A new in-depth magazine investigation reveals how one of the most high-profile entertainment and media journalists formed troubled relationships with wealthy and influential figures who later sued him and said he “wasn’t the person” they thought he was.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles magazine published a lengthy profile of Yashar Ali, the journalist, social-media personality, and former political operative known for both his eccentric, seemingly ever-present Twitter personality and his major scoops on the misdeeds of powerful public figures like Les Moonves, Eric Garcetti, and Sharon Osbourne.
Much of the piece details Ali’s journalistic pursuits, his past as an adviser to now California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and his obsessive social-media campaigns, which range from raising money for animals to supporting numerous close friends in the entertainment industry.
But the magazine also reveals what it describes as Ali’s “rather checkered history,” in which he developed cozy relationships and subsequent messy fallings-out with high-profile Hollywood stars and California political power players. Los Angeles alleges a pattern of behavior in which Ali got close to these influential figures, became an integral part of their inner circle, and, in one case, moved into their home before overstaying his welcome. In other cases, he fell into dramatic financial disputes.
One of the L.A. players Ali quickly befriended was comedian Kathy Griffin. The pair became friends in the spring of 2017 following the fallout of a now-infamous photoshoot in which Griffin held up a prop of Donald Trump’s decapitated head.
The images pushed her career into freefall. And amid the media backlash, Los Angeles reports, she direct-messaged Ali on Twitter seeking help and he quickly came to the rescue, writing a positive piece about her for New York and providing advice on how to navigate the media maelstrom.
Griffin invited the journalist to stay at her home and Ali quickly became a fixture in her life, doing her grocery shopping and cooking but, as the magazine reports, after several months he became a recluse, rarely leaving his room. The comedian grew alarmed, Los Angeles reports, when government mail started turning up addressed to him.
After Griffin’s friend Joan Walsh, a journalist and former CNN and MSNBC political analyst, visited her home and expressed dismay at the situation, the comedian began to cut ties with Ali. “I completely believed that she was uncomfortable and maybe even afraid, and I sympathized with her,” Walsh told Los Angeles. Walsh informed her friend “Kathy, you got yourself a grifter. You have to get him out of here.”
Griffin asked Ali to leave in early 2019 and, with the help of two male assistants, packed up his belongings and sent the journalist off in an Uber, Los Angeles reports. Ali disputed this version of events, telling the magazine that he left on his own accord and that Griffin threw him a leaving party.
But a rep for Griffin told the magazine in a statement: “Sometimes you make a new friend and that friend turns out to be quite a different person than you thought they were.”
The Los Angeles profile comes as Ali has risen to a powerful perch as one of the most influential digital-media figures, commanding a massive Twitter following of nearly 750,000 users, publicly befriending and defending major celebrities, and routinely finding himself at the center of high-profile stories.
Most recently, in October, Ali personally accused Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s aide Rick Jacobs of sexual harassment. Major media coverage ensued, and the mayor’s cabinet chances were derailed. Elsewhere, Ali has effectively “canceled” stars like former talk-show host Sharon Osbourne and food writer Alison Roman, both of whom wronged his friends (actress Leah Remini and model Chrissy Teigen, respectively) in scoops published by Ali.
In recent days, as the magazine worked to complete the fact-checking process on the profile, Ali began posting publicly about his mental health, and his past struggles with depression and suicidal ideation.
But another questionable relationship from Ali’s past, according to the magazine, was with Susie Tompkins Buell, a California entrepreneur and major Democratic party donor.
Buell’s close relationship with Ali was well-known—she spoke to reporters about her fondness for him in 2017—but over the past several years, the magazine says, the two had a dramatic falling out over financial and personal matters. Some Buell confidantes grew suspicious of Ali’s role in pushing Buell to auction off expensive art, for which he received a commission. Buell’s family was also reportedly upset when he left sensitive financial documents in Newsom’s office in 2016.
“I cared about Yashar until I couldn’t anymore because he was doing things that were unacceptable,” she told the magazine. “He did a lot of good things for me, but he doesn’t understand boundaries. It’s painful to think about.”
And in a separate instance, Ali ran afoul of Ariadne Getty, a philanthropist and Getty family heiress. While Ali was once a friend of Getty’s, Los Angeles magazine reports that the relationship soured and Getty eventually filed a civil suit against him when he borrowed money from her eventually totaling $179,000, which the magazine said he has not paid back.
But despite the “checkered” past reported by Los Angeles, Ali’s famous friends remain steadfastly in his corner.
“He’s out there doing what journalists are supposed to do—providing comfort to the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper tells the magazine.