Did Tom Petty’s Pal Leak the Gore Photos to the Daily News

It was the Al Gore you never saw during the Presidential campaign: the uncensored, uncombed, unburdened Al Gore, blithely slugging Heinekens and shaking his big Tennessee rump to John Popper’s shrill harmonica. And boy, did he sweat like something else.

Al Gore’s inner Paris Hilton was exposed on Dec. 15 by the New York Daily News, which published a hypish cover story entitled “AL GORE-PARTY ANIMAL.”

Just about everyone who saw the accompanying two-page photo spread of the pit-stained Presidential runner-up empathized with the fallen candidate’s need to blow off some post-election steam. Mr. Gore was captured partying hearty at his home on the night of his election defeat in the company of a gaggle of well-lubricated aides, semi-celebrities and aging rockers including Mr. Popper, Jon Bon Jovi and Tom Petty.

But some staffers inside the Vice President’s campaign were angry about the photos, feeling their publication violated the spirit of a private evening. Now, a number are pointing the finger at an associate of a specific attendee: Mr. Petty.

A highly-placed Gore family source said that the consensus among the Vice President’s staff is that the Daily News photographs were taken and provided to the paper by “a Tom Petty groupie.” Mr. Petty brought a small entourage of people to the party, the source said, several of whom were unknown to the campaign staff. One of those people is suspected by Mr. Gore’s staff to be the culprit, the source said. After the Daily News story came out, the staff contacted Mr. Petty’s manager in order to see if they knew anything about it.

“Tom Petty’s been really good to the campaign,” the source said. “We weren’t mad. We just wanted to make sure that whoever sold them wouldn’t sell any more to the papers.”

Mr. Petty’s manager was on vacation and unreachable, but the rock star’s publicist, Mitch Schneider, flatly denied any link between his client and the Daily News splash. “The photos sold to the NY Daily News absolutely did not come from anyone associated with Tom Petty,” Mr. Schneider wrote in an e-mail to Off the Record.

For its part, the Daily News isn’t saying where the photos came from. Mitchell Fink, the News columnist who wrote the article which accompanied the “Party Animal” spread, declined to give up the identity of his Deep Lens. “I have no response to that,” Mr. Fink said when asked if the photos came from a colleague of Mr. Petty’s. “I don’t think that’s true at all. I have no idea who that person [the photographer] went with.”

Mr. Fink, who said his source was never asked to stop taking photographs at the party, added that he hadn’t heard any complaints from the Vice President’s staff. “They should be thrilled,” Mr. Fink said. “I think if this story and these pictures ran six or seven weeks ago, he would have been elected.”

Working for the mercurial Jann Wenner involves certain complications-keeping your desk tidy is just one of them-but serving as editor in chief of Men’s Journal has long been one of the most complicated positions in Mr. Wenner’s volatile media encampment.

Our latest episode: On Dec. 18, one week before Christmas Day, beaten-down Men’s Journal editor Mark Bryant-frustrated by Mr. Wenner’s resistance to the changes he wanted to make at the magazine-resigned after barely a year on the job. Mr. Wenner responded by tapping Sid Evans, 31, a former Men’s Journal senior editor who, ironically, had fled to GQ after getting passed over in favor of Mr. Bryant the year before. Mr. Evans becomes the fourth editor in the magazine’s eight-year life.

Just another day in Wennerworld.

Sources at Wenner Media said that Mr. Bryant, a once-hot property who had won a string of National Magazine Awards as the editor of Outside, had been unhappy at his post for some time. Lured to Mr. Wenner’s cave in November 1999 after leaving Outside to develop his own magazine, Mr. Bryant thought his charge was to remake Men’s Journal into a magazine with a broader audience than kayakers and young men who think trekking in Bhutan is a cool way to spend a vacation. He told any media scribe who would listen that he wanted to develop a more general-interest magazine that could compete against GQ and Esquire.

But that was the same imposing rock that both of Mr. Bryant’s predecessors had hoped to climb-only to eventually be led down the mountain by Mr. Wenner to the less ambitious short hills of kayaks, compasses and backpacks. Men’s Journal’s founding editor, John Rasmus, and his successor, Terry McDonell (now running Us Weekly), both had ambitious plans of taking on the big, perfume-y competition, but wound up being prodded by the boss to stick to the tried-and-true formula of Powerbar-fueled adventure articles and gear ‘n’ gadgetry reviews.

