In Defense Of Steve Guttenberg

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but those interviews we read with celebrities are bullshit. Oops! Sorry, but it’s true. They’re painstakingly placed by a team of publicists who will blacklist a writer or magazine if they aren’t happy with the final product. Everyone knows that, and we all just accept celebrity puff pieces for what they are, because despite being stupid and embarrassing, they don’t really hurt anyone. But there’s a darker flip side to the eyerollingly gushy celebrity interview: the has-been ambush interview. This is when a writer contacts a former celebrity who seems vulnerable, acts like he wants to give him or her a platform for a comeback, and then lets the celebrity dig him or herself into an out-of-context-quote crazy-hole. Steve Guttenberg, or as he may or may not call himself or joke about calling himself, “The Goot,” fell victim to just such a trick in the pages of The New York Observer yesterday, and blogs like Gawker are understandably all over such quotes as:

“I’ll lie to make myself feel better,” he said. “If I feel shitty, and someone says, ‘What are you working on,’ I’ll get really pissed off and go, ‘Yeah I’m doing a thriller with, you know, George Clooney.’ I make myself feel better by that–that’s an addiction to whatever that is, to make myself feel better, to take the pain away.”

And, yeah, the interview is weird. But someone needs to be a Guttenberg apologist, here. Lines like “He estimates he’s slept with over 600 women.” are the result of one of the oldest cheap tricks in the book — ask for a fact like a number, and then make the answer, be it an estimate or a joke or what, seem like it was offered. So “How many women?” “I don’t know, 600 maybe? Who knows, hahaha.” becomes “He estimates…” This interview is chock-full of that kind of shit, and I don’t believe it for a second. Steve Guttenberg may be a weird dude, and he did choose unwisely to do the interview, but I don’t think there’s a human being out there who isn’t an A-lister with a top-notch team of publicists who can come out ahead when the reporter’s only goal is an ambush.