about show biz, The Larry Sanders Show, which was owned by comedian Garry Shandling and his agent Brad Grey, now head of Paramount Pictures. Larry Sanders was a very meta comedy: Shandling, who had often been a guest host for Johnny Carson, had turned down a late night talk show host job to make this sitcom about a late night talk show host. Real celebrities guest starred playing themselves engaging, behind the scenes, in scandalous behavior. 

If the 1990s were the peak era for sit-coms, which seems plausible, I think it can be argued that Larry Sanders was the third best, after The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Indeed, Seinfeld and Larry Sanders match up very well with each other, and I'd only give Seinfeld the nod because that purported "show about nothing" actually featured the best farce plotting in the history of American television. Comparing characters and acting, Shandling/Sanders was better than Seinfeld/Jerry, Jeffrey Tambor / Hank was almost as good as Jason Alexander / George Costanza, and Rip Torn / Artie was even better than Michael Richard / Kramer. None of the female characters on Larry Sanders quite match up to Elaine, but there were a number of good ones. 

Amusingly, Shandling, Grey, and Linda Doucett, who played Larry's sidekick Hank's secretary Darlene on the show, were all involved in the Pellicano scandal. The wrongdoing was much bigger than just them, but they're as good a place to start as any.

Why doesn't anybody remember the Pellicano scandal when they're ranting about the Murdoch scandal? I don't know. The LA Times did a bad job of covering all this hometown bad conduct, but the New York Times was better. Here's the beginning of an article from the New York Times:
A Studio Boss and a Private Eye Star in a Bitter Hollywood Tale
March 13, 2006 
TEMECULA, Calif., March 12 — The phone rang in Linda Doucett's desert ranch house here in the late spring of 1998. It was her ex-fianc√©, the comedian Garry Shandling, calling. Again.
Mr. Shandling had called several times that year to talk about his lawsuit accusing Brad Grey, his longtime manager and friend, of enriching himself at his expense. Now he was asking Ms. Doucett to testify for him. 
Then, Ms. Doucett recalled in an interview, Mr. Shandling brought up something he had never told her before, about how Mr. Grey had responded to another suit, which Ms. Doucett had filed against Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey's company for sexual harassment and wrongful termination two years earlier. 
"He was going to use Pellicano," Mr. Shandling said. 
"Who's that?" she asked. 
"He's this guy Brad worked with," Ms. Doucett recalled Mr. Shandling as saying. 
She said he added that Mr. Grey "was going to hire this really bad guy to say bad things about you — but I didn't want to do it." 
The guy in question is Anthony Pellicano, the celebrity private detective who is at the center of a mushrooming federal investigation that has consumed Hollywood for months, and who was indicted on wiretapping and conspiracy charges last month. And her recollection suggests that Mr. Grey, now the chairman of Paramount Pictures, had dealings with Mr. Pellicano as early as 1996 — at least three years earlier than has so far been detailed publicly. 
Her account is backed by another person's grand jury testimony, according to someone close to the investigation who insisted on anonymity for fear of angering prosecutors. The grand jury witness, this person said, gave an independent account that substantially agreed with Ms. Doucett's. 
Hiring a private investigator is common practice for wealthy people in contentious lawsuits, and Mr. Pellicano, a tough-talking transplant from Chicago who cultivated an image of menace, had many clients. Many of the rich and powerful in Hollywood who used him say they were unaware he was committing crimes. But prosecutors are skeptical, and they are trying to determine which of Mr. Pellicano's clients knew about the acts that have led to his indictment. 
In any event, no case, perhaps, better demonstrates how Hollywood movers and shakers appear to have used Mr. Pellicano in disputes with those who had less clout than the drawn-out saga of Mr. Shandling, Mr. Grey and Ms. Doucett. 
Mr. Grey, one of the most influential players in television and talent management, rose to an even higher perch in Hollywood a year ago, when he was named to head Paramount. He has been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and testified before the grand jury investigating Mr. Pellicano. His lawyer has said Mr. Grey has been repeatedly assured that he was not a subject or a target of the investigation. 
Mr. Grey declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this article, or to have his lawyer be interviewed. On Sunday afternoon his spokeswoman, Janet Hill, issued a terse reply from Mr. Grey to five written questions submitted by The New York Times. 
"As I've said in the past, I was casually acquainted with Anthony Pellicano," Mr. Grey said in the statement. "I had no 'relationship' with Mr. Pellicano until my attorney, Bert Fields, hired him in the Garry Shandling lawsuit. The fact remains that I had no knowledge of any illegal activity he may have conducted." 
Mr. Fields, one of Hollywood's most sought-after litigators, also has denied knowing of Mr. Pellicano's illicit activities. 
The Doucett-Shandling episode is only one of more than a dozen situations detailed in a federal indictment of Mr. Pellicano in which an influential insider, represented by a top entertainment lawyer who in turn hired Mr. Pellicano, sought to exert his or her will over a much weaker industry outsider. In each case, prosecutors say, Mr. Pellicano set out to maintain that imbalance of power through extralegal means. 
When Mr. Pellicao was working on behalf of the former superagent Michael Ovitz, lawyers in the case say, his targets were Mr. Ovitz's ex-underlings, minor industry players and bothersome reporters. When Mr. Pellicano worked on behalf of the billionaire MGM mogul Kirk Kerkorian, it was against a woman to whom Mr. Kerkorian was briefly married. When he worked on behalf of the Canadian media heiress and aspiring actress Taylor Thomson, it was against Ms. Thomson's former nanny. 
The Shandling-Grey case can be seen between the lines of the federal wiretapping and conspiracy indictment of Mr. Pellicano. Prosecutors charge that from January to March 1999 Mr. Pellicano had a police source do unauthorized background checks or otherwise illegally gain information about Mr. Shandling; Ms. Doucett; Mr. Shandling's personal assistant, Mariana Grant; his business manager, Warren Grant; his friend and fellow client at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment the actor Kevin Nealon; Mr. Nealon's wife; and his friend Gavin de Becker, a security consultant. The names of Ms. Doucett, Ms. Grant, Mr. de Becker and Mr. Grant were all on a witness list in Mr. Shandling's lawsuit against Mr. Grey at the time, lawyers and people involved in the case have confirmed. 
To Ms. Doucett, the federal investigation gets at the core of something that has long infected Hollywood. "This isn't about $10 million going between this movie star and that movie star, and wiretapping," she said in her first extensive interview on the subject. She refused to comment on matters she had agreed to keep confidential but was forthcoming on other aspects of her relationships with Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey. 
"It's about little people being pushed around," she said.

