A strange thing happened to me last week.
First, some background, just to put the whole thing into context. I have only recently graduated from university, so currently I live with my parents in a small, unremarkable town in suburban Hertfordshire (England). Last September I began interning for an entertainment website, and in May I became an assistant editor. Why that job? I love to write, I’m a pop music fanatic, I watch a lot of trashy TV, and I’m also something of a film buff.
With that territory comes ‘showbiz gossip’. It’s a minefield, and (though I like to think there are exceptions) it has a reputation for prioritising big headlines and unreliable “sources” over concrete facts. But, as I say, for better or worse, if you want to be writing about music, film and TV then it comes with the territory… at least at first. You just have to be careful to do three things.
- Make sure that any rumours not based on reliable sources are correctly credited to whoever started them
- Establish in the article that there’s a possibility of it being B-S
- If possible, try to get an official response or statement from the celebrity in question or their representative.
So, in March, whilst still working as an intern, there was a story being talked about on Twitter and on various gossip sites suggesting that Cher was “fuming” over Adele allegedly refusing to duet with her. And who first reported it? The National Enquirer. Americans will know immediately what that means, but let me explain for the Brits: the National Enquirer has a reputation far worse than any UK-based magazine or newspaper. It’s so ridiculous that it’s almost a parody of itself. If you see a rumour going around that came from the National Enquirer, you have to prepare yourself for the 85% chance that it will either be completely false or a massive fabrication.
Of course, that also means there’s a slim 15% chance that it’s accurate. But still, as I said earlier, you have to make sure that you abide by the 3 basic rules listed above.
I began my article. In my very first paragraph – my first sentence – I established that the original National Enquirer piece was hardly based on solid fact. I wrote: “Cher is upset that Adele turned down an offer of a duet, if a tenuous tabloid report is to be believed.” Note the use of “tenuous”. I then quoted the source, who basically says that the ‘Someone Like You’ singer wasn’t interested in any duets.
The great thing about this story was that I didn’t have to try and reach out to Cher’s spokesperson, because she had already spoken to another site. And after I had quoted the Enquirer’s source, I quoted the response. I wrote: “A representative for Cher has brushed off the report, telling Gossip Cop: ‘There was never any request put forth by Cher to work with Adele. Everyone loves Adele, including Cher.’”
And there you have it. Done. It gets published.
Fast-forward four months, and an extraordinary thing happened.
I woke up in the morning and went about my business as usual. I logged on to Twitter and checked my Mentions. And I had these weird, nonsensical tweets from people I’d never met. They were basically all variations on this one from someone called @ZacharySire: “what the fuck did @ShaunKitchener do to @CHER ????”.
I was confused. I went on to Cher’s page and my blood ran so cold I thought I might faint.
“Shaun Kitchener is a Liar ! Whats worse he is VAPID,INANE & BANAL!!! HE IS LIVING PROOF,THAT IF U GIVE A CHIMPANZEE A TYPEWRITER,AT SOME POINT HE WILL LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND TYPE THE WORD ” ASSHOLE” Shaun you know where i am ! DONT OUT & OUT LIE ABOUT ME AGAIN”
Deep down I knew it was about me, but for a while I was adamant she was talking about a different Shaun Kitchener. After all, the Adele article was four months ago, and I had absolutely no recollection of it. And, more than that, I’m just an awkward 23-year-old from a small town in the middle of England. Why would a celebrity like Cher even know I existed?
So for a while I desperately tried to remember what I could possibly have done to upset her. A couple of weeks ago some fans of British singer Cher Lloyd got upset when I asked them whether there was any truth to a photographer’s claims that she ignored fans who had waited in the rain for her (there wasn’t, surprise surprise). I wondered if maybe there’s been some confusion over that.
Finally, whilst talking to my editor via Instant Messenger, I found the Adele article. I’d completely forgotten it, so I immediately felt stupid for putting on Twitter that I had no memory of ever writing about Cher. I obviously had, and just couldn’t remember it.
But Cher hadn’t stopped tweeting. She continued:
“BY SHAUN KITCHENER CHER”FUMING”OVER ADELE DUET SNUB!! CHER WOULD HAVE MOVED MOUNTAINS 2GET THE HITMAKER ADELE 2 WRITE HER A SONG OR JUST SING A CHORUS ON HER ALBUM,BUT THE STAR HAS COMPLETELY IGNORED ALL CONTACT!ADELE WOULDN’t EVEN RETURN HER CALL!… This is how POISON STARTS !Then we get turned against 1 another! WE ARE ARTISTS! SISTERS,BROTHERS! NOT ALL THE SAME BUT DESERVING OF RESPECT”
The thing is, I completely understand why she’d be angry at the rumour. Imagine being someone who has untrue things written about you; things that anyone can read and use to make a misinformed judgement. You’d want to speak out, right? You’d want to clear it up and shame the person who started it. I get that. And I apologise if my piece came across like it was trying to stir up trouble.
But I didn’t understand why she came for ME. The quote she used on Twitter was from the National Enquirer’s source, they weren’t my words. Yes, I used it in my own article, but I had clearly said it was from the Enquirer and I also said, in my very first sentence, that it was “tenuous”. I had ALSO followed the quote with the denial from her spokesperson.
And the things Cher’s fans have replied with are unbelievable. The hatred for me, from people who have never met me and, in most cases, haven’t even read the article, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Now that a few days have passed, I can separate myself from it and not take it to heart. But, all joking aside, when you see those messages for the first time it really does shake you up.
I understand why Cher would want to speak out about the rumour. If untrue things are being written about you, you’d want to set the record straight (after all, that’s exactly what I’m doing now). But a few things just don’t add up.
- Why now, four months later?
- Why me? Why not any of the other sites who reported it? A lot other sites and magazines did retell it – sites and magazines far bigger than the one I was writing for, and ones who didn’t, like me, give both sides of the story. And, more importantly, why not gun for the National Enquirer, who started the rumour in the first place?
- Why would you want to say such nasty things about someone you’ve never even met just because their name is on the top of an article you’ve skim-read? Why would you want to subject them to nasty comments from over 700,000 of your followers when he had said that the rumour was “tenuous” and that it came from another magazine?
I admire Cher. Her success in the entertainment industry speaks for itself. And, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say she’s one of my idols, she’s certainly someone I have respected for a long time, for the gratitude she has towards her fans, her support of gay marriage and her wonderful sense of humour.
But after singling out someone on the other side of the world and attacking their personality as “vapid, inane and banal” despite never meeting them, I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at her in quite the same way again.
But I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.