No kidding. The disdain old media often shows for these upstart gadflies took a big tumble Nov. 13.
That's when Slate.com media critic Jack Shafer posted a piece revealing that Times Hollywood correspondent Bernard Weinraub had lifted -- "nearly verbatim," as the Times admitted a day later in an Editor's Note - a paragraph in a Nov. 11 story about shady private investigator Anthony Pellicano.
The source: Los Angeles blogger Luke Ford's Pellicano archive.
Luke Ford in turn had pinched that graph (but not quite as badly) from "Dish," MSNBC.com gossip Jeannette Walls's book about the gossip industry.
And Walls got the the info (appropriately credited, in her case, in the book's bibliography) from a 1994 Los Angeles magazine piece by John Connelly.
"Ford calls his Pellicano page a clip job, assembled from a variety of sources," Shafer wrote. "A friend of Ford's who had a copy of 'Dish' read the passage to him this afternoon; he recorded it and transcribed it thusly from pages 276-277 ..."
I am that "friend of Ford's." And as such -- as well as a longtime media watcher -- I'd say that Luke does need to be more careful with his block-quote indentations, among other things.
But as I told Shafer -- who called to make sure he was not being "pranked" (very sensible in this post-Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair era) -- Luke is usually quite accurate, all things considered, except for the spelling bloopers.
In a way, he's more accurate than many stuffy proper journos, as at least he admits mistakes and corrects them immediately.
Also, he doesn't worry about offending people, which I think is an underacknowledged impediment to journalistic honesty.
The New York Times plagiarizing Luke Ford created a definite media buzz. "Unbelievable," former Los Angeles Times staffer Kevin Roderick, who runs the L.A. media site LAObserved.com, told me. "Your pal is Zelig."
As it happens, I served as an unpaid fact-checker for the Slate story. Shafer called me again to look up the Connelly citation in the "Dish" bibliography and check that the hardcover publication date was indeed 2000.
Lucky for all concerned, I have a well-organized office with alphabetized books. But you know, anything to help out a scrappy, seat-of-the-pants operation like Microsoft.
Anyway, as Shafer asked rhetorically about Luke Ford in his piece: "Who is he?"
The short answer, as the Online Journalism Review put it in a 1998 article: he's "the Matt Drudge of porn."
A slightly longer answer is, he's a Seventh Day Adventist minister's son, originally from Australia, who was raised to be a Christian missionary but converted to Orthodox Judaism a dozen years ago.
He worked as a sports and news writer for a few Northern California papers and radio stations, then moved to Los Angeles in 1994. After failing to make it here as an actor, he began a porn gossip site, Lukeford.com.
Once an angry subject drove Luke to East L.A., kicked him out of the car, bashed his head against a lamp post a few times, and drove off. That didn't deter his porn muckraking.
But being ejected from four Orthodox synagogues did, so he sold Lukeford.com two years ago. (A fifth has since accepted him.)
Luke always looks handsome and neatly dressed, often in a stylish black suit. But he sleeps on the floor of a 200-square-foot garage apartment and drives an old van so battered most serial killers and dogcatchers would turn up their noses at it.
Although, as he boasted loudly enough for several people to turn their heads as we walked down the street the other day, "Yeah, baby, I got windshield wipers and turn signals now!"
His current site, Lukeford.net, revolves not around porn but his many other obsessions: seedy Hollywood characters like Anthony Pellicano; Judaism; his own romantic misadventures (at 37, he has not yet found an Orthodox Jewish bride to bear the 12 children he wants); the Dallas Cowboys; radio talk show host Dennis Prager; media circuses of the moment like the Kobe Bryant rape trial; Hollywood producers; people who write about Hollywood producers; female journalists; and media junkies of all stripes.
It's the convergence of these last two categories that created a special place for me on Lukeford.net's "Hall of Fame for Female Journos" page -- as well as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that is also regularly exasperating.
Luke still comments on the Industry, as those in the porn business always refer to it. The U.K. magazine Arena recently named him one of the 50 most powerful people in porn.
He's appearing as an on-air expert in a "60 Minutes" segment Nov 23. The subject, of course, is porn. But Luke prefers to tell people he'll actually be talking about Jewish theology.
And he doesn't let any of this prevent him from assuming a constant Elmer Gantryish tone of moral superiority.
He dresses me down regularly on his blog for transgressions like wearing sleeveless dresses or temporary tattoos, which he once said made me look like a Hittite priestess on her way to an orgy.
When I once pointed out he really can't have it both ways, he snapped: "I can have it as many ways as I like. ... I'm Luke Ford, your moral leader, and live in a drug-induced fantasy world of unparalleled hypocrisy."
I thought it was odd that someone would read both Luke Ford and Bernard Weinraub closely enough to notice the cribbed paragraph. All Jack Shafer would tell me is that "a little bird" told him, via the Internet. That's one weird little bird.
Luke himself was surprised when Shafer called him at 8:30 a.m. last week, "before I'd even said my prayers."
Mickey Kaus of Slate's Kausfiles.com regularly gives Weinraub a hard time. He wrote last week that one thing Shafer "didn't point out is that [the pinched graph] was the best paragraph in Weinraub's piece." But he told me he wasn't the tipster: "If I'd had it I would have gone with it myself."
Kaus added: "Keep in mind that every reporter was doing Pellicano research. If Luke is a heavily used archive, they'd all have seen his version."
And Lukeford.net is an invaluable resource for continuing notes on certain topics. Last week one of his unnamed sources took issue with another New York Times story about Pellicano, this one co-written by Weinraub and Laura Holson, that described Paul Barresi as a "private investigator."
"If Holson and Weinraub had taken five seconds to Google Barresi," the source wrote, "they would have seen he's not a 'private investigator,' he's a gay porn actor, a shakedown artist and an all-around nut."
Shortly after that, Barresi himself emailed Luke with a one-word insult, duly recorded on Lukeford.net: "Punk."
"It's to his credit that Weinraub is smart enough to read him," a reader commented about Luke last week on the media junkie site Gawker.com. "Anyone getting an actual paycheck to cover Hollywood would be a fool not to. He's the real thing, an obsessive chronicler of the town ... [although] you feel like your own mind is being hijacked when you read him."
As for Luke, he's naturally pleased at this latest turn of events. A New York Times editor called him personally to apologize.
"It sure beats the last time the Times called," he told me. "A reporter wanted to know about spam e-mails for bigger penises."