07.14.10

The Next Mel Bombshell

RadarOnline’s daily doses of the explosive Mel Gibson audio—with perhaps some damaging photos coming soon—have dethroned TMZ from the story. Jacob Bernstein on how Mel’s downfall has turned the site into a media powerhouse.

Every catastrophe has a beneficiary, and Mel Gibson’s shocking fall from grace is no exception.

In three weeks, he has gone from being a slightly damaged man, nearly recovered after accusations of anti-Semitism, to being the most hated celebrity in America since O.J. Simpson. In the court of public opinion, he’s been convicted of being a woman-hater who apparently beat his girlfriend as he hurled racist remarks her way, telling her, among other things, that he would “burn down” her house and predicted that she would be raped by a “pack of n------s.”

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But one person clearly relishing his downfall is David Perel, the editor in chief of RadarOnline, the year-old website financed with money from American Media (publisher of the National Enquirer and Star), and the supermarket magnate, Ron Burkle.

“It’s the celebrity story of the year, no question,” says Perel. “It’s just so shocking. And it works on so many different levels.”

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In the last month, Perel and the indefatigable reporters at his website have broken the bulk of the news about Gibson’s latest meltdown, turning the saga into their own personal Pentagon Papers, complete with four blockbuster audiotapes of Gibson excoriating his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, with whom he has an 8-month-old daughter.

In one audio selection posted on the site, the Lethal Weapon star apparently admits hitting her in the face, telling her “You deserved it.”

In another, he rails against her for breastfeeding their kid from an artificially enhanced bosom, then adds his choice comments about what that “pack of n------” would do to her.

Perhaps Gibson should keep his head down, because Perel says there’s considerably more audio coming in the days ahead, perhaps several other taped conversations. “I can’t say exactly how many more are coming, but we’re going to keep it rolling,” he says, with just a hint of self-satisfaction. “There’s more. There’s more.”

Offering up a teaser, he says one conversation between the former couple has Gibson telling his ex-girlfirend that she should give up her career in music and focus instead merely on pleasuring Gibson. “That’s about all you’re good at,” Perel recounts him as saying.

“It’s the celebrity story of the year, no question,” says Perel. “It’s just so shocking. And it works on so many different levels.”

Exactly how the site has been getting this information is a source of some jealousy among  members of Radar’s competitive set, who are certain Perel & Co. paid for their information.

But the editor, who formerly oversaw coverage of the John Edwards saga at the National Enquirer, among other big stories, swears that in this instance, no money changed hands. “We did not pay for the tapes,“ says Perel. “Not a dime.”

The way he tells it, the whole thing was something of a date with destiny. Three weeks ago, someone at his news organization got a tip that Gibson had filed a restraining order against Grigorieva. A couple of reporters descended upon Grigorieva’s home in a door-knocking expedition. There, they encountered the scorned woman who said: “Mel’s playing dirty. The truth will come out.”

Within short order, it did. In a series of installments.

First, Radar alleged that Grigorieva had stored “secret evidence” against Gibson on a DVD. A few days later, they ran a posting stating that there was a “racist rant” from the actor, complete with his rape fantasy about his ex-girlfriend, and a threat to burn her house down. Then, Radar began posting actual recordings of the fights between the former couple, which they broke up in parts.

They also published an article that said “photo evidence” would emerge of Grigorieva with broken teeth and black eyes. (In all likelihood, they’re the subject of another blockbuster posting. Says Perel: “All I can say is, I know a lot about those photos.”) Radar reported that Gibson had pulled a handgun on her during a January 6 disagreement.

Perhaps predictably, traffic for the site has gone through the roof. According to conservative estimates from Quantcast.com, unique visitors to Radar doubled from three million to six million during the last month alone.

“They’ve totally dominated,” says Rob Shuter, a columnist at competitor Popeater. “It’s been huge for their traffic and their publicity. Normally the place one expects to see these stories is TMZ.”

Further, Shuter says, “it’s been constant. Sometimes you get a story that lasts 24 hours or two days. This seems to have no end in sight. And if she, or someone close to her, is enjoying what they’re writing, they’re not going to look for another outlet. They’ve got her. This is their girl and they’ve double-downed on her.”

Radar’s success on the Gibson front is not the only example of their prodigious ability to muckrake. In the winter of 2009, Perel’s reporters broke the bulk of the news about Nadya Suleman, the famous Octomom. Then, they reported that the actor Charlie Sheen had been arrested for domestic violence. The news landed on Christmas. “It ruined my day,” says Perel, though he admits a minute later that he’s actually Jewish. After that came news of Simon Cowell’s engagement (“his fiancée confirmed it on the record!”) and that Halle Berry had split from her baby daddy.

In June, they virtually owned a story about the actor Jeremy London, who claimed to police that he’d been kidnapped by an African-American man and was forced by him to take drugs.

After extensive investigation, Perel’s team uncovered that London was undergoing mandatory drug testing in Los Angeles. The implication was that London had made up the story to avoid getting into legal trouble, and the site’s hypothesis seemed to be backed up by members of the actor’s own family, who said London’s account didn’t “add up.”

Radar’s series was even more fascinating because someone had actually been arrested in connection with the case and charged with kidnapping the actor. “The question is, is that guy sitting in jail because he’s a black man with a rap sheet being accused by a famous white actor?” asks Perel.

But all these stories pale next to the Gibson saga, which Perel concedes might be winding down when it comes to slurs against minorities. “I think we’re done with the ethnic groups,” he says. “I don’t think there are any left.”

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Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.