The celebrities might be richer, more famous, ruder and more comfortable displaying their megalomania, but writing a gossip column in New York, I've found, is little different from doing it in Washington, L.A. or any other place where the players are striving toward the top of the ziggurat, stepping on toes along the way.
A lot of gossip items are generated by rivalries -- whether in business, love or some other human endeavor -- with tipsters calling in to lay bare their enemies' soft underbellies. I've never been bothered by the grinding of an ax, but it has been my job as a reporter to sniff out hidden agendas and, when conflicts are found, to make sure the story is true. Still others come from noncombatants who have a good eye and great ear for celebrities and, God bless them, get a thrill from planting something in the paper.
Many more come from publicists paid to hawk their clients' restaurants, nightclubs, fashion labels, resorts, parties and products. Before this year's Page Six scandal prompted a mad rush toward "ethical" gossip -- recently a Page Six reporter was sacked for, of all things, accepting a free massage -- it was often possible to read items as deposits or withdrawals from the favor bank and to imagine the sumptuous meals eaten, the champagne guzzled, the dresses "borrowed" and the junkets taken. Coming from the Post (which once made me decline the gift of a T-shirt from a White House aide), I was initially amazed by, but ultimately inured to, this culture of mutual back-scratching.