How do I stop a sleazy journalist from using my name?
December 6, 2005 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Seven years ago, I had an extended affair with a celebrity, and it has recently come back to haunt me.

When I was a sophomore in college, I met and carried on a relationship with this married celebrity, Mr. X, who was pretty much revered in the media as a saint. My roommate at the time had a big mouth and told a whole bunch of people about it after we broke up. Eventually, our affair reached supermarket tabloids as a semi-blind item (i.e. Mr X was named but my own name was not mentioned, just a description of me). Of course Mr. X denied the affair through his publicist; the gossip pretty much fizzled out after that and everyone went on with their lives. I graduated, got married and had a child, and he just kept on being himself.

Fast forward to yesterday; I received a phone call from my old roommate who had been contacted by a journalist who is writing a tell-all book about Mr. X and had dug up my name. The writer couldn't track me down because I've never been listed in the phone book and I have a new name. The writer of course wanted information about me, and the affair, for the book. My roommate for once kept her mouth shut, but called me right away to warn me that this guy is calling other friends of mine, and even my parents (my mother never told me because when he had called she just hung up on him; she didn't want to upset me by telling me he had called).

My question is this: If somehow this guy does get someone in my past to cough up my number and tracks me down, hounding me for dirt, what can I say to him that will make him stop digging? I don't want to talk to him or anyone about this and I'll tell him so, but my fear is that he will print my name anyway. I'm terrified what will happen to me if that occurs, both personally and professionally. Basically, what I am looking for is, any way to keep my name out of that book, short of suing. What are my rights?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (59 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really hope this isn't another fake question.

Here is an interesting article about legal issues surrounding unauthorized biographies. Mostly it's concerned with the subject of the book, in this case your ex-boytoy, but scroll down and you will see:

Tip: The privacy rights of private persons are treated more stringently then those for public figures/celebrities. Therefore an author should obtain consent from a private person when the biography contains private or embarrassing facts about that person.

If you are tracked down, you would do well to mention the fact that the courts would likely side with you should you choose to bring a suit about your privacy being violated. (The threat of a suit may be enough to keep your name out of it.)
posted by Gator at 3:55 PM on December 6, 2005

You should probably decide what you're going to tell the journalist, assuming he eventually manages to contact you--are you going to deny that the affair occurred (i.e. lie)? Or are you going to stonewall, i.e. refuse to say anything at all ("no comment")? The latter might be safer; from the journalist's point of view, it's more boring than lies and coverups.
posted by russilwvong at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2005

For practical purposes there's not much you can do to prevent him from publishing, unless (maybe) you can convince your friend to perjure herself. If you try to sue he can, drag your roommate into court to testify. Non-public figures have more protection when it comes to libel, but truth is an absolute defense. My understanding is that all he needs to do is prove your friend was spreading this rumor.

The only real way to stop him from publishing this is to convince him not to do it, either by convincing him you didn't do it, or by convincing him not to do it out of the goodness of his heart (not likely). How to do that is something my speculating on probably won't do anyone any good.

Beyond that, however, I really don't think that there's anything you'd need to worry about. You weren’t married, you were young and he was a celebrity. People will understand and mostly just be impressed if anything. I don't think there will be any serious repercussions.
posted by delmoi at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2005

Assume that everything you say is on the record, and (this sounds obvious, I'm sure) don't admit to the affair. I'd explicitly deny it, personally, but IANAL and I can't say whether there might be repercussions to that. Depending on how he's gotten your name, it's very possible that he has nothing but rumours to go on and that he'll leave it (or at least your name) out of the book if he can't get anyone to go on record alleging that it took place and that you were the lucky woman. Of course, if someone in a position to know, such as one of your college friends, has gone on the record with your name you may be shit out of luck, but there's no real way to know that, and I certainly wouldn't assume that he has any real evidence just because he says or implies that he does.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:03 PM on December 6, 2005

Try these:
"I don't know what you're talking about. No such thing ever happened. I don't know the man."
"Do not call me ever again; if you do, I will call the police."
"I'm calling my lawyer."

