The Accidental Feminist : If the National Enquirer Proved Nothing Else During O.J., It Reaffirmed Its Surprising Pro-Woman, Anti-Abuse Stance

Katy Butler is a Northern California writer who's at work on a book on the press, gender and sexual violence. Her last piece for the magazine was about a recovered-memory trial in Napa Valley.

Shortly before sundown on the October day O.J. Simpson was acquitted, David Perel, senior editor of the National Enquirer, walked out of the tabloid's headquarters in Lantana, Fla., and went home for Yom Kippur. He stayed home the next day for the traditional period of reflection and atonement--his first quiet day since the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman: He spent hours lying face down on his bed thinking about a woman who would not see her children grow up. He thought about racial division in the country. By evening, he had lapsed into a state of sadness and mental and physical exhaustion. The Enquirer's special collector's trial issue was on its way to the printer. ( Cops Fear Goldman's Dad Will Kill O.J. 14 pages of Great Stories and Photos. ) The story was over, or so it seemed.

When Perel staggered back to work that Thursday, reporter Alan Butterfield, who had been trying for months to procure Nicole Brown Simpson's diaries, told him he might be able to get them after all. By Sunday, through means Perel won't discuss but that may have involved large sums of money, Butterfield did just that. Perel took them home and showed them to his wife. She began reading them and halfway through burst into tears. On Monday, Perel and Butterfield put together a five-page section of excerpts. The research department checked the facts, the rewrite desk did its work and the libel lawyer who often flies in from Washington, D.C., went through the issue with a fine-tooth comb.

The following day, the text and photographs were bouncing off satellites to printing presses in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Texas and Northern California. And Nicole Brown Simpson's deer-in-the-headlights eyes once again stared from the racks of 250,000 checkout counters. The edition made its way, mostly in women's hands, into more than 3 million homes. (O.J. beat the holy hell out of me and we lied at the X-ray lab Diary Reveals: Gun-Wielding O.J. Told Nicole to Abort Justin. Inside the mind of a battered, tortured woman.)

Radio stations that a year ago would never have deigned to mention the tabloid'sname read from the diaries verbatim. Newspapers cited them. "Anyone would be proud to run this," said Perel at the time. "This is not 'domestic discord.' This is violence of the worst order. It puts a lot of things in context, and it's selling through the roof."

If the O.J. story ever dies, it won't be the National Enquirer that drives the stake through its heart. After a trial that had sullied almost everyone associated with it, the Enquirer's reputation was still being enhanced. In the 16 months between the discovery of the bodies on South Bundy and the acquittal, it had broken enough O.J. stories to be cited by the New York Times for "aggressiveness and accuracy." The Columbia Journalism Review had called Perel and his boss, Executive Editor Steve Coz, "the Woodward and Bernstein of tabloidjournalism." Trial reporters at America's leading newspapers had ordered subscriptions or hidden copies in their grocery bags and read them secretly at home. It had been featured on "Nightline" and in Time magazine. It had gained thousands of new readers. And I was one of them.

I have been a newspaper reporter for more than 16 years and, until the trial began, I thought of the Enquirer as an impeccable source for news of space-alien abductions and Liz Taylor's latest surgery. My mind changed in August, 1994, when I picked up Nicole's Secret Life and read the first perceptive analysis I'd seen of her life of violence and intimidation.

It was a time when many journalists were still using the lukewarm phrase domestic discord or avoiding the subject altogether. Not the Enquirer. Amid erotic photographs of Nicole Brown Simpson wrapped in a silver fox coat, the Enquirer reported that during their marriage, O.J. Simpson had beaten Nicole and locked her overnight in his wine cellar. He had also paid her sister's college tuition, employed her father at a Hertz franchise and hired her cousin and his wife as his gardener and housekeeper.

"The bottom line," wrote Julia Coates-Dozier (in Why Nicole Couldn't Get Away From O.J. ) "is that Nicole suffered in silence for years as O.J.'s punching bag because her family was tied to her husband's purse strings."

I wanted to know why the Enquirer was running stories I wanted to read. I wantedto know how it managed to cover a story of gender conflict and sexual crime for a mostly female readership while beating the pants off the mainstream press. And that is why, in early June, I found myself at the Enquirer's L.A. bureau on Sunset Strip, a few doors down from the Armani Exchange and Le Dome.

