Some celebrity rumors are just so utterly obnoxious they don't deserve any additional press, which is pretty much how I felt about The National Enquirer's report about how Philip Seymour Hoffman was in a gay relationship with playwright David Bar Katz. The tabloid published the story all of three days after Hoffman died, which takes a completely fictitious rumor into a whole new territory of sleaziness. As Katz's attorney put it, "Here you have Phil's family and his friends grieving, and the Enquirer comes along seeking to make a buck through putrid lies. I do not know how these people can sleep at night."
Happily, the Enquirer has recanted their claims about Hoffman, and they even issued an apology via a full-page ad in The New York Times. What really turns this sordid tabloid tale into something worth talking about, though, is what else has happened as a result of their lawsuit settlement.
Katz wasted no time in suing the Enquirer for the story, which had included a "quote" from Katz saying that he and Hoffman had used cocaine the night before the actor's death.
The issue was never me being outraged at being accused of being gay — we’re theater guys, who cares? The issue was lying about the drugs, that I would betray my friend by telling confidences.
Katz also said he'd been shocked at how quickly the story had spread:
I always knew that they made stuff up, but I never knew they made up even having an interview with someone that they never had, and then the degree of seeing how everyone picks it up and (...) treats it like news. I was really stunned by that.
After being hit with a lawsuit for $5 million in damages and another $45 million in punitive damages, the Enquirer quickly withdrew the story. As for how the tabloid had managed to publish an entire interview that never actually happened, it turns out they spoke to an impostor.
They couldn’t believe that someone would be so callous to say, ‘I’m the real David Katz.’ From what I understand, it was one senior reporter who worked on it with some researchers. The reporter did the interview and was convinced it was the right person.
Whether or not that's what really happened, the Enquirer has issued a public apology for fabricating quotes, although they annoyingly refer to it as a "good faith error":
Instead of collecting any damages for himself, Katz and his legal team came up with an ingenious punishment: The National Enquirer has agreed to fund an endowment that will bestow an annual prize of $45,000 to an up-and-coming playwright for future productions. While the total amount of money isn't being disclosed, it's enough for Katz's American Playwriting Foundation to give out grants for "years to come."
The lawsuit has now been dismissed, and Katz says he's glad to correct the narrative about his friend ... and he's hopeful the Enquirer will think twice before publishing unfounded rumors:
I’m happy that this changes the way they do business so other people don’t have to go through this. And I’m happy that some playwrights are going to get something out of this.
What a great outcome from a truly irresponsible piece of tabloid journalism. Bravo to David Katz and to the aspiring playwrights who will be helped by his actions.
Are you impressed with how David Katz dealt with this National Enquirer story?
Image via justinhoch/Flickr