You are under no obligation of any kind to say anything to a reporter, or to tell him the truth.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:06 PM on December 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

delmoi, from the link I posted: "Unlike libel actions, truth is not a defense in privacy actions. The person who seeks legal remedy for the invasion of privacy does not usually dispute the truthfulness of the statements made, but instead claims that the statements, although they may be true, have invaded his/her right of privacy and have therefore caused personal injury."
posted by Gator at 4:06 PM on December 6, 2005

The latter might be safer; from the journalist's point of view, it's more boring than lies and coverups.

I agree. Just say "no comment" nonchalantly.

Tip: The privacy rights of private persons are treated more stringently then those for public figures/celebrities. Therefore an author should obtain consent from a private person when the biography contains private or embarrassing facts about that person.

I'm not sure that "the courts" would "likely side with her". However, you may want to contact a real lawyer. to find out what your actual legal options are.
posted by delmoi at 4:06 PM on December 6, 2005

I'd explicitly deny it, personally, but IANAL and I can't say whether there might be repercussions to that.

I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be any. I'm not a lawyer either so really you should talk to one.
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2005

Although it's a different situation (the rumor was false,) you might be interested in Alex Polier's account of being outed as John Kerry's mistress.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2005

If the potential damage is significant, I'd talk to a lawyer and see if you can get a letter drafted before anything gets bad.

I'm a businessman, not a tell-all biographer, but I treat a letter from a lawyer with a lot more respect than a verbal thread of lawsuit.
posted by I Love Tacos at 4:13 PM on December 6, 2005

I had a similar situation. The best answer is "no comment."
posted by Sagres at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2005

Go get a lawyer before the journalist finds you.

Once you've done that you could consider having the lawyer contact the journalist and notify him that you are exercising your right to privacy and that legal action will likely follow if he persists in investigating you. Of course, your lawyer would not be using your name.
posted by oddman at 4:19 PM on December 6, 2005

I dunno...if it was me, I'd be asking for lots o' cash from the journalist for my exclusive story.

But I'm the kind of person who will likely answer any personal question asked of me, just because I don't feel like not telling.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:41 PM on December 6, 2005

I actually don't think I agree with the "get a lawyer" crowd. If this person calls you, say "I'm sorry, I'm not going to talk to you," (Note: never say "can't" talk to you) or "No thank you" or something, and then say "Goodbye" and hang up. Do not engage with any pleadings; at the most say "I have to go now, goodbye" and put down the phone. Do not hear them out, do not engage in any manner. No talking.

When the person sends out a lawyer, however, well, it's like catnip to journalists. You see, people who haven't actually *had* affairs with celebrities don't call out a lawyer the first time a journalist calls. (They do that the tenth time.)

Also, more specifically in re: your question, hiring a lawyer puts your name in the book: "Mrs. Smith hired a lawyer to prevent me from talking to her; the lawyer's letter said 'Blah blah blah.'"

Those of us who work in this field have these sort of interactions with lawyers weekly. It is not scary. It is not intimidating. It is boring, and it also means that someone is willing to pay a lawyer to get someone off the real story.

Later, you need to know who is publishing this book, and you may need to talk to the publishing house prior to publication. Lawyers are ready to head off any trouble prior to publication. That is months and probably years away, but you need to keep track of the pub schedule of this book. When that time comes, you (or your lawyer) may need to talk to the publisher's lawyer and let them know that you're a private figure with certain expectations, etc., and that you'll make a defamation claim ("words imputing unchastity" or some such, sleeping with a married man).

[I am not a lawyer, your mileage may vary, but I do pester people who've slept with celebrities for a living.]
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:42 PM on December 6, 2005

When the journalist contacts you, say you had the affair, and pepper the conversaton with easily verifiable lies like "In september, we went to paris and he bought me a diamond ring that I lost."Tell the journo that the celebrity never got over you, and even though his agent never forwards your calls, you know that if he got the message, he'd come running.

Make yourself sound like a loon.

At the very least make sure that your nearest and dearest know about the affair. You don't want this coming out to any partner from anyone but your own lips.
posted by seanyboy at 4:48 PM on December 6, 2005

I couldn't agree more with I Love Tacos, Oddman, and others who recommend getting a lawyer *now*. Anyone can say "I'm calling my lawyer" - I bet scum like this guy get that all the time. But when he actually gets a call from your lawyer a few minutes later, he (or his publisher) will have to think twice. (Of course, a messy lawsuit over the allegations could be the sort of free advertising they are looking for ...)

