The mood was largely self-congratulatory Monday night at the celebratory release of New York Magazine’s first ebook, a collection of the magazine’s 26 most popular stories from the past five years, published by Byliner. New York staff and readers gathered at The Half King, singing praises to the publication over sliders and spinach salad and interrogating writers on their celebrity interview techniques.
New York editor-in-chief Adam Moss introduced “three of the longer lasting writers at the magazine,” Steve Fishman, Vanessa Grigoriadis and Jennifer Senior, who each read selections from their iconic cover stories—a profile of Bernie Madoff, Lady Gaga, and a sociological exploration of “why parents hate parenting,” respectively.
In the Q&A that followed, Ms. Grigoriadis was asked about her ability to “seduce the celebrity, to get her to … share intimate details of her life, only to end up reading a piece in which many things are said about her that she doesn’t particularly wish were said about her.”
“I never do that!” Ms. Grigoriadis replied indignantly. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she added, with only a trace of irony.
An audience member reversed the question, referencing Dan P. Lee’s profile of Fiona Apple, which appeared in New York last month. “I’m wondering about boundaries,” the woman inquired, alluding to the questionably close relationship which seems to develop between subject and writer in Mr. Lee’s profile. (“We’re friends,” Ms. Apple tells Mr. Lee when he inquires whether they might meet again, “for the story.”) “Did we tell the whole story with Fiona Apple?” the woman asked skeptically.
“I don’t know the real story about Fiona Apple,” said Ms. Grigoriadis, “but there is this tradition of male writers writing about female actresses and writing these pieces where you are wondering how close they really got, or whether they made it up in their minds like that, or they want you to think that…” She said, trailing off before assuring the audience: “For me, everything I know goes on the page. I’m not holding any celebrity secrets.”
Mr. Moss was quick to jump in and defend Mr. Lee’s profile, calling it “very deep,” assuring the audience that “there were no secrets kept.”
“I highly recommend it,” Mr. Moss said, unsurprisingly.
The real intrigue of the night was supplied by Mr. Fishman, who read from his profile “The Madoff Tapes,” which Mr. Moss later reminded the audience was the first in-depth conversation with Bernie Madoff published following his crimes. “How’d that happen?” Mr. Moss asked.
“Glad you asked,” Mr. Fishman responded eagerly, launching into a retelling of the pursuit. “The prison authorities shut me off, which I found very motivating,” he explained, and recounted how he managed to get a list of every inmate in Mr. Madoff’s prison. He wrote letters to every one of them, figuring some would get through the prison authorities.
“I put my phone number in [the letter], and because I have Jason Bourne fantasies I bought this disposable cell phone,” he laughed. Yet the real break, he explained, was an inmate serving life without parole who fancied himself a journalist. Mr. Fishman was able to communicate with the inmate through his girlfriend in Spain, and it was this contact who ultimately delivered Fishman’s letter to Mr. Madoff himself.
“He vouched for my character, and Madoff said, okay, I’ll do it,” Mr. Fishman recounted, remembering the night of a Jets playoff game when he got a collect call from Mr. Madoff. “I didn’t have a tape recorder, and I was running around the house in front of my young children yelling ‘Shit, Bernie Madoff’s on the phone!’”
“For the story it was really important that Madoff speak. Yes, it’s important that its true, but its much more important to hear the story from inside the mouth of this person,” Mr. Fishman explained in response to a question from Mr. Moss regarding Mr. Madoff’s reputation as a pathological liar.
“As a footnote, he told me that he liked it,” Mr. Fishman said of Mr. Madoff’s opinion of the profile.
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