*

On the morning I arrived, the fog lay so low that I could not see the tops of the West Hollywood hills from the bureau's sixth-floor office.

In the outer office, William Keck, 26, a former production assistant for producer Aaron Spelling and the first journalist to get through guarded subdivision gates and interview Nicole's parents after her murder, had his feet up on his desk. "Maybe he's talking marriage," he said into the phone. "Did you see if she had a ring on her?" Nearby, reporter Marc Cetner leaned into a phone. "So tell me," he asked, lowering his voice, "is he still drinking after Betty?"

Former London tabloid reporter Alan Smith, 51, who had arranged to pay $12,500 for an interview with the salesman and shop owner who had sold a knife to O.J. Simpson, was home in Calabasas checking out rumors that Liz Taylor was headed to the hospital again. And Perel, who had supervised the O.J. coverage from the day the bodies were discovered, was in his corner office. "What type of information is he looking for?" Perel asked. He stared at the computer screen, hitting keys and flipping through electronic files. A former makeup editor at the Washington Post and son of a Baltimore meatpacker, Perel is 36, quick-witted and wiry. He wore a T-shirt, a thin gold chain and loose, Army-green pants with big pockets on the thighs. "I wouldn't give that up," he said. "What's he ever done for me?" He flicked a look at "Court TV." "Tell him to get information, he must give information."

Like the Anita Hill testimony and the trials of William Kennedy Smith, Mike Tyson, Lorena Bobbitt, the Menendez brothers and Susan Smith, the Simpson trial had become another national battle-by-proxy for unresolved social conflicts: racial and sexual injustice; the meaning of rape, sexual harassment, child abuse and domestic violence; and the moral questions raised by victimization, victimhood, bystander denial and public accountability.

For more than a year, images from the courtroom aroused denial and obsession. Intrailers, apartments and houses across the country, Enquiring minds--most of themfemale, few of them wealthy and 20% of them African American--wanted to know; so did readers of the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times--most of them white and middle-class, and a slim majority of them male.

It was a trial that raised uncomfortable questions about class, sex and race--questions the mainstream press often seemed too embarrassed to acknowledge, much less answer. In a county so broke that it almost had to close some of its public health clinics, the case asked about the justice money can buy. In a landscape where people feel anonymous and neighbor-less, it murmured about the insulating power of being well-known. At a time when every shared assumption between men and women is up for renegotiation, it was about a marriage in which a rich black daddy paid the bills and a white mommy stayed home and got hit.

To cover such a story, idols had to be pulled from pedestals. Reporters were forced to enter a world where the line between public and private life blurred, the social face revealed its intimate shadow, sex was involved and male-on-female violence lay at the heart of the matter. It was the landscape where the National Enquirer functions best.

Reporters at the tabloid never felt the Simpson story, the one that began long before the double murders, was too trashy to cover. Last year, when Enquirer reporters got to the townhouse on South Bundy shortly after coroners' deputies, they were already armed with sources and leads: In 1989, O.J. Simpson's conviction for wife-beating had barely rated a mention in most newspapers, but the Enquirer, ever mindful of its 67% female readership, gave it a full page: O.J. Simpson Charged With Wife-Beating--the Shocking Details!

When the Simpsons divorced two years later, Enquirer reporters read the court filings. By 1993, their articles make it clear that they were wired into a network of "insiders" among the Simpsons' friends, and they covered the couple's brief reconciliation. If other newspapers had taken the Simpsons' violent marriage as seriously as the Enquirer did, said Dr. Joyce Brothers in one story, Nicole Brown Simpson might well be alive today. After the killings, the Enquirer wasted no time running stories about O.J.'s athletic career or quotes from bewildered business associates who'd never seen him angry. Its first eight-page spread had details as accurate and seemingly trivial as Nicole's trip out for ice cream the night of her murder and as telling as her statements that she was battered and feared that O.J. was stalking her and would kill her. ( The O.J. Murders. Dead wife told therapist: O.J. is going to kill me! Her Last Hours Alive: Chilling details behind brutal slayings! )

"Nobody exists in a vacuum," says Perel. "Whatever you do, somebody knows about it. And yes, we will pay for interesting, correct information."

It's an approach that troubles many. "There are a few bright lines left in journalism, and one is that you don't pay people," says Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker's trial correspondent. "Some of us in so-called respectable journalism get a lascivious charge out of saying how good the Enquirer is. But it's unreliable crap, and it's important to remember that."