I also have to say that I would absolutely NOT lie about it. As several others have said, your one and only answer should be "no comment." Then hang up. He if calls back, hang up. Keep a careful record of all contact with him - if it continues, you have a legitamate harrassment claim. As soon as you start lying, he has you. If you were to eventually end up in court, having lied to him undermines your credibility.

Also, your statement that the revelation will cause "serious personal harm" implies that your husband doesn't know. If that's the case, now would be the time to tell him. You don't want him finding out while he's checking out at the grocery store, or worse, when the reporter calls him. It may not be the most pleasant of conversations, but it's far better that he hear it now, from you, rather than later.
posted by robhuddles at 4:51 PM on December 6, 2005

After posting ... darn it if RJ Reynolds doesn't make a pretty compelling argument against hiring the lawyer. So I'd probably retract that part of my statement. But I still say don't lie, don't talk, and make sure your family knows.
posted by robhuddles at 4:53 PM on December 6, 2005

Kirth Gerson has the best advice. Deny it vehemently, angrily, and threaten to sue if the book mentions you in the slightest. If you can ascertain the publisher (perhaps there isn't one yet), call them and threaten to sue as well, for libel and invasion of privacy. (See who published the author's other books, send them a preemptive letter. "RE: any future book authored by sleazy journalist and published by you: Be on notice that...")

Saying "no comment" or anything else about the issue WILL get you listed in the book.

Basically, imagine that you had never heard of Mr. X until the reporter called and asked you about your torrid affair with him. How would you react? React that way. You might consider going ahead and calling the reporter and doing the above. Be _angry_. Keep records of exactly what you say and write to the guy and when.

Publishers carry insurance regarding libel suits, but the insurance won't pay if they're reckless about the risks. In this case, printing this material without evidence and in the face of your vehement denial and threats to sue would be reckless...
posted by jellicle at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2005

Best option: "No comment" in a bored tone. Actually, any tone you can muster that isn't an astonished or angry gasp. If you can do this for long enough, journalists may eventually go away.

Second-best option: Deny, deny, deny, even though it's a lie. If a journalist can get a confirmation from anyone else, though, they may still make heavy weather out of this. In this case, you don't want to admit to having a lawyer right away.

[A long list of other options.]

Second-worst option: Cop to the affair and tell the whole truth.

Absolute worst option ever: Follow seanyboy's advice above. Not only will you be quoted far and wide, you will be quoted far and wide as a crackpot, and you will also be opening yourself up for a big ol' slander suit.

No matter what path you choose, you should tell everyone who would care before some tabloid does. Then you'll be deciding if you should lie to your best friends, rather than to some journalists. Please tell them now -- assuming you think they can keep it secret.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:59 PM on December 6, 2005

I know you don't want to have to sue, but you should know what your rights are regarding your privacy. It couldn't hurt to go head over to your state courthouse and see if there might be a friendly clerk there who can give you some information about privacy laws in your state (if you opt not to retain a lawyer, at any rate).
posted by Gator at 5:07 PM on December 6, 2005

I think you probably have an exaggerated fear about the consequences should your name eventually be published. A college sophomore had sex. Wowsers! Alert the media. It's likely not as big a deal as you imagine.

None of your business is the only tactic to take with the "journalist", or any other emotionally bankrupt idiot who thinks that your past sex life is in any way germane to anything, and therefore suitable fodder for public discussion. Continue to ignore any and all discussion about the affair should your name subsequently be published, and chances are that will be the last you'll hear about it.

Outraged denial of a verifiable fact will likely rebound to bite you in the end; why allow their unwarranted prurient curiousity to turn you into a liar? Legal threats will only draw more undeserved attention to what really is otherwise a pretty unremarkable incident.

Treat such juvenile titillation, along with anyone who thinks it matters, with the withering contempt which it so richly deserves.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:13 PM on December 6, 2005

I'm assuming anonymous is located in the US. Privacy laws vary from state to state, so it's critical that anonymous determine what the situation is in her particular state.

