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The Madame Defarge of the New York Post


On vacation in 1989, Peyser finagled a job interview for the New York Post's new Sunday edition even though all the positions had been filled. She charmed her jaded audience of Post editors with a play-by-play of an electric-chair execution. Peyser won a two-day trial: "I was like, okay, make the sentences a little shorter and write cops instead of police." Dick Belsky, now at the Daily News, remembers they decided to hire her within hours.

Somehow, through all the troubles besetting the Post in the years it was owned by, in turn, Peter Kalikow, Steven Hoffenberg, and Abe Hirschfeld, Peyser managed to hang on, even when Hirschfeld shambled in one day with his new copublisher, William Tatum, of the black weekly Amsterdam News, and a hit list of 300 people to be fired, including Peyser. But everyone continued to report to work anyway. Peyser's career was made in 1992, when a woman accused three Mets of rape, and she was dispatched to Port St. Lucie, Florida, for spring training.

"I did what any good reporter would do," she said. "I went to the bars." According to her story, Mets were picking up local cupcakes who were swapping fake I.D.'s in the parking lot. SWING TRAINING was the front-page headline. Angry players ambushed Peyser in the locker room—though not among the accused, "Dave Cone was in my face yelling, 'You fucking liar,'" says Peyser—and subsequently all reporters were banned from the premises. Peyser says she remembers the Post's news and sports desks weren't talking to each other. "And of course there was the usual she-must-be-a-lesbian-who-can't-get-a-man stuff,'" said Peyser, who husband was then photographing sports fulltime. Spring training is where she discovered she could take the heat; a few months later, she was named a columnist.

The job of a columnist is a prize: It means a guaranteed space in the paper, a bigger desk or office, and more money than the other reporters get. Peyser makes a low six-figure salary, which means she's not quite one of the little people on whose behalf she often writes: A recent column found her apologizing for installing little Eliza in private school.

But she's a tabloid lifer, and that's fine by her. It's how she views the world. The empty-looking aquarium next to Peyser's TV set at home was the site, she said, of a "murder-suicide"; apparently, one of her brutish African cichlids tipped a rock into the heater and they all boiled to death. She admits to a weakness for The Simple Life and "really tacky reality shows like Elimidate, just to see how people are humiliating themselves."

In her column, Peyser is usually going for the jugular. Her list of enemies includes not only the "spoiled jerk" athletes with whom she made her reputation but the cancerous U.N., those Frenchy antiwar weasels, gay people who adopt children and/or feel legally entitled to be married, and feminist follies. Men who disappoint are feminized; after he lost to Bush, Al Gore was "the man who raids Katherine Harris's pancake makeup supply." The Reverend Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran have both sued her for millions of dollars—and lost. Sharpton used to habitually call her up and yell at her. "He's a force for ill in this city, and I'll always write that," she said, noting that Sharpton has been civil to her in recent years.

Peyser takes on a lot of women's issues—does anyone really want to hear her 66-year-old Post colleague Steve Dunleavy opine about Britney Spears?—and female subjects tend to bring out the orc in her. Donna Hanover, Rudy Giuliani's then-wife, consumed her for three consecutive springs. "I didn't buy her aggrieved-spouse thing," said Peyser. "She was in that marriage for her own purposes. There was a lot of acting and performing—she held a press conference in front of St. Patrick's to announce how hurt she was!"

Christiane Amanpour also got body-slammed—Peyser nicknamed her the "CNN war slut," prompting a complaint from Amanpour and a rare apology from Murdoch himself. Peyser was hardly cowed. Less than a year later, she was calling Amanpour a "Palestinian propagandist."

"Somebody has an issue with successful women, said Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's press handler during her Senate run when Peyser was pounding Clinton as "ditzy," "stupid," and a texbook case of "narcissistic personality disorder." Madonna, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Courtney Love—bad mothers all—are, incidentally, not aging well. High heels are a better-than-thou vanity, even though Peyser was wearing stiletto boots when we met ("Knockoffs, she said in her defense) and made sure to mention that she wears flats when she covers trials.

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