At other times, however, Mr. Wenner would appear torn, unable to truly articulate what he wanted the magazine to be. Sources said he would warm to the idea of Men’s Journal taking on the glitzier men’s magazines with celebrity covers and top-shelf features, but he would always wind up pushing his editors to revert to his original, crunchier vision. Indeed, sources at the magazine said Mr. Wenner had been increasingly meddling in Men’s Journal, pushing for a return to the “adventurous lifestyle” shtick, a maneuver that eventually led Mr. Bryant to head for the door.

Mr. Bryant did not deny the conflict. “It just became increasingly clear to me that my vision for the magazine-the vision that I thought I’d been hired to execute-was not ultimately in sync with Jann’s vision,” Mr. Bryant said. “Jann’s the boss and life is short.”

Yes, Jann’s the boss, and as always, Mr. Wenner won the battle. “Jann’s strategy sounds familiar to me,” said Mr. Rasmus, who left the magazine unhappily in 1997 and is currently editing National Geographic Adventure. “It’s no reflection on Mark. His reputation is as good as it gets.”

But others worried that the fickle Mr. Wenner would continue to have two ideas of what he wants Men’s Journal to be-a management schizophrenia that would drive any editor to distraction. “I have no doubt that Jann gave Mark the mandate to compete with Esquire and GQ,” said one staffer. “And if we’re going back to the old Men’s Journal, it’s with Jann’s blessing, too.”

Mr. Evans, the new editor, didn’t return Off the Record’s calls for comment. But Men’s Journal publisher Rob Gregory downplayed any radical repositioning of the magazine in the wake of Mr. Bryant’s departure. He did acknowledge, however, that giving the magazine a celebrity angle by putting George Clooney on the cover this past July hadn’t worked. “George Clooney sure looked good on paper,” Mr. Gregory said. “The star of The Perfect Storm; every guy wants to be George Clooney, every girl wants to date him; but we discovered it didn’t sell that well.” (Although Harrison Ford, who was on the September 1999 cover, did sell well, he said. Go figure.)

Despite all the turbulence at the top of its masthead, Mr. Gregory insisted that Men’s Journal has never strayed too far from the “adventurous lifestyle” focus.

“It’s like we’re a really nice Porsche going down the road,” he said, “and maybe we’ve weaved over to one side of the road a little bit and maybe we’ve weaved over to the other side of the road a little bit, and now we’re going to bring the Porsche back to the center of the road.

“It’s still Men’s Journal,” Mr. Gregory continued. “But to stay in the automotive metaphor, we’re gonna take it up to 100 miles per hour now.”

So, for God’s sake, Sid Evans, fasten your seatbelt. That’s Jann Wenner at the wheel.

The OTR guide to the 2000 media holiday party season. New York Post-Editor Xana Antunes stops nibbling on vegetable sticks when Supreme Court election ruling rolls in. Those left behind decide between the Sports Illustrated after-after-party at Studio 54 and table dances at Scores.

GQ-Staff gets down to Lenny Kravitz at Lotus. Editor Art Cooper opts not to dance.

Wenner Media-Us Weekly writer Marcus Baram goes Ronson for the evening, spinning ditties for fellow Ussies, Men’s Journalistas and Rolling Stoners. Jann Wenner overheard requesting the techno group Underworld.

Time Out New York-In “Secret Snowflake” ritual-a p.c. version of Secret Santa, it turns out-editor in chief Cyndi Stivers receives a monkey finger puppet, which she wags at people all night long at Chelsea’s Flute.

Esquire-Belly dancers in the office.

The New Yorker-After a spate of dancing at Le Max, the staff flees to pound at the Lower East Side dive Parkside Lounge.

New York-Unable to find like-minded kin at the monstrous pan-Primedia holiday party at the Marriott, staffers disperse to other media parties; a large contingent winds up at the Observer bash at the Century Club, where plenty of Macallan is consumed.

Glamour-Staff gathers for karaoke at Moomba; art director Henry Connell dons a blond wig for rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Rescue Me.”

Harper’s Bazaar-Large platters of meat at The Apartment go untouched.

Allure-Gag gift Secret Santa swap at Chinoiserie: vibrators, kinky underwear. Editor Linda Wells gives a copy of The Devil in Miss Jones to publicity director Marie Jones; Sasha Charnin Morrison gets a Barbra Streisand drag queen.

Talk-Chinoiserie swept clear of Allure editorial assistants for Tina Brown’s scheduled 8 p.m. arrival. No Ben, Matt or Gwynnie; salmon soba noodles suffice.