Anonymous can consult a lawyer to determine how best to handle her situation without disclosing that she has retained legal counsel. I think it would be best to obtain counsel before she is contacted by the writer.

on preview: Gator beat me to it.
posted by ambrosia at 5:14 PM on December 6, 2005

You have no obligation to speak to a journalist.
posted by Nelson at 5:22 PM on December 6, 2005

A college sophomore had sex. Wowsers! Alert the media. It's likely not as big a deal as you imagine.

Um, seems a bit more than that, doesn't it? She had an affair with a *married celebrity*. People eat that shit up and that kind of stuff ruins lives left and right in Hollywood and beyond.

Listen to RJ Reynolds.
posted by tristeza at 5:26 PM on December 6, 2005

"Well, the OTHER reporter offered me a lot more money...?"

posted by sian at 5:30 PM on December 6, 2005

Couldn't you just absolutely refuse to say a word to that journo? Say nothing.

Even denying it would just give him ammunition to probe further.
posted by merv at 5:31 PM on December 6, 2005

RJ Reynolds is right except for one thing. Do at least talk to a lawyer. This isn't to sic the lawyer on anyone, but to find out, as ambrosia recommends, specifically what privacy laws apply to your situation.
posted by tangerine at 5:36 PM on December 6, 2005

I really don't see how this ruins you. The celebrity, sure. But you were a college student seduced by a famous philanderer.

I'd just tell the journalist nothing and ignore him. If you really think it's going to come out, tell the people that might be hurt by this.

But seriously, I'd spend some time thinking about why you think this will seriously hurt you. I suspect that you're blowing it up out of proportion (but maybe not -- maybe your family thinks you were chaste before marriage, or loves the celebrity and will call you Jezebel or something, I dunno).
posted by teece at 5:45 PM on December 6, 2005

Keep in mind that your friend told a lot of people, and most people *suck* at keeping secrets. It sounds like he already knows what happened to some degree. He's got gossip & the truth on his side. And maybe he doesn't care if you sue. The publisher will have more $ & lawyers at their disposal. Maybe it's worth it to them to include more detailed dirt. Not to be pessimistic, just...prepare yourself.

Does your husband know what's going on? If not, maybe you should at least think about filling him in on the situation. Plus, even if you name never gets out & he never would have heard about it, you could use the support--this might take a while to resolve. That's too long too long to be burdened alone with something that "terrifies" you.
posted by neda at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2005

So many sleazy people have abused the phrase "no comment" that it always parses as "yes, and I know I'm in deep shit for it" to me. In other words, it just sounds like you've got something to hide.

I guess I'd just refuse to say anything at all to him.
posted by Hildago at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2005

I fully agree with RJ Reynolds, tristeza; my advice is almost exactly the same. While it's true that some people might eat up the story about an affair with a celebrity, even those idiots won't care much about the non-celebrity involved. I really fail to see how this can impact her life, let alone ruin it, unless she does something stupid that exacerbates the situation. Like lie.

My point is that the impact on the poster's life will be minimalized if they simply ignore it. Conversely, fabricating lies and and legal aggression will make something which is a complete non-story for her into something far more attention-worthy than it otherwise would be.

I stick by my comment, and RJ Reynolds; which is to refuse to discuss the matter, and simply hang up on the reporter.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:54 PM on December 6, 2005

Hmmmm... Call Bert Fields. No, actually, RJ Reynolds is right, just deny, be casual about it, say you met the guy once but nothing ever happened -- the thing is, if you say you've never even been in the same room as him, the reporter will be able to disprove that right away. Stick to the public facts, the things that are obviously known. "Oh, yeah, wasn't he at that party that I went to with so-and-so? And then there was that time that I was at the beach. I think I saw him there. Affair? Don't be silly. I've barely said three words to the guy." The other part of this is that you need to come clean to anyone immediately who you think will be hurt by the revelation, because it will come out, and your name will be attached to the item, and you can deny all you want in public, but the people in your private life will see right through that.