Read the whole thing there.


Anonymous said...

But here's the difference. The Pellicano thing was sordid but it was an in-house affair involving people IN the business. There were villains and victims, but, as the Corleones might say, it was 'business'.
Newscorp employees, on the other hand, hacked into the emails and other data of 'civilians'. It wasn't a dirty game between players but a dirty trick played by a powerful organization on hapless citizens.
If a Hollywood moguls wiretaps another Hollywood mogul or movie star, it's illegal and there's gonna be trouble. But if a Hollywood mogul tapped Sailer or any civilian's email or whatever, it would be far more grave.

True, there is double standards. We saw it with Enron and Wall Street. Enron guys got jail time, Wall Steet guys did not. If Wall Street were run by Arab-Americans, Mormon-Americans, or Japanese-Americans, media would have called for blood and government would have acted. But Wall Street is run by the same kind of people who run media and government. and so...

And we still hear of Emmitt Till but who hears of nyugen hoang.


Blacks can have a black agenda conference but whites cannot even book a hotel for a white agenda conference.

'Who, Whom' matters. Even so, two wrongs don't make a right, and what newscorp did was rotten.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Wiener did get in trouble though.
And Blago, like Ryan before him, is in hot water.
I guess the rule is "it's okay to play the game but don't be TOO greedy".

Anonymous said...

I think I kinda get it. Federal or local prosecution of corruption and crookedness is not really about ridding but about saving government/business of corruption.

It's like this. Suppose there are 10 respectable rich guys, each one with a mistress. But they keep it, wink wink, discreet. Even the wives may know about it, but appearances are kept up. This way, the funning-around is well-managed and kept under wraps. But suppose one of the guys starts whoring around with lots of girls and calls attention to his behavior. All of a sudden, the evils of 'womanizing' becomes a BIG ISSUE, and it threatens even the discreet womanizing of the rest of the guys. So, the other guys gang up on the 'overly greedy or horny' guy, censure him, and kick him out of the club.
So, it could be the Illinois politicians and liberals weren't as offended or bothered by Blago's corruption as by the sheer-ballocity or ballsiness of it. Daley ran a corrupt system too but he kept things under the radar and made it seem respectable. And when revelations of corruption came up, he made the right speeches, fired the right people, etc.
We see this in gangster movies too. In GOODFELLAS and CASINO, the bosses finally decide to get rid of Joe Pesci. Not because the gang bosses are offended by Pesci's criminality. They are all crooks too, after all. But Pesci is so out of control that he brings unnecessary attention to the whole 'semi-legit' operation of organized crime. It could be feds went after Blago cuz his erratic and out-of-control crookedness began to threaten the smooth-and-under-the-radar crookedness of the Democratic Party embodied by the likes of Daley, Emanuel, and Obama. It's like you can skim off some of the profits but don't take so much that EVERYONE begins to notice. I guess Blago was too ambitious and got tired of playing the game. He wanted to rise faster and to the top, and he stepped on too many feet and feelings. If he weren't stopped then, he might have led the entire Democratic gangster machine over the cliff with him. He didn't know when to stop or when to shut up.

CASINO JACK had a similar message. It says Abramoff was no worse than others. He was more greedy to be sure, but his blatant greed was, in some ways, a sign of his honesty. He understood politics and lobbying as cash cows and milked them for all they were worth. In contast, career politicians and businessmen play the same dirty game but more discreetly to remain 'respectable' in the eyes of the world. In some ways, they are the bigger phonies.

It's like a nouveau riche pig may be embarrassing in a "I'm a wild and crazy guy" sort of way, but he's more honest about his greed than casual-hip-boho riche people who'll do anything for a buck but act like, gee whiz, money really doesn't matter to them.

