Bauer Media Group is an international publisher, responsible for magazines such as In Touch and Life&Style, among many other titles. Despite their large presence, they’ve been able to stay under the radar for the most part. Now, Tom Cruise is suing Bauer in a $50 million defamation lawsuit for claiming that he had abandoned his daughter, Suri. Tom’s lawyer described the publisher as “sleaze peddlers” but when Andrew Gumbel investigated Bauer and found their connection to Nazi-themed material, he realized that much more than sleazy rumors where being sold.
With more than 20 years of experience, Gumbel is an award-winning investigative journalist that has written for some of the most respected publications to date, including The Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic. He is also a New York Times best selling author. When asking what motivates him to investigate the sort of stories he goes after, he says; “I like to tell stories that have not previously been told. I like to challenge or overturn conventional wisdom. I like to challenge people in authority, when appropriate. These are all basic journalistic instincts.” Obviously, Andrew Gumbel knows his stuff and he was willing to share some more insight.
Q: Exploiting celebrity rumors through the media is pretty common, but when you discovered that Bauer was also connected to Nazism and Nazi pornography, it shocked me. Were you personally surprised by these findings?
Andrew Gumbel: Even though I have lived in Germany, Bauer was a name that barely registered before I began researching the piece. I was surprised, first, by the sheer size of the company worldwide. Who knew? Second, by the fact that the core of their business is still retail sales of print magazines -- who thinks that's a good idea in 2013? And, third, by the obvious journalistic corners they cut just to grab people's attention in the supermarket aisle and dentist's waiting room. It became clear that Bauer was a company more willing than most to dredge the gutter to sell magazines. That explains, I think, why they have expanded into some pretty dubious areas in the name of the bottom line. Tits and Nazis -- it doesn't get more visceral or vulgar than that.
Q: Instead of offering an explanation or denying the allegations, I noticed quite a few declines to comment from Bauer and those that have been affiliated with the Media Group. In your experience, what usually causes these sorts of reactions?
AG: I can't speak for Bauer. What I can say is that I gave them every opportunity to explain themselves, to comment on those things I could verify, and to elaborate or correct or refute on-the-record comments from others. Their relative reticence with me seems to be par for the course for a company that likes to fly below the media radar. Its executives almost never give interviews; the company is privately owned and discloses only the financial information it chooses to.
Q: Exposing corruption can definitely lead to backlash. Do you ever hesitate before going live with a story?
AG: My job, and the job of any journalist, is to be as sure as I can that what I've published is as fair and as close to the truth as possible. We took great care and a lot of time over this piece. I spoke to a lot of people who did not want to be quoted, as well as those who did, and I ditched a lot of material I could not verify. That's how the process goes. Once you've done all you can and given everyone the chance to have their say, then you are ready to publish -- and defend what you've written, if that becomes necessary.
Q: Let’s say that you are a movie star and you find that you are a victim of libel on the cover of a magazine. Would you file suit or ignore it all?
AG: Hard to hypothesize. A world in which I was a movie star would be a disturbing place!