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  BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: THE SMOKING GUN'S BILL BASTONE.  
  By A.J. Daulerio        
   
 

Bill Bastone has done approximately 47,000 interviews about The Smoking Gun since the snoopy little site started in 1997.

So, it's no great shakes for The Black Table in nabbing this guy for an interview. Before he became the fancy pants editor at TSG, Bastone was a crime reporter for The Village Voice and was also arrested at the San Diego Zoo back in 1987 for trying to have sex with a zebra. (Hey, as our sidebar shows, the Freedom of Information Act is a two-way street, pal.) Court TV has transformed Bastone's Website into a bubbleheaded television show that has never recovered from the stinging reviews it received upon debuting in August. Now airing as an occasional Court TV "special," Smoking Gun TV may or may not be airing on a TV near you. The Black Table's advice: Set Mo Rocca on fire.

Ahem. Anyway, between sifting through court documents and plugging anything TSG, Fancypants Bastone (finally) took some time away from his busy schedule and zebra humping to hunker down for our little RAAHP interview. Rocka. Rolla.

All hail the American Night!

BT: So do you guys think what you do is journalism or do you think you're kind of more like paparazzi? I'd vote for paparazzi just because it's more fun to say. "Paparazzi!" See? But, that's just me. Dish.

BB: We'll have to cop to journalism. We report stories out just like our print peers, but instead of writing 1,200-word pieces based on police reports, FBI memos or depositions, we cut to the chase and give you the document itself -- with a more abbreviated story to provide context and point out the document's highlights. While "paparazzi" does have more pizzazz, Smoking Gun staffers thankfully don't have to: a) hide in bushes, or b) interact with the Hilton sisters.

BT: What's with people who go on reality television shows? They

 
 

seem to have more skeletons in their closets than Jeff Dahmer had in his fridge. How do you guys find out stuff that the networks don't?

BB: As Cindy Adams once said about her holiday party: If you're not indicted, you're not invited. Getting arrested for DWI or slugging your girlfriend lets a casting director know that you mean business and can be counted on to add some sizzle to a reality show. Really, what's more boring than a respectful, law-abiding 23-year-old? "Big Brother," "For Love or Money," and these other reality shows need dope fiends, tramps and binge drinkers … NOW! As for uncovering rap sheets for these contestants, it's not too hard. We're diligent, resourceful and have good sources. We're not sure whom the networks hire to conduct their background checks, but a few bumbling P.I.'s are guilty of some serious malpractice.

BT: What is the goal of Smoking Gun: Is it to make people look stupid? Is it to make the media look lazy?

BB: Nothing more lofty than break stories and inform and entertain visitors to the site. And if we're able to make Donald Trump or P. Diddy look like a tool in the process, well, then it's been a really good day.

BT: Are more journalists lazy these days?

BB: For the most part, no. But when it comes to covering the entertainment industry, I'd say most of those journalists couldn't report their way out of a paper bag. Too much finagling with publicists, talent managers and other members of the industry's permanent government over who's going to grant an interview/appear on a cover. Seems that nobody wants to step on anyone's feet, especially those of miscreant publicists like Peggy Siegal and Lizzie Grubman. Those people -- and most of their clients -- detest journalists and honest journalism. Sadly, most magazine editors know this and still give these soulless hacks veto power over writers and photographers on certain celebrity features.

BT: You guys look at court documents ALL. DAY. LONG, right? You ever snort lines off each other's chests to pass the time or anything?

BB: Yes, The Smoking Gun's office is as exciting a place as you imagine. Of course, we do have our fun: Lap Dance Thursdays is a perennial staff favorite.

BT: Kobe Bryant. How do you think the media's going to handle his trial? Do you think this will be bigger than O.J.?

   

 

BAD, BAD, BASTONE!

William "Bill" Bastone sure looks like the classic mild-mannered reporter, but checks with the local police authorities reveal that Mr. Bastone's anything but. According to police, Mr. Bastone has been caught "wilding" on at least three occasions -- and only became proficient at navigating the legal channels after spending time in Federal Prison.

Police still recall the 1982 evening, when a stoned Bastone spit on his own wedding cake and gave the priest the finger. (Mugshot at left.) Trouble and Bastone met up again in 1984, when he was busted snorting lines off a riding lawnmower in Sears while in full drag. (Center.) Then, in 1985, on his first day of work, Bastone attacked Michael Musto in the Village Voice newsroom, with a bottle of A-1 Steak Sauce. (Right.)

But few know about the sordid past Bastone's been trying to keep quiet for years.

In the late 1980s, while serving time for the "Musto Incident," Bastone made some new friends in the White Power movement. The picture above was taken from a 1989 fistfight in jail over a Milli Vanilli record. Note the tattoo's above Bastone's eyes, which read "Smoking Gunnn." Today, (as the inset picture shows) Bastone is a happy man, with a successful writing career and TV show.

   
 

BB: It will continue to be huge. The October 9 preliminary hearing, which should be open to the public, will get saturation coverage, especially since the prosecution plans to play a videotaped interview with the alleged victim, show photos of her injuries and introduce a surreptitiously recorded police interview of Kobe (which, investigators claim, corroborates much of the 19-year-old woman's story). As for comparisons to the O.J. trial, you gotta give it to the Juice, because that trial lasted for months and had Kato, Al Cowlings, the Ford Bronco, a black glove, Bruno Magli footprints and all that blood. Not to mention those two bodies O.J. carved up.

BT: Would you rather let O.J. Simpson marry your daughter or let Kobe Bryant sexually assault you with one his Nikes?