On another note... You had an affair with a public figure. The journalist isn't trying to dredge up lies -- he's just trying to dredge up the truth. Ethical? Debatable. But it's reality, and it's a reality you were aware of back then, and are now. Whether or not the revelation is legal or permissible under the law, the revelation will come out. Yeah, you can sue and get monetary damages (maybe, and honestly I doubt that), but you can't stop the flow of information. Do you really want to get hardcore about this and go for an injunction? Here's a story for you: Yesterday, the PR wires flashed with news that Jennifer Anniston's lawyers will sue the bejeesus out of anyone who publishes topless photos taken by a photographer named Peter Brandt. On Sunday, nobody had any idea these pictures existed. Today, all the gossip and celeb blogs are talking about is where they can get their hands on the pictures. Make a big stink, and it'll keep on stinking. Put a lid on it, and it'll stop smelling eventually.
posted by incessant at 5:55 PM on December 6, 2005

The journalist isn't likely to call with harsh accusations, but fairly passive questions to start with. Why would you react angrily to that? This isn't Jerry Springer. The journalist is going to try and get information from you, not make you upset so that you won't talk.

Listen to RJ Reynolds and tangerine. Consult with a lawyer before you're ever contacted by the journalist. Don't lie, don't make anything up, don't discuss it.

And please tell your husband.
posted by BradNelson at 6:07 PM on December 6, 2005

"No comment" is confirmation of a kind. (Someone who hadn't had an affair would deny it.) And he can write, "Ms. Y refused to comment about the reports of her torrid affair with Mr. X."

It's true that private people have libel law on their side. Then again, it aint libel if it's true. But he would have to get some darn good evidence to bring into court to prove it, and I doubt he could. So the advice above about laughing the writer off but also keeping tabs on the publisher and making some kind of legal approach to the publisher late in the game to make sure your name isn't in it is good advice.

Personally I think seanyboy nailed it - make up all sorts of loony stuff and make the writer think he stumbled on a whackjob. Or better yet, laugh insouciantly and say you made up a bunch of stuff in college that your friends believed. OR make your blabbermouth friend the nut and roll your eyes about her vivid fantasies.

Mostly though, talk as little as possible to the writer. Usually the ones doing unauthorized tell alls are sleazebags that are not to be trusted.

Another possibility is to demand money and anonymity in exchange for cooperating and spilling all the dirty details.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:14 PM on December 6, 2005

If you're still on good terms with Mr. X, call him. He needs a heads up that this is coming, so he can decide how to prepare his loved ones too for the possibility of embarassing questions and major hurt. And he'd might be willing to make his own lawyer and/or publicist available to discreetly prepare you for the writer's call. (Though since they represent his interests, which are not necessarily the same as yours, take whatever they say with a grain of salt. Still, a celebrity's publicist should at leasy be able to give you some good tips for handling a nosy reporter without taking their bait.)

Don't tell the reporter anything that's untrue. Ever. The last thing you need is to end up being sued for slander by an ex-love or former friend. If you don't want to talk, DON'T TALK. Leave it at that.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:28 PM on December 6, 2005

Don't talk. Absolutely. You don't have to tell the press a goddamned thing if you don't want to.

You can tell us, though. Tom Cruise? Please say it was Tom Cruise.
posted by Decani at 6:40 PM on December 6, 2005

Decani, I'm pretty sure anonymous is a girl.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:54 PM on December 6, 2005

heh, cunninglinguist beat me to it.
posted by scody at 7:03 PM on December 6, 2005

Don't call Burt Renyolds, errr Mr. X. We all know Tom Cruise wouldn't have an affair with a woman.

What I would do if I were in your situation would be to call the publicist. While they can be the scum of the earth, explaining that you are married and don't want this to get out may allow them to give some kind of advice. They don't want this to get out anymore than you and I would be very surprised if they didn't specifically coach you on how this would not hurt their client (and by extension you). I cannot think of how they would be able to twist you unless for some reason they want you to appear a huge slut who did speedballs and seduced Mr. X -- in which case the affair would be in the open.

I doubt your name can be used in this, as stated above. I would contact the publicist, ask them for advice, then I would call a lawyer and verify their advice won't screw you (it shouldn't).

Though I'm really surprised he'd be digging this far into a private affair, unless you're someone of note. I mean calling all your friends off a rumor -- seems extreme. Then again I don't know much about tell-all journalists.
posted by geoff. at 7:19 PM on December 6, 2005

I do and can tell you that being able to nail down details of a long extramarital affair by a celeb "regarded as a saint" is worth a lot of calls to a lot of old roommates. The writer may think once he tracks down anon he can get her to dish - lots of people do, you know.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:28 PM on December 6, 2005

You should go out and get a very good and discreet attorney who works with privacy issues. Try googling "privacy lawyer." Get advice from her. Explain to the attorney that your goal is to remain out of the spotlight.

