We’re coming up to the fifth anniversary of the controversial Adam Vary article in which his longtime friend Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making a pass at him in 1986 when Rapp was only fourteen. And in those five years, the $3 billion celebrity gossip mill has been working to full capacity.
Almost all of the celebrity gossip websites, cable programs, and social media commenters and influencers have been churning out stories that run from mildly bizarre to physically impossible and everything in between. In these stories, Spacey has been labeled a convicted felon (not true), a murderer (also not true), a whistleblower—ready to spill the beans about Jeffery Epstein (not sure about that one, but it’s pretty unlikely), and more.
Rumors followed accuser Anthony Rapp as well. Some regarding his conduct on the Toronto production of Rent with underage fans, others from the Star Trek universe.
The rumor mill
When Ana Chevalier—the only journalist to investigate the allegations against Kevin Spacey—decided to follow up on all these allegations, she didn’t know what she was getting into.
In the 4+ years she worked on this story, Ana followed up on as many leads as possible. Unfortunately, many turned out to be nothing. And while some led down interesting pathways they didn’t make the ultimate cut and were left out of her original article.
Why were some of the Kevin Spacey/ Anthony Rapp stories cut?
Some were debunked. One would-be-source swore upon her mother’s grave that she was present—a direct eyewitness—when Spacey supposedly assaulted a close friend in front of her. The person was quite sure of what had happened and even remembered the date.
The date was very familiar. She asked her contact if they were absolutely sure of the date they alleged their story took place. They insisted it was correct.
After asking, pointedly, whether they were one hundred percent sure of the date, they said they were.
And here’s the problem. The date they were one hundred percent certain Kevin Spacey was in the same room with them, acting inappropriately, was the same night he was hosting the Tony Awards, live on television.
When confronted with the discrepancy, they quickly changed their story, now saying they heard the story from somebody else, who swore it was true. When that person was contacted to see if there was anything to the story, they laughed saying, yes, they saw Spacey that night. They watched him host the Tony Awards and had commented to some friends, “Spacey bugged me all night.”
This sort of thing happened a lot.
Other reasons for cutting the Kevin Spacey stories
Certain stories didn’t have any corroborating evidence or second witnesses. Ethically, any professional journalist would leave such stories off the page, so Ana left them out.
But there were also the stories that seemed to proliferate the dark corners of the interwebs like black mold. Faster than you can spell Q-Anon, some bizarre theories and stories sprung up following Anthony Rapp’s accusations.
Logic or the fundamental laws of physics be dammed, these stories had it all—sex, money, worldwide-cabals, porn (this one actually turned out to be true, kinda), and of course, murder.
Most of these claims were not included in the final article due to their general ridiculousness and utter implausibility.
The value of gossip in modern journalism
Let’s be clear—gossip or hearsay isn’t news. It can barely be called information.
But these sorts of stories, it might be argued, can also be a great source of entertainment— speculating what might be accurate and, if so, what it all might mean.
It used to be that any story without a corroborating witness or backed up by some form of direct evidence was not printed. Today, it’s not unusual for an interviewer to preface a question with the phrase some people are asking…
What people? How are they connected with this story? Why should these unseen, unnamed people be dictating the narrative here? And how often are they just another writer on the story trying to find an angle?
The exploration of the Kevin Spacey story illustrates the crucial role that rumor and gossip play in modern journalism, especially when it involves a celebrity. After all, in many ways, the Buzzfeed story is essentially a rumor printed by a long-time friend (20+ years) of the accuser—and it halted Kevin Spacey’s career.
Hit pieces are not journalism
Another excellent example of this trend was a Buzzfeed.com article that targeted the Dr. Phil show with a title that says it all: “Current And Former “Dr. Phil” Employees Say The Set Is A Toxic Workplace.” The article alleged several instances of abusive behavior by producers and senior executive staff that included racism, exploitation of guests, and the constant threat of termination.
The problem is that of all the employees supposedly interviewed for the story, only one person—a rotating page who only occasionally worked on the show to manage audience members—was named. The rest were anonymous. Also, no dates or specific contexts were included in the incidents.
Not much came of the hit-piece. The Dr. Phil show has been renewed for another season, and apart from some staff layoffs a few months ago, it seems the show is proceeding as usual.
Can rumors be printed as news?
While writing this story, Ana often expressed her frustration with having all those tendrils in her head.
She decided to get them out in the open. On her personal blog, Ana detailed the biggest and best from the rumor treasure trove she collected during her 4+ years of investigation. Some of them are wild, and some are crazy. Most are just ridiculous.
But $3 billion a year means many readers out there are into that sort of thing. So if you’re one of them, check out Ana’s blog post, Chasing Kevin Spacey, and see what the fuss is all about.