Punking the Tabloid Press: Jim Moret, Anna Nicole Smith and Inside Edition
Now that the word's out that our wildly successful Anna Nicole Smith spoof was, um, a spoof, I can reveal the events of this Monday that resulted in Thursday's Inside Edition segment on yours truly and the story of ANS' Native American love child.
Inside Edition called me that morning and informed me that TV reporter Jim Moret would be at the New Times' offices by noon, as he was flying in from L.A. to interview me -- actually me as Charles "Charlie" Tatum, the dood who supposedly wrote the story. As you can see in this photo and in the video captured and available on the NT's front Web page, I was having a bad hair day. But like they say in vaudeville, the show must go on, so I stuck a sparkly blue trucker hat on my noggin decorated by Fronzo "The Fonz" West sporting the letters FTP ("Fuck the Police") and awaited the arrival of Mr. Moret.
Moret got there a little after noon, I believe, with a two-man freelance camera crew. I went out to meet him in my trucker hat, accompanied by Clubs Editor Ben Leatherman, who's over 6 feet tall and over 300 pounds with a big scraggly beard. The guy's a gentle giant, but Moret didn't know that. Moret told me later that when we met him in the lobby, he was afraid that Ben and I were going to jump him or something.
Anyhoo, we didn't jump them, but led them to an empty conference room on the first floor where they could set up. I was in full Charlie Tatum mode, speaking in an exaggerated Southern accent to make myself sound even more like a hick than I usually do. After they took about 15 minutes setting up the cameras, the interview began, though without my hat, as they made me take it off. (Drat!) I went into my shuck-n-jive about how Johnny Soto, Anna Nicole's Tohono O'odham lover, approached us, and that even though I'd only been on the job a couple of weeks, my editor had dumped this colossal story in my lap because everyone else was just too galdurn busy to tackle it.
I'd already decided that if asked a direct question as to whether the newspaper itself was pulling a prank, I'd cop to the truth. But I wasn't sure Moret would ask the right question even though he seemed skeptical: He told me the font type on the birth certificate was not the right kind (who knew they had fonts just for birth certs?); and he and Inside Edition execs didn't understand why Johnny Soto's phone number was formerly a phone number for erstwhile New Times staff writer Bob Nelson. (Whoops.) "How does Bob Nelson figure into all this?" asked Moret. I told him the NT had set up the phone line because Soto didn't want to give out his cell number.
Eventually, Moret asked if the entire story was some sort of April Fools Day stunt, and I stunned him by dropping my fake accent and telling him that it was indeed a spoof. "You've been punked!" I told him, laughing. Then I explained the whole situation. Moret actually breathed a sigh of relief, because if I hadn't divulged all, his next stop was Sells, AZ, the capital of the Tohono O'odham nation, which I hear is lovely this time of year. Still, the three hour drive, I'm sure, would've sucked. Moret then interviewed my editor Rick Barrs, who told him that we do a spoof every year. We even gave him a copy of last year's spoof, my Xtreme Cuisine, cover story.
Moret seemed to grok our explanations, and later, after rereading the ANS story, referred to it as "genius." Moret was a nice enough guy, and told us that it was still a story that we'd pulled one over on so many hard-bitten news types. We told him all folks had to do was check the online comments. Loyal readers picked up on the spoof, but those unfamiliar with us, like Moret and his colleagues, had no idea the ANS story was operating in the realm of satire and parody.
In general, I liked the Inside Edition piece, save for the finger-waggin' schtick by "legal analyst" -- try anal-lyst -- Royal Oaks (did he used to be a weatherman or something?), which I found totally absurd. I'm going to be lectured by a gossip and scandal show that leads with Brangelina? Uh, I don't think so. Plus they left out the fact that we do these on a yearly basis, and that they were basically fooled enough to send out a reporter to cover it. On the other hand, I liked the fact that they ran a clip of Kirk Douglas from the Billy Wilder flick Ace in the Hole, which is where I got the name "Charles Tatum." In Ace, Douglas plays a New York reporter who falls from grace and ends up working at a small newspaper in Albuquerque, NM. In an attempt to get back to the big time, he exploits this story of a guy trapped in a mine shaft -- his ace in the hole. The name goes straight to the satirical heart of the New Times story: The circus freakshow that's been Anna Nicole's (life and) death.
Inside Edition was one of the bigger fish we landed with this spoof, but there were others. Lots of others. Heh. All will be revealed in next week's Bird column.