This comment does not constitute legal advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:36 PM on December 6, 2005

NEVER EVER EVER ask a publicist for advice unless you have them on retainer. When you aren't their client, you're only asking for trouble. Don't do it. For the love of Pete! Talking to a publicist is tantamount to selling your soul to the devil. Chances are the publicist knows nothing of it (trust me -- publicists are the LAST people to know ANYTHING). Telling them will give them ammunition that can be used in so many ways you can't even fathom. And besides, their solution that benefits their client might not be so complimentary to you.

And there's no reason they can't print your name. Really. It happened. It's true. If I get the proof (and contrary to CunningLinguist's inference, I don't think circumstantial proof is that hard to come by), then I can print it. And I don't even need to say it's true. I just need to say "So-and-so said it's true."
posted by incessant at 8:17 PM on December 6, 2005

I don't want to talk to him

Then don't!

Don't lie. Don't say anything. Most people are really bad liars. Any half-competent journalist has spent most of their career listening to liars and can spot lies a mile away. A lie detected stands a good chance of telling them they're onto a good story. What journalists hate is not having a good story and having their editors tell them that what they do have is crap. The gossip of 'friends' isn't a good story. You are. Gossip is a story, but not a very good one and one that you have no control over now, anyhow. Anything you do to confirm the gossip is a nice Christmas present for the parasites.

The only way to deny them the story they really want is to be determined to say absolutely nothing for as long as it takes. "I have nothing to say. Goodbye", at the very most, and only on the first contact. After that, nothing. Hang up. Walk away. The more you say, the more you tell, whether it's lies or denial or talk about the weather. Anything you say will be used and abused in some way you don't like. If they persist in contacting you against your wishes, you have a case for that privacy or harassment suit and the lawyer; they already know this, you don't need to threaten them with it. Having a lawyer on standby for the worst case scenario is a good idea, though. If it comes to it and you end up suing for libel, invasion of privacy and anything else a good lawyer can go after, that you have said nothing will only strengthen your position. IANAL

Tabloids once got hold of a friend of mine when they smelled a juicy story. Eventually persuaded her to talk to "tell her side of the story", and because she thought they'd leave her alone after she did. They misquoted, twisted and generally distorted every word, whilst presenting her as a villainous and heartless witch. Don't go there.
posted by normy at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2005

Response probably already posted, but assume for the sake of argument I have the same attention span as the typical tabloid reader: Claim it. Embellish it. Sue over it. Hell, they're going to get you anyway--and what they don't, they'll create--so make a buck or six.

Want to write for the unwashed masses? Made for Lifetime TV "inspired by" the "true story." Want a (perhaps slightly less unwashed) NYT bestseller? Call it fiction and tell precisely as much of the actual truth as you like. Want the lottery jackpot or whatever the equivalent for this celeb is? You're pregnant. Settle. If you're male, settle for half or twice depending on which tabloids are asking questions. If you're female, settle for even or double depending on which of his allegedly straight ex-girlfriends are adding pressure.

Whatever happens, take enough notes that you can enjoy it in retrospect in 10 years or so when it really doesn't matter anymore. We don't all get that chance.
posted by phrits at 8:31 PM on December 6, 2005

Journalist's opinion here:

There's nothing you can do to make him stop printing, especially if he has some kind of corroborating evidence, which sounds likely in this case (e.g. someone already told him everything he needs to know and now he's looking for more). He can just say he tried to reach you for a comment.

Really, that's all he needs to avoid the only thing that could be dangerous to him -- a libel suit that shows he was negligent with the facts. If he's able to ask you to comment or show a pattern that he attempted good faith contact and you failed to respond, he's successfully avoided that.

Don't lie. Don't say anything. ... Hang up. Walk away.

This is likely the best advice you'll get.
posted by frogan at 9:17 PM on December 6, 2005

Deny it vehemently, angrily, and threaten to sue if the book mentions you in the slightest.

