How Gawker Hired John Mayer, or, An Epidemiological Case Study in Fake Celebrity 'News'S

I am proud to announce that Gawker.com has hired a new columnist: really fucking good guitar player, digital cleanser and chronic masturbator John Mayer. I know it's true because I read it on the internet.

It is tough to sympathize too much with the pampered, entitled life of a celebrity. But in our bloggy age in which there are literally hundreds (thousands?) of web sites dedicated to repeating the same nuggets of info that pass for commodity "celebrity news," it is amazing how totally untrue things, through force of repetition, can become acknowledged fact simply by being "out there." Case in point: right now, roughly 90 web pages are currently heralding the news that Mayer is "taking a side job writing blogs for the website Gawker.com." Some of these are celebrity news sites I've never heard of, like AceShowbiz.com and Teenhollywood.com, but others are websites for newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer), an industry that likes to scold blogs like us for never reporting and repeating things without ever checking them.

Often it's impossible to divine how these little celebrity memes spread. But given that this one is still in its infancy, we've got a pretty good idea at how it all happened. Here's the history of how this untrue (as of yet?) information came to be:

How Gawker Hired John Mayer, or, An Epidemiological Case Study in Fake Celebrity 'News'S

Step 1: Patient Zero

Over Christmas, anyone on the internet probably came across a TMZ video of James Cameron calling a fan a "fucking asshole" and refusing to sign an autograph. Foster wrote about it and and lauded John Mayer's pretty good takedown that went into some detail about paparazzi, airline info leakers and professional autograph seekers who prey on celebrities. Mayer's post was loaded with insider info (did you know that it's common knowledge, at least among celebrities, that American Airlines is suspected of having a mole who sells passenger manifests?) which put TMZ's little video into better context. Foster framed it as Mayer earning his "Blogger Stripes" and threw in as a kicker an offer to write for Gawker: "John, anytime you feel like taking to the blog, holler."

How Gawker Hired John Mayer, or, An Epidemiological Case Study in Fake Celebrity 'News'S

Step 2: Outbreak

Fast forward a month: Yesterday the UK's Independent ran an interview with Mayer that doesn't semed to be pegged to anything except, hey, if you get an interview with John Mayer, why not? Aside from some fresh quotes from Mayer, it's a pretty standard walk-through of his career and station in life. (The dek: "He's a regular in the gossip magazines, an obsessive Twitterer and an unapologetic alpha male. Oh, and he's also sold 13 million records.") The writer of the story, Tim Walker, must be a Gawker reader or we just have good SEO juice because deep down is this parenthetical reference to Foster's sign-off: "(an insightful post defending Avatar director James Cameron from a smear by one celebrity gossip website TMZ.com, earned him a job offer from another, Gawker.com)"

How Gawker Hired John Mayer, or, An Epidemiological Case Study in Fake Celebrity 'News'S

Step 3: Vector of Contagion

The meme is born. ContactMusic.com is a web site that scours the world's media for celebrity tidbits and then publishes them as little "news stories" — often without any attribution to the original source — that are syndicated to other web sites, like IMDB or the aforementioned newspaper sites, to keep their entertainment headlines fresh. I've stumbled onto it from Drudge links a few times but I've never known much about it. According to Wikipedia, it's a 12-person operation based in Leeds, England, that's currently owned by that country's Channel 4. Yesterday, they lifted a few of Mayer's quotes from the Independent story in which he said he wouldn't start selling a perfume and threw in the detail about Gawker, with a bit of mutation: "The guitarist admits he is trying to come up with ways to expand his career, including plans for a new variety series, John Mayer Has a TV Show, and by taking a side job writing blogs for the website Gawker.com."

How Gawker Hired John Mayer, or, An Epidemiological Case Study in Fake Celebrity 'News'

Step 4: Full-Blown Epidemic

As is the norm for the seemingly infinite world of celebrity blogs, this little nugget has been dutifully reblogged. The way it reached me was this: A blog called "In Case You Didn't Know" picked up the ContactMusic item, which in turn was picked up at Oh No They Didn't, which is where Jezebel EIC Anna Holmes saw it and then jumped on IM and asked me if it was true.


And there you have it: how your celebrity gossip sausage is made. Gawker would, of course, love to have John Mayer follow in the footsteps of our recent celebrity interns and start writing for us. How about a column on the Celebrity-Industrial Complex? You'd be very good at it. John, you know where to find me. Now that it's "out there" let's make it happen.

Pic via Getty.