Michael Phelps might be in trouble, but he's in pretty high end company, scandal-wise. The reporter who broke the Big Bong Story is Georgina Dickinson, the US Editor of the English tabloid News of the World. She's the scandal-monger who brought us Sarah Palin in a hot red swimsuit, comparing her to Pamela Anderson and hit us with the latest dirt on Amy Winehouse.
How she got the smoky exclusive on Gold Medal Mike, however, isn't really a mystery. All you have to do is read the vitriolic frat boy quotes in her article to know the photos and story came from disgruntled students at the University of South Carolina, where Phelps went to visit a girl and party hearty. They snapped a few good shots of Phelps and then shopped them around to the highest bidder on the Internet.
It's easier than you'd imagine, especially for today's Internet savvy kids. And the tabloids make it super easy. There it is, right at the top of NOTW home page: SELL A STORY. Click on that and you get this: SELL YOUR STORY | News | News Of The World
Based on the information, the Phelps story had to mean serious cash for the students who sold it and the damning photo to NOTW online. Then Georgina Dickinson went to work here in the States, being all blonde and sweet and understanding as she got them to spill their smarmy, jealous guts into juicy quotes.
The story, such as it is, presented under Dickinson's byline is little more than a recap of Phelps' Olympic victories and some bits of descriptive narrative bracketing a pastiche of cranky quotes from "sources" about the swimmer's behavior during a visit to the university.
“Michael came to visit Jordan but ended up just getting wasted every night."Hero worship? Guess not, Mike. At least not from some of the guys who skulked in your shadow long enough to take a few pics. And collect some major bucks.
“He was out of control from the moment he got there."
“He didn't know many people so you'd think he'd be a little shy. But he was loud, obnoxious and slamming beers from the get-go."
“You could tell Michael had smoked before. He grabbed the bong and a lighter and knew exactly what to do."
“Like the night before he was holding court, throwing back shots two at a time and pouring drinks to every cute girl.”
Who are these guys? A source of mine says one of them is a junior whose girlfriend paid too much attention to Phelps. He took the photo on his iPhone. The paper and it's US editor aren't talking. Must protect their confidentiality, dontcha know.
And what about Phelps' right to privacy? Hey, "he's a public figger [sic], endorsing products, you know, fair game now."
Such fair game moves Georgina Dickinson (isn't she just so LA?) up the food chain. Her promotion came on the heels (or the backs?) of a series of scoops on Lindsay Lohan in 2007 plus kiss and tell revelations about Robbie Williams and Bruce Willis.
Dickinson has been based in LA as the paper's showbiz reporter since 2005, having previously worked as its "northern correspondent," whatever that means. Can't seem to find much on her, though. Unlike the paper's many scandal columnists based in London, Dickinson's bona fides--and whereabouts--are buttoned up tight.
News of the World, bizarrely enough, is owned by a conglomerate called News International, which publishes, among other things, the venerable Times of London and longtime British tabloid The Sun, online and off. Apparently the snooty Times needs scumbag news to pay the bills.
But wait, there's more! Follow the trail and you find News International is a subsidiary of News Corporation, a sweet little company which brings us, among other outstanding media, Fox News. Oh yeah, and has a chairman named Rupert Murdoch, Doesn't it just figure?
This isn't the first publicly embarrassing episode for Phelps. In 2004, at age 19, after an Olympic triumph in Athens Phelps was arrested on a drunken driving charge. Guess whose crack team broke that story too? Phelps pleaded guilty and apologized for his mistake.
In his book "No Limits: The Will to Succeed," Phelps recounted how his first phone call was to his agent, and not his mother or coach Bob Bowman, because he knew they would yell at him. That's not the only reason. Phelps isn't a total idiot. He called his agency this time too.
NOTW said Phelps' representatives "went into a panic over our story and offered us a raft of extraordinary incentives not to run the bong picture." The incentives are bizarre, read the end of the story. There's likely never been an offer like it.
I wonder how the parents of the boys who sold out Phelps for a pound of flesh are feeling now. Proud their little weasels became underground entrepreneurs? We'll probably never know who they are. Although they're such asses they might feel the need to brag about their valiant sellout some day soon.
And for sure, Georgina Dickinson or some other Dirt Diva will be right there to pooper scoop the story. Or maybe not. They'd have to be draped over a wasted Lindsay or Britney or Amy to really get NOTW's attention.
Bottom line: people do dumb, thoughtless things all the time. Kids act like kids. It doesn't matter if they're celebrated for their abilities, talents and fame, or if they're as anonymous as you and I. People do stupid things. Especially young people.
The tabloid carrion will feed on them as long as we buy the papers, watch the celeb shows or click on the scandalous photos and vids online. Because we're feeding on them too.
I don't know about you, but my stomach hurts.