The above is truly awful advice, says this (mostly former) journalist. I can assure you that the one thing that would make me think you've got something serious to hide is a vehement outraged denial coupled with a threat to sue if I even mention your name. Uh huh. Tell me another one.

frogan's right just above; you are under no obligation to talk to the press, so don't. Simply say, "I'm sorry, but I have no interest in talking with you" and walk away. And for god's sake avoid the phrase "no comment" like the plague. It's been ruined by politicos with something to hide. Just be polite - sweet and hospitable, even - as you repeatedly refuse to have anything to do with the reporter. It's just about the only thing that works to get them to leave you alone.
posted by mediareport at 10:38 PM on December 6, 2005

I was in a compromising situation a couple of years back, though not of the same dynamic. The woman I had the affair with went a bit Glenn Close, said she was pregnant, attempted suicide, went to my work (I am a yoga teacher, she was a private) and informed the staff of what had happened, etc.

Immediately, I told all people who were contacted at work the truth as to what and why it happened. I also let on to my closest friends as to what was going on. It was important to be what a friend would describe as "being on the right side of the energy." Your honesty and respect you have for yourself in telling others will pay off, and if the journalist contacts you, you will have traction to take it in the direction you see fit.

With her, after all was said and done, I gave her nothing more than just saying, "Prove it." And I knew the people I told would stand beside me whatever happened.

I also think it is good to tell "X" what is going on and what your intentions are. My feeling is that would show a lot of class and respect, especially for yourself. You want him on your side in this also.

I agree with the "don't lie, don't say anything."

And I hope you have no regrets about having the affair.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:49 PM on December 6, 2005

I agree with those who say "don't lie, don't say anything."

The other way to look at it is: The less you say, the lower the chances of saying something you'll later regret.
posted by Good Brain at 11:39 PM on December 6, 2005

Agree with those that advise against saying "no comment": it is universally perceived as interchangeable with "I am guilty", and has strongly negative connotations. After all, what do you think when you read someone quoted with "no comment" in the press? Just tell him on the first call that you're not interested in talking to him, ask him not to contact you again, then don't take any further calls. Leave it at that.
posted by bifter at 2:07 AM on December 7, 2005

I revisit this thread and so many people are saying "no comment" that I have to comment again: "No comment" is just like saying "I did it and I don't want to talk about it". You might as well say that.

Your goal is to make the journalist think he's got the *wrong* person, and to think that if he publishes your name and you sue, you're going to take every cent he got for writing the book in the first place. Same with the publisher. Publishers have legal departments, whose job is to advise against anything risky - your job is to prod those legal departments into action.

You want to make him PROVE the allegations (to his editor, and the publisher's legal team). If he can, your name will still end up in the book. But if he can't, it won't. A "no comment" is partial proof that you did it. So is not talking. Non-guilty people DENY accusations. Haven't you seen all those court shows where the accused says "I refuse to answer on the grounds it may tend to incriminate me" and the jury takes it as an admission of guilt?

So much of the above commenting focuses on what would get a reasonable person to stop calling you... this isn't your goal. A guy writing a book isn't a reasonable person. Your goal is to get him or the publisher to write the tale in such a way that it doesn't identify you, and the ONLY way to get them to do that is for them to have a real fear that they will be successfully sued.
posted by jellicle at 6:57 AM on December 7, 2005

As a (mostly recovered) journalist with no experience, thank God, in the gossip trade but a lot of experience with lawyers, lawsuits, etc., I would advise you to do an honest cost/benefit analysis of this information being divulged. As others have pointed out, having an affair with a celebrity when you were in college is, well, almost quaint. Are you sure you want to go through the expense to keep your name out of the bio?

If yes, you must now -- as in right away -- get the biggest name lawyer you can and have them send a letter to the publisher promising nuclear annhiliation if any information identifying you ends up in this book. Immediately.

And never, ever, ever, say word one to the writer. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Not even 'no comment.'

In essence, you have to force the publisher to do a cost/benefit anaylsis of their own: Is it worth the assured cost in time and money it will take to publish your name -- a name which will mean nothing to the vast majority of the book's readers -- or is it safer to simply call you by a pseudonym. Make them go for the easy way out.