Enquirer Executive Editor Steve Coz, who is Perel's boss and, like Toobin, an honors graduate of Harvard, concedes that paying for information has its risks. "People will embellish for money," he says. "Once that's on the table, you understand it and you cross-check. And let's face it. The police pay informants, prosecutors offer reduced jail sentences, defense attorneys pay thousands of dollars for expert witnesses, and newspapers and radio stations are hiring legal consultants at $2,000 a day. We don't go through that elaborate game. We say: 'We pay cash.' "

During the course of the trial, they spent more than $150,000 for tips from people, most of whom Coz will not identify. They spent thousands of dollars pursuing theories of alternate killers and came up with nothing. Week after week, they published stories that pointed toward Simpson's guilt.

Within a month of the slayings, the Enquirer reported that not only had Simpson bought a knife, he had also been trained--for a now-shelved NBC-TV drama called "Frogmen"--to slit a human throat and muffle screams. Its reporters found Nicole's housekeeper before police did and paid her $18,000 for an interview. (She said that Simpson, after terrifying and hurting his former wife, would sometimes send her flowers.)

In November, 1994, months ahead of any other news organization and after DNA tests were completed, the Enquirer accurately reported that blood found in Simpson's white Bronco was a match with Ron Goldman's and Nicole Brown Simpson's. Later, it printed photographs of Simpson wearing a tight pair of gloves similar to the now-famous Aris Lights.

All through the year, I read the Enquirer's stories in the checkout line. Some were ridiculous--photographs of prosecutor Marcia Clark sunbathing on a St.-Tropez beach--many others were unabashedly pro-woman and pro-victim. One story quoted members of Nicole's therapy group who said a "nightmare therapist" had told Nicole that her body language made O.J. want to hit her; its reporters got psychologists to talk about why athletes seem prone to domestic violence, and published advice for battered women.

Single issues like Nicole's Secret Life occasionally boosted circulation above its average of 3.3 million, but even the biggest Simpson blockbusters never brought the Enquirer close to the 6 million in sales achieved by the 1977 issue that featured a photo of Elvis in his coffin. Nevertheless, the stories brought unheard-of attention from the mainstream press. Last December, New York Times reporter David Margolick--a graduate of Stanford University Law School who had covered the William Kennedy Smith and Lorena Bobbitt trials--paid the Enquirer the ultimate compliment by citing its astonishing report that a jail guard had overheard O.J. Simpson blurt out, "I did it!" to minister and former football player Roosevelt Grier.

"It was from a source that had proven itself reliable in the Simpson case, and I'd be doing my readers a disservice if I didn't mention it," Margolick told themedia critic for the Washington Post. "We can all pretend this publication doesn't exist and isn't beating us, but that's not doing anybody any favors."

*

During the trial, Margolick worked 10 miles east of the Enquirer bureau, in a huge concrete waffle Downtown on Temple Street that houses the county's criminal courts building.

There on the 12th floor, an overflow crowd of daily reporters spent month after month crammed into a narrow, windowless pressroom. If the Enquirer traded in information usually relegated to gossip, the focus there was on the slim portion of truth that becomes testimony.

One June day, Brenda Vemich of Bloomingdale's was testifying about the unusual stitching on Aris Light gloves on the television monitor overhead. The predominant sound in the room was the clattering of laptops as 12 separate pairs of hands took down Vemich's words for newspapers like the Washington Post, the San Diego Union, La Opinion and the New York Daily News.

I looked around. To some reporters, the Enquirer was still an irritant and a running joke. Veteran Associated Press court reporter Linda Deutsch had threatened to remove her byline when an editor ventured to insert a report gleaned from the tabloid into one of her stories. Free-lance writer Joe Bosco had taken to the soft-porn pages of Penthouse magazine to express his moral outrage over being offered money by an Enquirer reporter for tips. And Marcia Clark had called defense witness Rosa Lopez so unreliable that "even the National Enquirer" wouldn't buy her story.

But the reporters in the room had their own limitations. They were handcuffed todaily minutiae--DNA alleles, glove shrinkage, the red herring of Mark Fuhrman's racism and the judicial game of fox-and-hounds. Meanwhile, the morally blind machinery of mass attention ground on, obliterating distinctions between accomplishment and murder, notoriety and fame. The deaths of a once-unknown Brentwood waiter and housewife inevitably slipped from the mind. Mentioning them seemed almost sentimental.

