Spin Puts Its Faith in a Professional Liar

If there is a moral to the strange Jonathan Taylor Spielberg saga–in which a 27-year-old Iranian immigrant, né Anoushirvan Fakhran, settled in Fairfax, Va., posed as a 14-year-old, took on the surname of a famous movie director and enrolled in a local high school before being arrested on child pornography charges and convicted of forgery–it may be this: Magazine editors should never, ever expect an exclusive from someone who, when asked “What do you do?,” replies “I’m a liar.”

That quote is from the formerly-thought-to-be-exclusive profile of Jonathan Taylor Spielberg (he has legally changed his name) scheduled to run in the December issue of Spin . It will be scooped by 14 days by Steve Garbarino, who was led to believe he was working on his own faux-Spielberg exclusive for Talk.

When the story of Mr. Spielberg surfaced in the daily papers at the beginning of this year, editors at Spin began angling for an exclusive even while Mr. Spielberg was sitting in jail facing charges. Chris Norris went down to Virginia to get, as the writer put it, “vetted” by Mr. Spielberg.

“I was suspicious from the moment I met him,” Mr. Norris said. “He was saying things like, ‘What can you guarantee me? Can you give me the cover?'” Mr. Norris tried to negotiate. “I said we’d give him ‘cover presence.'”

Mr. Norris came back to New York thinking that he had sealed the deal; later, he met Mr. Spielberg at the bar of the SoHo Grand Hotel to interview him for the story. “He has this Detour magazine there,” Mr. Norris said. “And I said, ‘Oh, are you a regular reader?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m friends with the editor,'” and Mr. Spielberg pointed to a picture of Mr. Garbarino inside the magazine.

Mr. Garbarino was, until July 1999, editor of Detour . He recently signed a contract with Talk .

Mr. Spielberg let on that Mr. Garbarino was working on the story for Talk , but after a few drinks he assured Mr. Norris: “You’ll definitely get the exclusive. I’ll tell you everything.”

But as Mr. Norris continued his reporting, Mr. Garbarino’s name kept coming up. Then, on Sept. 1, the New York Post ‘s Page Six ran an item about Mr. Spielberg facing deportation because of his forgery conviction. The item quoted Mr. Garbarino as a ” Talk writer … who landed an exclusive interview with the soft-spoken, celebrity-obsessed dandy.”

In Mr. Norris’ piece for Spin , he includes his conversation with Mr. Spielberg the day the Page Six item came out. Mr. Spielberg suddenly called to say, on the advice of his agent, that he couldn’t do any interviews. “I can’t resist asking if the agent was aware he did an interview with the Hollywood-centric magazine Talk ,” Mr. Norris wrote.

At which point, Mr. Spielberg replied, “Can you hold on one second?” and hung up the phone. It was the last time they were to speak. The December Spin with Mr. Norris’ piece comes out on Nov. 7.

But Mr. Garbarino did not have a smooth ride to publication, either. Talk executive editor Vicky Ward said the magazine was having trouble vetting the piece. “None of Jonathan Taylor Spielberg’s quotes could be substantiated–and without that substantiation, we would only be perpetuating his myths.”

Mr. Garbarino said that Talk ‘s deadlines made it difficult to complete the fact-checking process in time for the November issue, causing Talk editor Tina Brown to roll it over to the December issue.

“The Spielberg story was never killed by Talk ,” Mr. Garbarino said. “After spending nearly three months with Jonathan–almost on a daily basis, him being approached by other publications, including weeklies, for his story–and given his propensity for fabrication and antsy nature to see his story in print, I felt that the piece wouldn’t hold until December.”

Ms. Brown, he said, then allowed him to take the piece elsewhere. ” Details seemed to have the right sensibility, and their deadlines made it possible to squeeze it in,” Mr. Garbarino said, adding, “I’m very happily contracted to Talk . But now that Spin ‘s piece on the little monster isn’t coming out until December, I’m that much happier.”

Though Details won’t be on newsstands until Oct. 24, Mr. Garbarino has already received some flak for it. On Oct. 16, Page Six ran an item based on the Details piece on how Mr. Spielberg once entered Model Search America as a teenage girl. Mr. Spielberg was quoted as telling Mr. Garbarino, “I made the perfect boobs out of silicone … they called the next day.” A spokesman for Model Search America contacted both Page Six and Details to say that they doubted the veracity of the anecdote.

