Early on, I broke my mental pledge to cover TV news people less frequently than Stu had.
In a town without real celebrities, we create our own. Nowhere is this truer than when we trump up our local TV news personalities, going all the way back to the days of Jessica Savitch. Just wait for a meteorologist or news anchor to not wear a wedding ring during a newscast (as Fox 29’s Kerri-Lee Halkett once did), or appear to have gotten breast implants, and see how many viewers start emailing you that you simply must uncover the truth.
It didn’t take long for me to make peace with obsessively chronicling these people, because not only was there interest; they provided lots of great material. There were divorces (Halkett, NBC 10’s Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz), broken engagements (6 ABC’s Monica Malpass), a jilted lover happy to talk trash (NBC 10’s Jamison Uhler’s paramour), the weatherman with the intern (Fox 29’s Rob Guarino). … You name it, I covered it.
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t have, nor have I ever seen, the famed Alycia Lane bikini pictures. So please stop asking me for them. (I do, however, have a picture on my phone of a naked
Terrell Owens holding his junk, which I must always remember when scrolling through pics to show someone my daughter.) But the truth is that the became one of the stories that defined my nine years writing the Daily News gossip column.
In the spring of 2007, I suspected Mendte had been the New York Post’s source when Page Six broke the explosive story of how the wife of the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen discovered suggestive bikini photos Lane had meant to send to Eisen, but had mistakenly sent to the couple’s shared email address. (Note to couples everywhere: Don’t share an email address.) Eisen’s wife sent a scathing reply to Lane, the Post found out, and all hell broke loose.
Larry and Alycia, the co-anchor darlings of CBS 3’s evening newscasts, always seemed to be getting along one minute, fighting the next. But at the time, Larry never admitted having anything to do with leaking the item.
The situation blew up about six months later, after Lane’s December 2007 arrest for allegedly slapping a female NYPD officer and calling her a “fucking dyke.” The Daily News broke the story of Lane’s arrest, but it wasn’t Mendte who told us; rather, it was a freelancer for the Post.
For the next few months, leading up to Lane’s court appearance on the charge (which was later reduced and ultimately expunged), Mendte and I spoke almost every day. I was surprised by how much he contacted me, how willing he was to share, but it was clear he was to be kept out of the stories. He was a confidential source. Not all of Mendte’s tips made it into print, but each one I looked into was either confirmed elsewhere or at least run by Lane and/or her attorney, the attention-seeking Philadelphia lawyer Paul Rosen, who loved being associated with such a hot story. At Alycia’s criminal trial, she and her criminal attorney were tight-lipped. But Rosen, her civil lawyer, was happy to talk. Alycia Lane filled a lot of space in my column. A few of the stories ended up on the cover of the paper.
What I didn’t know was that Mendte was getting his information by surreptitously reading Lane’s emails, sometimes dozens of times a day.
I remember how I found out. Over Memorial Day weekend, I got a call from A.J. Daulerio, who was then writing for this magazine and would later become editor in chief of the national gossip site Gawker.
“Is this Mendte thing true?” he asked.
“What Mendte thing?” I replied. He told me to check out Philly.com.
When I saw the headline about the feds seizing Mendte’s computers in connection with hacking Lane’s email, I felt a kick in the pit of my stomach. Instantly, I pieced together what had happened.
I was screwed. I anticipated being asked to confirm that Mendte was a source and refusing to do so, but it never came to that. There were dozens of phone calls between Mendte and me; a fact that later came out in court proceedings.
I should point out here that I never discuss sources. It’s the credo of any decent gossip columnist—of any decent journalist. I am only outing Mendte because he’s already outed himself in federal court.
At no point was I contacted by any authorities or accused of any criminal malfeasance. But that didn’t stop Lane and Rosen from lumping me in with a lawsuit she filed against Mendte and CBS 3. I got taken off the story. Lane ended up receiving a confidential settlement from the Daily News; our insurance company felt it would cost less to settle.
Alycia professed to hate stories about her personal life, but like so many of the people I covered, that sentiment didn’t apply when she had happy news to share. A few years earlier, she’d called me during the holidays to tell me she had gotten engaged to the man who would become her second husband. Then she got mad when I reported they’d split.
Now Alycia is a morning anchor for NBC in Los Angeles, a city with real celebrities. In Los Angeles, nobody cares about her romances or where she has dinner. I can’t help but wonder if she misses being a Big Deal—and if that’s why her agent tried to bring her back to work in Philadelphia last year, where out of sheer desperation we made her one.