Anyway, Newscorp got 'too greedy' this time. Other media guys hate Newscorp for many reasons, but one reason could be Newscorp's over-greediness might ruin it for everyone because--let's face it--all news organization play loose with the rules to get their scoops.

Anonymous said...

It's like 'I take bribes, you take bribes, it's okay for all of us to take bribes... but don't be a dumbass and stuff $200,000 inside your refrigerator'.
Go after stupid(embarrassing and attention grabbing)corruption to preserve smart(respectable and legitimate)corruption.

RKU said...

One interesting detail that came out about the "Murdoch Scandal" is that the Murdoch people were apparently hacking the phones of and subsequently blackmailing some of the top police officials of Scotland Yard. Supposedly, that's the reason those police officials helped whitewash and derail the original investigation of the phone-hacking scandal when it first came up a few years ago. Apparently, they were also hacking the phones of some of the top elected officials as well, which apparently helped keep them obedient.

Now if ordinary newspapermen seeking scandalous gossip about media celebs in order to increase circulation are able to so easily blackmail the top police officials in Britain, it makes me wonder what other groups might be blackmailing top security and political officials in Britain, for considerably more nefarious reasons. And the same for America as well.

Anonymous said...

But here's the difference. The Pellicano thing was sordid but it was an in-house affair involving people IN the business. There were villains and victims, but, as the Corleones might say, it was 'business'.
Newscorp employees, on the other hand, hacked into the emails and other data of 'civilians'.

Oh, stop it. The victims in the Pellicano scandal were "civilians".

And "Newscorp employees" is disingenuous. You could just as easy describe Pellicano as a "Paramount Pictures employee". It would be equally stupid.

Anonymous said...

True, there is double standards.

And true, you're cool with that, since those double standards work to your advantage and our disadvantage.

Which is fair enough, in a certain cynical sense. But it leaves you in a weak position to wag your smugly moralizing finger at others.

Anonymous said...

One interesting detail that came out about the "Murdoch Scandal" is that the Murdoch people were apparently hacking the phones of and subsequently blackmailing some of the top police officials of Scotland Yard.

The Murdoch people!

Do you get these talking points direct from The Nation? The people in question were "Murdoch people" in what sense? exactly? In the sense of being hired by some people way down the ladder at a paper owned at some remove by News Corp?

Anonymous said...

I can recall CBS News pushing blatant forgeries in an attempt to bring down an American president.

For some reason the FBI were nowhere to be seen on that one. Neither was the FCC or any other media watchdog. And nobody suggested that CBS ought to lose their broadcast license over the affair.

Who/whom, indeed.

Fred said...

Janene Garafalo had guest roles on both Seinfeld and the Larry Sanders Show.

Auntie Analogue said...

No one cares about the Pellicano affair because we no longer live in history, because we - and more and more so our young and their progeny - instead live perpetual adolescence in the everlasting Now.

The terrible prison of the Everlasting Now is, of course, the crucial consequence of media pervasion that Marshall McCluhan seems to have missed. In fact the Everlasting Now is what McCluhan's "global village" really always was, and ever shall remain.

What media portray manipulatively as "scandals" are really low production cost 'panis et circences' with which to divert the perpetually adolescent populace from what's really going on, which is the systematic reduction of US citizens to nothing more than membership in the global cheap labor pool.

Anonymous said...

Tabloid newspaper hacks phones. Yawn.

Mossad took control of the USA's telephone system computer code in the 90's through two front companies - and after the infamous Fox news expose by Carl Cameron the entire story was flushed down the memory hole.

Our phones are permanently tapped and this is one reason your favorite politician talks a good game but then votes like a terrified puppet.

Btw thanks Steve for never bringing this issue up. It's because it's another silly conspiracy, right?

Jeff said...

There are lots of similarities between The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

IMHO, The Larry Sanders Show is much better than Curb, yet never really seemed to get the recognition it deserved (I guess it was the early days of HBO, when no one really cared about it).

Anonymous said...

So you're saying journalists are always paying police for information, I did not know that.

Anonymous said...

Sanders was hit or miss. Seinfeld had a much longer run and was consistently funny. No comparison IMO.

Dan in DC

All in the Nielsen Family said...

Larry Sanders was well appreciated in its day, but that was back when HBO occupied a less rarefied cultural perch. You had some other diverting shows like "Dream On" and "Oz" but then "The Sopranos" came along, simultaneous w/ the combination of broadband and SWPL micromarketing creating the new, status-conscious Appointment TV.

Not being a subscriber I rarely got to see it during the first run, but a decade afterward I was surprised to see how it's held up (contrasting with "Arliss" or the later gay mortician show). There was really no equivalent Elaine character, but Penny Johnson was great as Shandling's assistant.

Steve Sailer said...

I don't know anybody involved, I just watched a lot of The Larry Sanders Show.

tillkremlinerrs said...

Here I think is the proper analogy:

NewsCorp/Rubert/James = Egypt/Mubarak/Gamal

Fred said...


Sunday's Curb Your Enthusiasm had classic farce plotting. If a friend of yours has it DVRed, you should bring over a jar of wine/applesauce and ask to see it.