It was a scene that eventually troubled Toobin. In the Oct. 23 New Yorker, he wrote: "When it came to actual reporting on the trial, we all turned into a remarkably timorous crew. As far as I could tell, no one ever worried that their treatment of the defense was unduly favorable. The case against Simpson was simply overwhelming. When we said otherwise, we lied to the audience that trusted us."

That charge could never be laid at the Enquirer's feet. It wasn't the Enquirer but Toobin who floated several highly speculative defense theories never supported by facts--like the charge that Fuhrman planted a bloody glove on Simpson's estate or that the murders were a Colombian drug hit intended for Nicole's friend Faye Resnick.

The Enquirer never mistakenly said that a bloody ski mask had been found at the murder scene, as did the L.A. Daily News, or that Clark had been seen at the Simpson estate before a search warrant was issued, as did KCBS-TV.

And as the the line between tabloid sensationalism and mainstream journalistic ethics all but disappeared, the Enquirer filled another role. It never lost sight of the victims. Their images remained as vivid as the day they died through almost weekly photographs of Nicole and her children at family holidays, or of the Brown or Goldman families grieving at their gravesides. ( O.J.'s Lonely Kids Throw Birthday Party for Mommy. Dramatic Graveside Photos: Nicole's Sister Prays for Justice. The day Ron Goldman saved his sister's life: Secret pact with b rother is driving force behind her court vigil. )

"The tabloids keep the victims alive," said Dominick Dunne, Vanity Fair trial correspondent, at lunch the day after defense attorney F. Lee Bailey made the absurd suggestion that two sophisticated assassins may well have worn identical pairs of rare Size 12 Bruno-Magli shoes to confuse police. "That's why we're here," said Dunne, whose own daughter was murdered in Los Angeles in 1982. He hit the table with his fingers as he whispered: "Because of the victims."

*

The Enquirer's sympathy for victims did not begin with the Simpson trial. For the past five years, I had noticed any celebrity accused of sexual harassment, wife battery, date rape, non-payment of child support or exploitative sex with children could count on an exhaustive dissection of it all in the Enquirer: Tyson Beats Wife in Jealous Rage! Judge Thomas Lied: He Fails Lie Detector Test! Kennedy Clan Goes on Attack Against 'Rape Victim:' They've Hired an Army of Investigators to Dig Up Dirt! Michael Jackson Child Abuse Scandal Accuser, 13, Tells All.

It is an editorial focus shared--in a more respectable form--by People magazine and the daytime talk shows, which also have predominantly female audiences. Last February, People put "Why Nobody Helped Nicole" on its cover. During the Anita Hill hearings, it interviewed feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon as well as ordinary women who had suffered sexual harassment. In 1991, when former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur said she'd been sexually abused by her late father, it prominently featured her story.

"We cover any national story of gender conflict," says Landon Jones, managing editor of People, whose 3.4-million circulation--64% of which is female--is slightly larger than either the Enquirer's or Newsweek's. "When we get them on the cover, they sell remarkably well."

"Celebrity covers in and of themselves have lost a lot of their allure," Jones says. "We have found that first-person accounts of women who have survived violence are very compelling, and the best of all situations is a young woman celebrity who has been a victim."

These stories are often dismissed as "trash" by the mainstream press, but GloriaSteinem, founder of Ms. magazine, takes issue with that. "I've always mistrustedthe category 'trash TV,' " she says. "It often means issues of concern to the female population, like health, nutrition and exercise, family and relationship issues--and violence, of which we're the primary victims."

At the Enquirer, such stories are less a product of a feminist ideology than of demographics: 67% of its readers are women, half are married and 45% have children under 18. Median annual family income is $29,000. Advertising is thin and subscriptions a relatively meager 500,000, leaving the weekly attuned to the woman reader who decides whether or not to pay $1.29 at the checkout stand.

"We don't think of ourselves as a feminist force," says Coz. "We don't consult with NOW every morning. Some people might call some parts of what we do feminism or women's interest, but to us the entire subject is readerism. Every single story that we run has to live up to this criterion: Will the reader really be interested? As a byproduct of putting out what the reader wants to read, we've become women-oriented."

That audience, says Ben Bagdikian, a former Washington Post managing editor who is now a national media critic, has become "better educated and more serious in the past 20 to 30 years. They're more conscious of male-female issues, and all newspapers and magazines have to take that into account if they want to remain profitable," Bagdikian says.

