12:35 pm May. 11, 20124
Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?
Daily News: Let's do ourselves a favor and wipe away everything we've read about John Travolta over the last five days and start from scratch.
The story starts earlier than you think.
On April 27th, a Chilean-born man named Fabian Zanzi told Chilean entertainment-news show "Primer Plano" that while he was working for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, he had an encounter with the actor.
The story was picked up by the Peruvian program "24 Horas." It's not clear when the Peruvian version of the video aired, but "24 Horas" simply places its own logo on top of the existing "Primer Plano" logo at the bottom of the screen, and uploaded the video to YouTube on May 1.
What he says, translated from Spanish, is:
"He said he had something on his neck. I thought it was a fuzz. As I approached, he took off his white coat [ed. note: probably robe?] and was naked. He hugged me and asked me to do a massage."
He tells "Premier Plano" that Travolta offered him $12,000 to have sex with him.
On Friday, May 4, a full week after the Zanzi report aired on Chilean television, the lawyer Okorie Okorocha filed a lawsuit in Central California District Court against John Travolta on behalf of a "John Doe" plaintiff. News of the suit trickled out over the weekend and was covered by mainstream entertainment media on Monday, May 7.
The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe in the lawsuit obtained by E! News, claims, among other things, that Travolta touched his scrotum and penis after having stripped in front of the masseur. The suit claims Travolta apologized for his behavior, but continued to pursue the idea of sex with the man and later suggested that they have sex with a "Hollywood starlet in the building that wanted to have three-way sex and to be double penetrated."
What's more, the lawsuit claims that the star said he "got where he is now due to sexual favors he had performed when he was in his Welcome Back, Kotter days."
And here was the response from Travolta's lawyer:
"This lawsuit is complete fiction and fabrication," it reads. "None of the events claimed in the suit ever occurred. The plaintiff, who refuses to give their name, knows that the suit is a baseless lie...On that date when plaintiff claims John met him, John was not in California and it can be proved that he was on the East Coast. Plaintiff's attorney has filed this suit to try and get his 15 minutes of fame. John intends to get this case thrown out and then he will sue the attorney and Plaintiff for malicious prosecution."
On Tuesday, May 8, Okorocha amended the complaint to add a second plaintiff, also a "John Doe," a masseur in Atlanta. With the second plaintiff added, many more mainstream news outlets started picking up the story. Meanwhile, Travolta's attorney, Marty Singer, promised to provide proof Travolta was in New York City at the time the first plaintiff claims to have been abused.
The story was picked up by the website ABC.es, a Madrid-based news site, and published in the early morning hours of May 9th Greenwich time (which is to say, before print deadlines the night of May 8th) detailing both plaintiff's suits and Singer's responses.
In a shirttail paragraph describing related, earlier accusations, the website cited the report from late April on "Primer Plano."
In the early morning hours of May 9, Pacific Time, Singer provided the proof he'd promised to TMZ (in time for both New York tabloids to run with the story). The first masseur now says he got the date wrong. The second masseur, in Atlanta, has, according to Singer, not provided details of the location of the alleged assault by Travolta, though Singer admits that at least in this case, Travolta was in fact working in Atlanta on the day in question.
It's now May 11. The Daily News is offering us a "NEW TRAVOLTA BOMBSHELL." It's Fabian Zanzi. He has always given his name, and appears to have attempted to contact authorities and his employers before being interviewed.
(Above: From Fabian Zanzi's Facebook page.)
"CRUISIN' FOR SEX" reads the main hed in big type. "Sailor rocks star with fresh claim."
In the original report, Zanzi says that he complained to "American authorities," though it's not clear how. It appears to have been to authorities in Miami, according to the somewhat hazy documents he shows "Primer Plano." Also, an incident report was filed with Royal Caribbean, who Zanzi says did nothing. Similar papers are shown on-screen in the "Primer Plano" report.
Amazingly, the News isn't the only place where Zanzi is being portrayed as someone who jumped on a "bandwagon." In fact, those are precisely the words Singer uses himself to describe this "third" claim (which, if you were reading closely, was actually the first.)
The whole unnavigable hash is really shocking. But nobody seems to be willing to point any of this out. In all likelihood, Zanzi, who does not appear to have contacted any lawyers for Travolta or ever to have filed a civil suit against him, is being called a bandwagoneer even though he made his accusations to Chilean television a week before the John Does filed suit.
It's all a little mind-boggling, all the stealing from television, all the sloppiness. (Perpetually, American sources site the interview with Zanzi as having originated on the Madrid-based website. Could it be that it is embarrassing to admit what ABC.es itself admits, that the story originated more than a week beforehand on television in Chile?)
I checked this morning. On Zanzi's Facebook page, he thanks his friends in three languages (at varying degrees of skill) for their recent birthday wishes, and mundane back-and-forth between him and his mates about whether he's back home from Brazil yet.
New York Post: The News isn't the only operation plucking stories off day-and-more-old television to put on its front page.
On Wednesday night's 11 o'clock broadcast, West Palm Beach ABC affiliate WPBF carried an exclusive interview with the parents of 18-month old Riyanna. (The parents were interviewed on-camera but their faces were not shown. Their names and their daughter's last name were held back by WPBF.) It's a pretty compelling interview with a family that was turned away from its JetBlue flight back to Newark and home from Florida, because their cute little daughter was, according to flight crew, on a watch-list. (Watch the initial video broadcast here.)
It looks like it was posted to the WPBF website early the next morning. That's when intrepid Post reporters flew into action! They, too, interviewed the couple, though original quotes seem to be spliced with quotes taken from the Wednesday evening broadcast. Several interesting details are omitted, such as the fact that JetBlue first claimed that the TSA was responsible for the error, and that the TSA was investigating. (The TSA told WPBF that since the family had boarding passes, they were not on any watch list, so they were not, in fact, investigating.) Then JetBlue attributed the whole thing to a "computer glitch" and did not elaborate.
The girl is very, very cute. Next to her blown-up portrait, knockout-white text says: "THE FACE OF TERROR." The dek: "No-fly toddler yanked off jet in goof."
Observations: It's going to get pretty boring watching this tabloid war if all they can do is comb the internet and obscure television programs for stories, and then mess those up too. Let's just do it this way: The News presents us with the "third" Travolta accuser two weeks after the event happened and first broke. The Post managed a less bad two days.
Winner: New York Post.