Hudson Morgan is the assistant to Lloyd Grove, who writes the Lowdown gossip column for the New York Daily News. He spent a year as an intern at The New Republic and eight months as a fact-checker at Vanity Fair before coming to the Daily News. He has also written for Slate.
Brian Montopoli: You used to work for The New Republic, and eventually went to a gossip column at the Daily News. That’s a pretty jarring change — you jumped from a rarified bubble directly into a snakepit. What happened to your worldview? Does the world seem like a nastier place now?
Hudson Morgan: Well, when we fall, we fall far. Sure, the darker side of human nature, blah blah blah, but what’s been amazing is how few people care about what you write about them, provided you spell their name right. I know that “all press is good press” is an old maxim, but it’s been reinforced and reinforced every single day that I’ve been on the job. With the exception of ten or fifteen A-listers at the very top, I’d say it holds true for everyone. Even people that I wouldn’t have thought.
To tell you the truth, The New Republic and Daily News are so separate — this is going to sound awful — but I don’t even read world news anymore, because this world is so overwhelming. You just get caught up in deadlines every day. I should be reading the Spectator — that’s the British Spectator, mind you — but instead I’m reading Us Weekly and Star in my free time. That’s not sustainable — that’s not something I should be maintaining over the long run. If anything, working here has narrowed my worldview in that sense. But, you know, there’s something not very human about Washington, too.
BM: Where is the competition more significant — between the various columns within the Daily News, or with gossip columns in other papers?
HM: With Rush and Milloy, I wouldn’t say we’re in collusion, but we are, absolutely, friends. When we can’t use stuff — for example, about a certain heiress that we’ve banned from the column — we flip it their way. The thing about New York is you’ll always end up writing about friends of yours, or friends of friends that you don’t like, and so a really easy way to do it without any fingerprints whatsoever is to just pass it to them. It doesn’t happen often, but I think there have been a couple instances.
The competition with the Post is absolutely fierce. They are gangsters. And to compete with them, you have to stoop to their level. You want to be able to have the best scoop every day, and they don’t vet things as scrupulously, they rely on shady sourcing, they make up quotes. We’re actually practicing journalism. There have been so many good stories that I’ve wanted to use that I haven’t. I take a publicist’s denial at face value just because I trust them. Maybe that’s naive, but I just don’t think that’s something the Post or Page Six has ever done. Ever. Most of the time we’ll print the denial with the story, but sometimes there are stories that are so good and you know they’re not true — you get to a point where you can sort of suss these things out, and you can sense in your stomach when someone is being insincere with you — and I just feel like it’s really hard to be in a race like that when you’re playing by different rules.
BM: There’s this big debate right now — thanks in part to Jeff Gannon, and also blogs — over what makes a journalist. What do you think? Are you a journalist?
HM: I don’t know. If you’re doing responsible reporting on something, and you’re breaking news, you’re a journalist. If you’re trafficking in rumors and you’re not doing due diligence, then that’s probably not journalism. Sometimes we do fall somewhere in between, but we always make the most sincere effort to get in touch with everyone who’s mentioned, even in passing, or a representative for them. And that’s hard, over the course of one day, especially if something comes in at five, and you have to file it in an hour.
BM: What have blogs done to gossip columns? Have they had much of an impact?