“We never follow up the next day,” the spokesman told Off the Record. “It’s just not possible.” The spokesman added that the company conducted a pretty thorough search of its records and couldn’t find anyone with any of Mr. Spielberg’s names.

Mr. Garbarino said he tried to contact the modeling service before the piece went to press but never heard back. He added, “It was probably the most annoying story I’ve worked on in years.”

After four months of interviewing many editors around town, Esquire ‘s David Granger has finally settled on a senior editor. He’s hired Entertainment Weekly senior editor A.J. Jacobs, who has been overseeing that magazine’s front-of-the-book News and Notes section.

Mr. Granger said that Mr. Jacobs’ initial responsibility will be freshening up the front of Esquire ‘s book. “I’m hoping he can help me with some of the stuff he’s best at,” Mr. Granger said. “I just think he’s a funny guy as a writer and as an editor.”

Esquire can use the help. While Mr. Granger has improved the feature well, the front of his book seems to lack that earnest, classically macho tone that stamps the rest of the magazine. It’s also lacking focus. Seven consecutive pages of the front-of-the-book Man at His Best section in the November issue bring us: an obligatory full-page photo of a “model turned actress,” a calendar page, drink recipes, pictures of very expensive cars, a recipe for mushroom lasagna, a blurb on a Giorgio Armani retrospective and a rousing endorsement of Vicks VapoRub.

“I think there are some things we do really well and some things we need to keep looking at,” Mr. Granger said. “And I think A.J. can bring a levity and sense of good feeling and optimism and humor to the magazine that we haven’t probably had as much of as I’d like to.”

Mr. Jacobs starts at Esquire on Nov. 1. “I’m sad to leave EW just before the new Backstreet Boys album comes out,” Mr. Jacobs said. (For those interested, the Backstreet Boys release Black and Blue on Nov. 21.) “But I couldn’t pass up the chance to work at Esquire , a great magazine filled with first-rate writing.”

There’s a certain amount of musical chairs in the hiring of Mr. Jacobs. He fills the hole left on the masthead when former Esquire senior editor Jay Woodruff took a senior editor post at Entertainment Weekly , editing the film review section.

Just a little more than a year ago, Ironminds.com had its humble beginnings as an online publication produced by and for college students under the auspices of Andy Wang, 24, who was at the time a Visiting Hearst Professional at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. And, today … well, the site has gone back to some pretty humble circumstances.

Back in April, Ironminds was purchased by Novix Media, an online company run by George magazine co-founder Michael Berman. In August, to ease the burn rate at Novix, the staff of Ironminds was fired and the site became the property of Mr. Wang again. Trooper that he is, Mr. Wang (still employed at Novix) managed to keep the site running out of his own pocket. But on Oct. 16, Novix joined the ranks of Internet content companies that have shuttered their doors, cutting off Mr. Wang’s income.

Nonetheless, Ironminds is continuing to operate, posting a half-dozen stories daily that primarily fall in the broad “cultural criticism” category. For now, Mr. Wang said his contributors are writing for free, but he has a rather novel plan to run his online publication: turn it into a charity.

On Oct. 26, he’s hosting a fund-raiser at the meat-packing district bar Filter 14, with readings from his Ironminds writers and a silent auction offering such valuable commodities as a place on the masthead, a profile of yourself on the site and dinner with a writer.

“If I can raise $10,000, I can keep it going,” Mr. Wang said. “This is the only city you can get away with this.” But a touch of fear crept in: “I think we may be competing with the Subway Series.” If so, Mr. Wang has an alternative plan: “If I get really desperate for money, I can go write two pieces.” He paused. “Great, I get two or three thousand dollars, and I can eat that month.”

Guess who’s been plodding along with the rest of the press corps covering the Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio Senate race? None other than former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett. The high-profile reporter spent a few days during the first week of October, according to one reporter, following Ms. Clinton to a day-care center in Brooklyn, an event with the Association for a Better New York and the Columbus Day parade. Mr. Arnett, who was let go from CNN in the aftermath of the retracted Tailwind story, was said to be preparing a segment for a Turkish television station.

Globe-trotting Mr. Arnett could not be reached for comment. But a campaign staffer said he was very polite: “You’d think Peter Arnett, he’s going to be some prima donna, but he gets in line like everyone else. He’s very nice.”