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

By DAVID M. HALBFINGER

and ALLISON HOPE WEINER

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-fiancé, 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.