The gossipmonger we love to hate has outdone himself this time.
On Monday, Nik Richie’s gossip site, TheDirty.com, released correspondence from a woman claiming to have conducted an online sexual relationship with former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner—after the scandal that forced him to resign in 2011. Two naughty pictures and one day later, the New York City mayoral candidate acknowledged that the messages and videos were indeed from him, though he refused to quit the race. “I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have,” Weiner said in a statement and reiterated in a subsequent news conference.
Behind the latest revelations is Richie, a 35-year-old New Jersey native who broke into the online gossip scene with Dirty Scottsdale, which he launched in 2007 as a way to chronicle the club scene in Scottsdale, Ariz. In the years since, The Dirty has become a national site that bills itself as “The world’s first ever reality blogger™.” The site allows users to upload gossip, photos, and blog posts about significant others, friends, co-workers, and others, and claims more than 20 million views a month and 181 million annually.
The site’s proprietor initially attempted to maintain anonymity under the pseudonym “Nik Richie”—a twist on Paris Hilton’s sidekick, Nicole Richie—but in 2008 he outed himself on the site after a DUI arrest. Real name: Hooman Karamian. “It humanized the site,” he told Forbes two years later. “Instead of hiding somewhere like Batman, it made me a real person.” (Previously, as CEO of the music label Capitol Imagine Group, he went by the name Corbin Grimes.)
Since then, The Dirty has launched local pages for cities across the U.S. and Canada, and for 100 colleges. It also compiles gossip on celebrities and athletes. Each section is complete with an endless roll of drama and photos, most of which include a short comment from Richie. “If you’re trying to be a moral person, then be that moral person,” he told the website Vegas Seven in 2010. “Don’t say you are and then go out that night and do a bunch of drugs and sleep with everyone in town.”
Richie described for the site why the local gossip model took off: “Tabloids are so addicting, and this is the same kind of format, but this is real people. This is someone you actually know, and to see that person become an Internet celebrity or to see them get in trouble, maybe you kind of feel better about yourself in a sick way.”
In 2010, Richie married Shayne Lamas, winner of Season 12 of The Bachelor and daughter of reality and soap star Lorenzo Lamas. The pair wed after a whirlwind eight-hour romance that ended at Las Vegas’s Little White Wedding Chapel.They’ve since had a daughter, Press Dahl Lamas-Richie, but the relationship was recently reported to be on the rocks. In 2012, he and his wife appeared in the show Couples Therapy on VH1, and this spring, Lamas was reportedly hospitalized for “marital stress.”
In the past few years, The Dirty has struggled with the blurred privacy space in which it operates. Just over a week ago, Richie lost a defamation lawsuit filed by former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones and was ordered to fork over $338,000.
It certainly wasn’t his first lawsuit. Richie’s company, Dirty World, has suffered through a series of them. In 2011, a Tennessee reporter filed a $50 million suit against The Dirty for publishing nude photos and pictures of drug use that she says weren’t her. The content was removed online and the two parties reached a settlement.
But in the past, the site has been notoriously stubborn about backing down. When ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews requested that Peeping Tom–style nude photos of her be removed, the site republished them with a note: “Erin Andrews, can you ask your lawyers if this is the post they want me to take down because I am confused? Welcome back to reality…your fault.- nik.” Two years later, the site was still linking to the photos under a “Moments in History” headline. In 2010, a woman who won a $1.5 million judgment against Richie and Dirty World filed another privacy lawsuit after an angry Richie continued posting about her.
Richie seems unabashed by his notoriety. “I look in the mirror every day and know that I’m the coolest person in the world,” Richie told Forbes. His memoir, Sex, Lies and the Dirty, which he dedicated to himself, features a quotation from Anderson Cooper on its cover: “Nik says he is shining a light on people, but he’s not. Nik is bringing people back into darkness.” The book is chock-full of salacious anecdotes, including one claiming he sparked a drug-fueled argument between Lindsay Lohan and then-girlfriend Samantha Ronson.
The revelations on The Dirty have real-world consequences. The site was the first to publish racy photographs of Miss California Carrie Prejean, who later was stripped of her title. A few years later, a story on the site alleged that Ashton Kutcher had cheated on wife Demi Moore with a 22-year-old. The couple divorced soon after.
Despite the endless flood of vitriol, it should be noted that Richie’s “Dirty Army,” as he calls it, mobilizes for things other than spreading dirty photos. In 2011, amid allegations that a zoo in Alberta, Canada, was not taking care of its animals, Richie started a petition and a donation campaign.
On Tuesday, as Weiner’s campaign reeled from the newest batch of leaks, a request for comment to Richie was forwarded to an employee of The Dirty named Scooby Sunday, his sidekick and self-described best friend. “Nik Richie is not taking any interview requests. However he did ask me to deliver the following statement—‘Im just doing my job,’” Sunday replied.