BB: A.J., your little questions try so hard. Since I only have a son, no, I would never give him away to O.J. in one of those Vermont civil unions. So, I'd have to say to Kobe … "Gulp, just do it."

BT: Hey, you guys ever think about turning the Smoking Gun into a TV show? I bet people would LOVE that!

BB: Funny you should mention that. We've been owned by Court TV since January 2001 and the network recently decided to try out some quarterly "Smoking Gun TV" specials hosted by Mo Rocca. First one aired in late-August -- reviews were not that great, though ratings-wise it did okay. Next special is in December and will be better -- that's a guarantee. If you're still disappointed, write me and I'll send you a refund.

BT: Would you rather let Mo Rocca stick his cock-a in your nose for 12 minutes or lather yourself in Crisco and jump into a kiddy pool full of dead people's pubic hair?

BB: Decisions, decisions. Since Mo is the host of the Smoking Gun TV specials on Court TV (plug-plug), I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that arrangement. Excuse me while I leave the keyboard for a moment to locate my flowered bathing cap …

BT: So, what's the deal with this Arnold Shwarzenheimer story in Oui? Did you guys get that or did you rip off that fella at Slate?

BB: Here's how that went down: A tipster tells Slate's Mickey Kaus about the contents of the Oui interview. Kaus posts a small item in his column about the story and how a copy of the mag was for sale on eBay. Kaus then gives a heads-up about his piece to a few of his online peers, one of whom -- the fine gents at the Drudge Report -- let me know about the Oui story. Within a few hours we tracked down the article and published our piece. Which is to say we're a ripoff-free zone.

BT: What's your favorite thing about being on CNN? And how about that Wolf Blitzer -- do you think the curtains match the drapes?

BB: They apply your makeup with this compressor-driven contraption not unlike those handheld devices you paint a room with. As for the tacky question about Mr. Blitzer, I'll remind you that he's one of the country's most respected television journalists. And unless he's bathing in a vat of Grecian Formula -- you know, to "reverse the gray" -- I'm envisioning a really mismatched set.

BT: Mug shots. We all love 'em. Nolte's is probably the most popular. But, my favorite is Yasmine Bleeth. I don't think I'll ever consider her attractive ever again. Does the Smoking Gun have favorites as well?

BB: A few weeks ago we posted the scariest mug shot ever -- it's a pic of a white supremacist/career felon named Dion Milam … and the guy's still giving me nightmares. As for celeb train wrecks, Tawny Kitaen and Bobby Brown are great. But nothing beats a young Sinatra -- the Bergen County Sheriff's Office never took a better photo.

BT: Do you think Yasmine Bleeth could even fire a snot rocket anymore?

BB: Pretty doubtful. Any attempt would probably result is a syrupy green fluid dripping onto her Juicy Couture separates.

BT: What do you consider the biggest story The Smoking Gun broke?

BB: While they're all my children, must say our first reality TV story -- on the restraining order ways of Rick Rockwell, the dickhead groom from Fox's "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire?" -- put The Smoking Gun on the map in early-2000. Subsequently we've done loads of stories (only some of which have dealt with reality TV) that have generated more press (and way more traffic). But Rockwell started the ball rolling.

BT: Has the Smoking Gun has ever made any huge mistakes in executing a story? Do you guys make errors?

BB: Thankfully, no huge mistakes. Since we're posting documents that we know to be authentic, that's never been a problem. Our mistakes end up being the small ones that we can quickly correct -- age, number of years in prison, rank in the Genovese crime family. And if we're not careful, an occasional home address or social security number of a celebrity may appear on a document. But since we're vehemently anti-stalker and frown upon identity theft, we strive to redact that material -- though sometimes we slip. But that's why Brad Pitt has lawyers, right?

BT: I heard you worked at the Village Voice. How was that experience and did you ever see Musto naked?

BB: Yep, worked as a staff writer there for nearly 15 years (until mid-2000). Loved every day at VV since I was able to cover what I wanted -- and that usually was organized crime and political corruption. Also got to work with many of the city's best investigative reporters: Jack Newfield, Joe Conason, Tom Robbins and Wayne Barrett, with whom I shared an office. Strangely, I never caught Musto naked. Though I did once see Nat Hentoff in a sequined thong.

BT: Do you think the Smoking Gun could work as well in print?

BB: I generally think that documents work well in small doses; otherwise they tend to overwhelm you. So the idea of a publication devoted to this stuff wouldn't work for me. But as a supplement, of sorts, to a newspaper or magazine (kinda like what we do for People), the document works nicely. Showcases some reporting chops and shows readers that the story in question is backed up with some official paper.

BT: Isn't a Bastone some sort of woodwind instrument?

BB: Just when I thought that VH-1's weepy Save The Music campaign was some sorta scam … you're probably thinking of the bassoon. You know, it's in the woodwind family, just like the hobo.

BT: Do you think Jayson Blair is insane? I mean, his poetry even made my 11-year-old niece wince.

BB: Yes, definitely nuts (and his crank consumption was not a contributing factor). But, really, who wants to talk about that lying twerp?

BT: Would you rather be Yasmine Bleeth's nose or John Wayne Bobbit's penis?

BT: C'mon, this isn't even a close call: Before the septum went south and the chronic nasal drip set in, Bleeth's nose saw quite a party. And the view south ain't half bad.

Other victims:

THE VILLAGE VOICE'S MICHAEL MUSTO.

PAGE SIX'S IAN SPIEGELMAN.

GAWKER'S ELIZABETH SPIERS.

VICE MAGAZINE'S JESSE PEARSON.

 

*BT*