ink-stained wretches

Gossiping With Rush and Molloy About Rupert Murdoch, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tabloid Culture As Class War

Talking to George Rush and Joanna Molloy, even in a professional capacity, is like whispering in the back of a dark bar with your wisest, still-hip city friends, their married-couple repartee a flurry of boldface names, off-the-record rumors, and back-in-the-day anecdotes. The couple, seasoned but not jaded gossip veterans, wrote the “Rush & Molloy” column in the New York Daily News for fifteen years (following stints at the city’s other similar institutions like the Post’s “Page Six” and New York) before scaling back their late nights and battles with publicists.

They’ve returned now with a new book, Scandal: A Manual, which serves as both a memoir and director’s-cut column with dirt on everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Reverend Al Sharpton. In the age of TMZ and MediaTakeOut, Rush and Molloy are old-school without being sappy about it. And they still know people’s secrets. They dished to Daily Intelligencer about J.Lo, Gwyneth, Rupert, and the overall state of the celebrity underworld.

Why write a book now, when these things might be even less read than the old printed gossip columns?
George Rush: That’s a good question.
Joanna Molloy: People need doorstops. People need to prop up their sofas.
Rush: And a sleep aid. But the shelf life of celebrities is so short that we felt like in another two years, no one will remember Brad Pitt. We thought, it’s now or never.

The two of you have a reputation as the “respectable” gossip columnists, as opposed to Richard Johnson of “Page Six.” Do you take that as a little bit of a backhanded compliment, being that this was a pretty cutthroat job? Do you regret being too nice?
Rush: That is a smear.
Molloy: “Nice gossip column” is an oxymoron. It’s a hard question to answer because we never did want to destroy people. Kurt Andersen once wrote about us and he said, ‘Isn’t it all about power?’ I just think that these famous and rich folks have so much power that I did see it a little bit as class war when they did something egregious, but in general I’m not jealous of them. I think they’re freaks, frankly.

Do you remember a time when you thought you did go too far?
Rush: Joanna has this — perhaps jihad is too strong a word — against J. Lo.
Molloy: I think I did the item where I was interviewing Salma Hayek and J.Lo sashayed by, and first of all, [Hayek] gave her a look that could kill because J.Lo had gotten the role of Selena. But then J.Lo leaned against the table — you know, backwards. She kind of half-sat on the table. One of the actors, I don’t know whether they were friends with Salma or not, but they took out their pen and they marked the table cloth where she had sat. Like, Does anyone have a tape measure? I think I did mention that that happened. That’s kind of mean.

Are there stories on the gossip beat that still excite you?
Molloy: I’m kind of obsessed with Ryan Gosling. Does that count?
Rush: I can vouch for that.

Rush and Molloy. Photo: McAlpin, Rebecca

You write in the book about how Rupert Murdoch put gossip on the front page when he bought the Post, bringing that sensibility into the spotlight. How do you think he has handled being the subject of it now, first with the phone hacking and then with his latest divorce, and all these books about him and Fox News?
Rush: I don’t think he likes it! We didn’t quite get the chance to break the news of [Rupert and Wendi’s marriage troubles]. We knew about it but couldn’t get it in the paper because of an inter-publisher nonaggression treaty. Since he controls so much of the media, he’s able to suppress not only the papers that he owns but papers and media outlets that kind of fear retaliation if they do get too personal about him.

I find that in hearing rumors about what went on with Wendy and Rupert, there’s a sort of double-agent phenomena where people will say Rupert was the victim and she was allegedly cheating on him, and someone else will say, ‘Well, Rupert himself is spreading that rumor to make himself look like the victim so that he won’t have to give her as much.’ And that she is the victim of Rupert’s smear. So, it’s sort of like that final scene in The Lady From Shanghai with the mirrors, which is one of the reasons I like the story so much.

What do you make of Gwyneth’s recent sparring with Vanity Fair ahead of a rumored cover story? What’s her endgame and is it going to work?
Molloy: Absolutely not. I’m completely obsessed with it. In a death match between Gwyneth Paltrow and Graydon Carter, my money is on Graydon Carter.
Rush: It’s really a case of celebrity hubris run amok. When this article comes out, no one will miss it now.

What is the dishiest thing that someone could write about the two of you at this point?
Rush: That Joanna came kicking and screaming to signing off on this book. She has been a trooper in going along with my exercise in vanity.
Molloy: He owes me, man.
Rush: I’m lucky to be alive after this book.

Photo: Courtesy of George Rush and Joanna Molloy

Well, you write in the book, “Working with your spouse is a good way to find out if you’re capable of homicide.” What was the worst work-related fight you ever had?
Molloy: I would write stories and he would cut them. I would find something out and they would call him — like George, wasn’t that Jann Wenner one mine? That Jann Wenner was leaving his wife for a guy.
Rush: Jann Wenner did not want that out.
Molloy: Somebody called George and he decided not to put it in. That’s when the homicidal feelings came up.

We recently had a story in the magazine about the Post, foretelling its eventual demise. Do you see a future for New York City tabloids?
Rush: In some form they’ll be there. They might be online. The bare-knuckle, brassy, brazen attitude of the tabloid is fundamental to New York. It’s something that New Yorkers crave.
Molloy: Somebody has to look out for the interests of working-class people.

What are your thoughts on TMZ? Are they at the top of the gossip game?
Molloy: They get the breaking-news stories to the point where there’s no way that they would get all those DUIs and arrests within minutes if they did not have some real good friends in the LAPD. [TMZ founder] Harvey Levin denies that they have anybody on the payroll, but they must give a hell of a Christmas package.
Rush: We read it, but I think it could be better. They choose to focus on a kind of celebrity that gets a lot of clicks, but if they created a second site where they could pursue more people who mattered, it would be more interesting.

As people who have both built up the gossip industry and profited from it, are you worried at all about the country’s obsession with celebrity culture?
Rush: It’s a constant moral panic going back to Moses.
Molloy: I’m completely worried about it.
Rush: Oh. I’m not worried.
Molloy: The fact that these stars are now multinational corporations. If they endorse a brand and they’re not out front with the fact that they’re being paid, and then all of these naïve fans go out and buy this stuff; I think it’s really disingenuous. It’s antithetical to what we expected from our artists in the past, which was expression and creativity. It’s all about money. Andy Warhol liked to get paid, but at least dude could draw. So yes, I do feel guilty about having participated in it, but at least I got out.
Rush: I would agree with everything Joanna has said. But the urge to gossip is so deep in the human DNA that it can never be rubbed out. The serfs are still whispering about what’s going on in the castle.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Gossiping With Tabloid Veterans Rush and Molloy