“You wanted this all along!”
The shrieking rattled the windows at 40 Centre Street’s federal courthouse. Not five minutes earlier, a jury had found Martha Stewart and her Merrill Lynch stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, guilty of conspiracy and assorted other charges. The New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser had jostled her way over to Bacanovic’s diminutive 72-year-old mother, Helen Bacanovic, looking to tap some rancor. Only, the bucket had tipped over. Suddenly, Bacanovic had the reporter firmly by the wrist.
“He lost his career, and his job, and he had no motive!” the retired anesthesiologist shouted at the columnist before she was ushered away. Peyser stared back, unfazed.
Three weeks later, Andrea Peyser was poking around her salad at Michael’s, the midtown media hangout, quietly complaining that for all its baby-opal-basil trimming, it still tasted like cream cheese and turkey roll. Lunch, she explained, was generally something that happened at her desk. At Michael’s, she was playing it discreetly stylish in her black suit, pearl earrings, and stay-put pink lipstick; punky DKNY sunglasses were folded away inside her handbag.
“I feel sorry for Mrs. Bacanovic,” Peyser was saying. “It’s not the first time somebody has projected onto me her anger and grief. She’s not angry at me,” she said, pausing pensively. “But she took it out on me a little.”
The spectacle of the city’s high-profile court cases provides a tabloid newspaper with much opportunity for wit, savagery, and increased sales. Andrea Peyser is the local Madame Defarge, shaking her fist as the tumbrels roll by, the Post’s class warrior, channeling populist rage and unleashing it on the likes of Donna Hanover, Hillary Clinton, and those who would countenance the idea of gay marriage. “A rabid New Yorker” is how Post editor-in-chief Col Allan describes her (though many New Yorkers might not appreciate the association). The smiling photo accompanying Peyser’s column was recently replaced with one of her wearing a scowl—“No one recognized me,” she said. Lawyers say they shudder when they see jurors marching into court with the New York Post under their arms.
At Michael’s, most of the Stewart-trial press all-stars happened to be scattered around the same room for the first time since court had adjourned. Dominick Dunne spotted Peyser from across the dining room, his eyebrows tepeeing over his tortoiseshell horn-rims.
“Ahn-drea!” the Vanity Fair writer cried, embracing Peyser warmly. “Honey, I miss you!” Peyser’s next big ticket would probably be the Scott Peterson murder trial in California, but Dunne will not be commuting anywhere near Gary Condit country. The ex-congressman is still suing him for slander. “I wish I was there with you. We’d have some laughs,” he said, bouncing off to the next table.
“Dominick’s connections are certainly superior, but he doesn’t lord it over anybody,” said Peyser, 44, whose big brown eyes—their lashes wand-curled into a state of shock and dismay—had surely glimpsed the swaying palm-tree buttons sewn into Dunne’s commodore-of-the-yacht-club blazer. “He was pro-Martha, and very unabashedly so,” she said. “He had his reasons, and I respected that. But she was a nasty shrew. She was a nasty shrew! It was just a whole way of life for her.”
In Peyser’s columns, Martha Stewart was unfailingly served up in a stir-fry of words like “diva,” “dominatrix,” “queen,” and “broad.” Bacanovic was “her bitch.” Peyser’s daily morality playlets stunned her fellow courthouse reporters and quite a few readers, who wondered if being a nasty shrew had become a whole way of life for her, too, or just a way for a working girl to make a living.
At her Cobble Hill condo, Peyser was perched uncomfortably on a brand-new mossy-green Martha Stewart couch, ordered long before the trial. (“I helped pay for Martha Stewart’s defense,” she said, laughing.) Her fair-haired 5-year-old daughter, Eliza—Rudy Giuliani himself wrote Peyser a letter of congratulations when she was born—was playing Trouble at the dining-room table with Peyser’s husband, Mark Phillips, a sometime photojournalist, sometime Website designer.