This has created a challenge for mainstream newspapers, which traditionally are edited, reported and read by more men than women. In 1970, 78% of Americans--and 77% of women--were likely to read a daily newspaper. By 1994, that figure had dropped into the low 60s for men, and to 59.6% for women. "Younger women especially are turning away from newspapers. They don't always see themselves in newspapers or see pictures of people like them or see them quoted," says Nancy Woodhull, a founding editor of USA Today who has since acted as a consultant to more than 100 newspapers concerned about their declining female readership.

She cites a study by Women, Men and Media, a nonprofit consulting research groupfunded by Gannett's Freedom Forum, which found that 19% of the people quoted or referenced on the front pages of 20 medium-sized and metropolitan dailies in one sample month this year were women--down from 25% last year.

"The flaw in the standard media," says Bagdikian, "is that their sources, overwhelmingly, are the people who look at society from the top down. And those people tend to be men."

The Enquirer, on the other hand, features women on almost every cover and sees the world from the bottom up. "The Enquirer takes the side of the underdog," reporter Julia Coates-Dozier tells me one afternoon. "And women are usually the underdogs."

Nowhere was this difference in outlook more vividly exposed than in the spring of 1991, when Patricia Bowman, the 29-year-old daughter of a welder, told Palm Beach, Fla., police that she'd been raped by William Kennedy Smith, the son of a millionaire.

The New York Times published a profile of Bowman that provoked one of the worst ethical crises of the paper's history. Fox Butterfield, a longtime Times reporter based in Boston, wrote the kind of story that, well, might have been expected from the National Enquirer.

He described Bowman's "below average" high school grades, her 17 traffic tickets, her patronage of bars, her out-of-wedlock child, her so-called "wild streak" and her leap up the social ladder after her mother married a wealthy industrialist and moved to Palm Beach.

The Times broke a long tradition of protecting the identity of rape complainantsand named Bowman, pointing out that NBC and a small Florida tabloid had already done so. In Manhattan, more than 100 Times employees signed a letter of protest, and more than 300 attended an angry meeting with Times editors a few days later.

At the meeting, Assistant Managing Editor Allan M. Siegal expressed regret over the profile. The firestorm the story provoked, he says, left the Times with "an altered sense of public sensibilities and a renewed dedication to be more carefully faithful to our own standards."

At the Enquirer's headquarters, Coz was floored by the profile. "I remember reading [it] and wondering why the New York Times was doing this," he says. "I was stunned that they would color her in that fashion so quickly without giving equal weight to an investigation of William Kennedy Smith."

The Enquirer wrote about Bowman but did not use her name. And Enquirer reporter Patricia Towle, a former researcher for the National Geographic, found another woman, a former Georgetown University medical student, who said that Smith had raped her after an evening of heavy drinking in 1988.

Towle says her Enquirer editors would not run the story until she found two independent sources who confirmed that the woman knew Smith and had told friends of the nasty incident when it occurred. The Enquirer ran her story without using the woman's name. (Kennedy Rape Scandal. Woman's own story: What she claims really happened. Second woman charges: Willy Raped Me! How Teddy's sleazy sex life corrupted Kennedy kids.)

About a month later, the New York Times ran its own profile of Smith, quoting friends who called him "a calm and easy-going man" and "a good listener and a thoughtful conversationalist who seldom had more than a glass of wine or a mug of beer." All efforts to trace down rumors of "aggressiveness toward women," the Times wrote, "ended in vague and unverifiable accusation, hearsay, or inconclusive silence."

By the winter of 1991, the Enquirer's approach to the rape case looked rather more plausible than the New York Times'. Three women--one a doctor, one the medical student Towle had first interviewed and one an attorney--signed affidavits claiming Smith had sexually attacked them. All three said they'd been motivated partly by mainstream newspaper stories that made Smith, a young medical intern, look like a ministering angel.

Like Nicole Simpson's diaries, the affidavits never fully made the transition from the world of gossip to the realm where information really matters: They were excluded from Smith's trial, and he was acquitted in mid-December. Then the Enquirer went on to other things, like boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial and the sexual harassment charges against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas: Tyson Big-Bucks Payoff to Beat Rape Case. Judge Thomas Lied: He Fails Lie Detector Test!