Sure, the letter is a tacit admission of the truth in the allegations. But that cat's out of the bag, thanks to your mouthy roommate and, well, the fact that you did have an affair. The goal now is to keep your name out of the book, not cover-up the fact of the affair. A big, nasty, very expensive media lawyer at a name-brand firm can do this.

Is it worth the money to you?

Or, maybe more accurately, is it worth the money to Mr. X?
posted by docgonzo at 8:29 AM on December 7, 2005

Anonymous? No, there's no anonymouse here. I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number.
posted by raedyn at 8:46 AM on December 7, 2005

Lots of good (not to mention bad) advice here. If I were in your shoes, I'd be deciding between normy's and docgonzo's. But what I most want to say is: tell your husband if he doesn't already know. Aside from wanting him to hear it from you rather than the tabloids, shouldn't he know such a striking feature of your past? To me, part of what marriage is all about is trusting your partner with even the embarrassing stuff. (And I've had past partners with some pretty sordid/delightful stuff—hell, I dated a woman who had a fling with Brian Jones, is that cool or what?—and it didn't bother me; the past is a foreign country.)
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2005

Don't lawyer up and don't talk (AT ALL) about the affair except to your husband. That's it, that's the end of it.
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on December 7, 2005

I also agree that you need to ignore a lot of the advice in this thread:

For the love of god don't go lying about how much he cared for you and he never got over you, that is probably the worst thing you could possibly say.

Don't try say that you might have known each other ("we must have been at that same party") but nothing happened. That is only one step away from full verification.

Don't try to contact him or his publicist. That could be taken as a sign that you're going to blackmail him, or that you want to be paid off, etc. His publicist works for him, not you. If I were working for him I would think it very odd that someone that hasn't spoken to him in years suddenly calls up out of the blue when there's a chance that the story might come out.

Do contact a lawyer, but only at first to find out what your rights are. Don't immediately refer any questions from the caller to your lawyer, or mention suing, or anything like that. Doing so will just make them want to pry harder because they will know they are on to something.

Don't say the words "no comment". Just hang up, or perhaps say "you must have the wrong number" before hanging up. However unless you are a very good actor, I don't think there is anything you can say that won't send very clear signals to the journalist that indeed something did happen but you don't want to talk about it. Saying absolutely nothing is probably the least-worst amount of damage you can do.

Some people think that you should resign yourself to accepting the role of "that little slut that so-and-so cheated on his wife with" and be happy about it. Obviously that is ridiculous, and if you thought that was an option you never would have posted this.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:47 AM on December 7, 2005

You want to make him PROVE the allegations ... If he can, your name will still end up in the book. But if he can't, it won't.

Don't forget that he may have already gathered proof, and now he's fishing for quotes. Don't talk.

get the biggest name lawyer you can and have them send a letter to the publisher promising nuclear annhiliation

And watch how that letter ends up being in the book itself.

Don't talk. Don't talk. Don't talk. Hang up the phone. Throw the letters away. Just step back and walk away. Anything more is counter-productive.
posted by frogan at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2005

I'm in the "literally don't say a word" camp. He calls, you hang up. He appears at your door, you slam it. He catches you in a public place and asks, ignore him and don't let him trick you into saying anything; if you're in a store or something like that, find a manager or security guard and tell them the guy is bothering you. Consult a lawyer if you want to know your rights in advance, but don't sic the lawyer on the guy. Don't say or do anything that inadvertently suggests to him that he's on to something. (Even doing nothing arguably does that, but to paraphrase what someone said above, I think it's the least bad option.) Providing zero information is the best tactic.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2005

He appears at your door, you slam it.

No. Be polite and casual, not slamming-doors-angry. Laugh, smile, shrug, whatever; just tell any reporter, "I'm not interested in talking with you, sorry" and do it politely, repeatedly, while smiling in a friendly way. "Oh my, you aren't going to force me to call security, are you?" may be a good fallback if they go papparazzi on you. But polite at all times is a must if what you want to do is avoid giving an editor a reason to put your name in print.
posted by mediareport at 10:00 PM on December 7, 2005

No. Be polite and casual, not slamming-doors-angry.

Agreed. I didn't really mean "slam" when I wrote it, but "close" just seemed lame. But yes, no slamming, which would convey anger on your part.
posted by pmurray63 at 3:00 PM on December 8, 2005

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