*

It's not just the victims of the rich and famous who find a champion in the Enquirer. Last year, John Blosser launched a column called "Deadbeat Dads"; he has since run the mug shots of 25 men who skipped out on tens of thousands of dollars of child-support payments; 22 have been identified and six were jailed. Most of the rest now pay their child support and some even visit their children. "My father used to get up at 4 a.m. to drive a bread truck and support his family," says Blosser, who has won awards from two national child-support organizations. "I look at these bums and say, 'Give me my hunting license.' "

When I read his stories, and others that plead for homes for hard-to-place adoptive kids or for Christmas presents for an impoverished West Virginia town, I think I can discern a social conscience in the Enquirer, the same way I might convince myself I see a halo around the sun when I look at it through half-closed eyes.

But turn a page, and there's the double photo spread of Burt Reynolds without his toupee, or Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart's lap, or a shocked Lyle Lovett coming out of a hotel room with a woman who is not Julia Roberts, and I think again. The Enquirer doesn't distinguish sexual harm from hanky-panky. It operates in the territory where the terms privacy, shame, and boundary invasion have no meaning, where the only limits are those the law defines.

"They're not afraid to go after icons. That's what they're there to do," says Suzanne Braun Levine, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. "As they're heading into the mud, there may be a point in the arc where they're doing the right thing, but that's not where they're going. It's almost accidental."

The idea that mainstream newspapers might be seen as operating in the Enquirer'sterritory also troubles Siegal at the New York Times. "Almost every day somewhere in this country, newspeople are in court claiming their First Amendment standing, even if it's only a matter of getting a freedom of information document released or a court hearing opened," he says. "We come before judges whose opinion of us is conditioned by the behavior of the entire profession. The public perception that we are lumped with the supermarket tabloids under some heading called the 'media' is not a healthy development for our role or our standing in the courts."

Coz admits that while the trial "blackened part of my soul" and increased his cynicism, it certainly has made his life since easier. "It changed a helluva lot of people's perceptions of the Enquirer and made our jobs easier. We have better entree than we ever had."

"I'm not sure the Enquirer has a philosophy," Coates-Dozier says to me one afternoon, "except to give the readers what they want, and that changes every day. Social significance is not our objective. Sadly, there's not a lot of social significance in many celebrities' lives. But the work is exciting and the pay is good. It's more than I ever dreamed I'd be making."

It's a warm Monday afternoon in late June, and the Enquirer's latest issue is atthe checkout stands. Alan Smith has confirmed that Liz Taylor has undergone hip-replacement surgery: Liz' Agony: She goes under the knife for Larry. Craig Lewis has wound up the Marcus Allen story: O.J.'s Guilty, Says His Pal. Why Marcus Allen Refuses to Testify.

By Wednesday, text and photographs of a new issue will be transmitted to six printing plants across the country: Eva Gabor's secret fight for life. Tyson Cheats on Bride-to-be with String of Girls! Jim Carrey Book Bonus: 'Batman' Star's Amazing Rags to Riches Story.

By July, Coates-Dozier will be competing with a New York Times reporter on the Hugh Grant scandal, and Eva Gabor will be dead.

I ask Coates-Dozier why she became a reporter, and I don't hear what mainstream reporters often say--about giving voice to the voiceless or being a necessary force in a democracy. The closest she comes to idealism is allowing that she loves to catch celebrities cheating on their wives. "Somebody has to be there for the women," she says.

She chased Roseanne's limousine to the airport as enthusiastically as she described Nicole Simpson's misery; she staked out Michael Jackson's ranch during the pedophilia investigation with as much doggedness as she followed Oprah Winfrey to Lanai to watch her overeat.

She even met her husband, who works for an airline, while trying unsuccessfully to recruit him as a source. During her honeymoon on Oahu, she met someone at the hotel whose brother worked for actor Tony Danza and found herself spending her precious postnuptial hours trying to recruit him.

Most of her sources, she tells me at the polished, circular bar at Le Dome, are "little people"--"the limo drivers, the maids, the valets, the bartenders. The people who hear things but aren't really seen."

It's 6 o'clock and time to go home. I tell Coates-Dozier that I'm having dinner in Laurel Canyon with old friends--the husband is a playwright I knew in college;his wife is a costume designer who has worked on a number of films and television shows. "Hmm," says Coates-Dozier, brightening, raising her eyebrows in an unspoken question. "Sounds like she could be a source for us."

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