|Editorial: Tom Kummer--- Paying The Price Of Shooting Stars - Publication: IFA News Agency - Date: May 2013
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Tom Kummer--- Paying The Price Of Shooting Stars
Life as a celebrity reporter in the entertainment capital of the world is one of sociopathy, sycophancy and subordination. - Enter Swiss born writer Tom Kummer. Rather than simply marvel at the machinery of Hollywood he was found to have fabricated a sum of over thirty celebrity interviews during a four year reign as a correspondent for German and Swiss outlets. A documentary about his career and downfall - Bad Boy Kummer was released in 2011 – Yet where is he in 2013 ?
While he was nominated for assorted awards throughout his career as a writer and journalist, Swiss born (and sLA based)Tom Kummer is the antithesis of what “good,” journalists are supposed to be.
During the late 1990s, as a showbiz reporter and foreign correspondent for German and Swiss outlets, his exclusives were lapped up by a variety of top flight European magazines, from Stern and GQ to Rolling Stone ,Das Magazin Suddes Zeitung and beyond.
Yet after delivering a slew of LA based features that landed him praise and accolade, Kummer adopted the odd habit of brazenly fabricating celebrity interviews without ever having met his subjects Kummer outdid his rivals and satiated his editor’s and readers with highly prosaic and surprisingly indepth cover stories. These included Mike Tyson pontificating on Nietzsche, Sean Penn dissecting Kierkegaard and Courtney Love intellectualizing her breast-baring habit and talk of how she thrived on "disillusionment, joyless sex, and reincarnation". In Kummer's profile of Kim Bassinger, she reveals that she gave Alec Baldwin see-through underwear.
Kummer’s reign with bogus interviews sustained an astonishing four plus years. During that time he created numerous interviews, all of which were purported to have stemmed from press conferences arranged by movie PR companies.
Kummer’s downfall came at the hands of one of his key rivals. Holger Hoetzel, of Focus Magazine had been scrutinizing Kummer’s work for years, mainly as his bosses were constantly making references to Kummer’s exclusive interviews in rival outlet Suddes Zeitung..
Kummer's profile of Courtney Love particularly piqued Hoetzel’s interest as it’s impressive detail contradicted her strict interview code. He subsequently translated it and sent it to her US publicist, who denied ever have met Kummer let alone grant him access to Love.
An intense domino effect ensued, editors called lawyers, fingers were pointed and jobs lost. Kummer’s “betrayal,” was being hailed as one of epic proportions, possibly one of the major journalistic controversies of the decade.
Due to his length of his ruse His primary publisher, Süddeutsche Zeitung eventually issued a public apology for running Kummer's stories, calling them "a betrayal of monumental proportions." To this day he is cited by various journalism schools as a classic case of deceit and fabrication.
By 2000 Kummer’s journalistic career and life were in ruins. His two key retainer gigs over, he resorted to coaching tennis as a means to support his family, living in the working class LA suburb of Koreatown ( where he still resides today).
Speaking in June 2013, Kummer recalls that time and his feelings. “It was a big deal when it all came undone. It was one of those big scandals, up there with the fake Hitler Diaries. I was devastated and had a family to support, I started coaching tennis which was a godsend as it provided a great way to forget about everything.”
“For me it was like ‘it should of happened sooner.’ There was this odd sense of relief. Looking back it would have been better for me to go to jail for a few years and I could come out clean after paying my debt to society.
“It would have been useful if they stopped me after realizing immediately the stories were fabricated, but on the other hand my life wouldn’t have taken the path it has. I didn’t apologize, though at that point I really underestimated how offended people were.” .
“I had to get a lawyer in Germany which cost me a lot, though very quickly he knew that nobody in Hollywood, none of the subjects of the interviews would ever sue me, they didn’t care about that. Rather it was my employers who were more inclined to sue., though it ended that it was better for all concerned to settle out of court.”
“By the time it was done, big stories in major European papers began to come out about me. My lawyer told me to make some statements about it which I did though I wasn’t paid anything for any media interviews at that time. It was important to get my point across, and I created a lot more controversy by trying to explain it.
“I wanted to address questions like what is journalism, what is society doing, I think one of the main problems is its inability to ask and face what is objective, what is real and what is true there is such hypocrisy involved.”
After the dust settled and acceptance of his fate gained clarity, Kummer said he began to reason for explanation, to delve into how and why he got away with what he did.
“Oddly the editors just assumed I had great access and were happy that they had their man there delivering the story. It was like they decided ‘We’re not gonna ask too many questions, let just let the ball roll ok.’ At that time as a result of the stories the magazines were making good money, circulation was up so why question anything.”
Kummer says much of what fuelled his spun stories was an overall disillusionment and distaste for the machinery of Hollywood. He says he felt celebrity interviews are bland and is keen to dismiss the absurdity of fuelling the PR cycle and constructing superfluous fluff.
“Structured and policed by publicists, they are the antithesis of what a writer craves and easily prompt cynicism and satire. As a reporter what can you do - really ? You sit there with a tape recorder at a table with ten plus other reporters doing the same thing . Sometimes you would get a half hour of access with the celebrity, though still it wasn’t that much. “
“Due to the pressure so many journalists and members of foreign press are desperately trying to satisfy their editors and they do anything to get access, yet there really isn’t anything there other than what they are fed by publicists.”
Kummer recounts the climate that led him to start fabricating celebrity interviews. “The Trouble started when my editor at Suddes Zeitung suggested I focus on celebrity interviews. As an LA correspondent you cover as much as you can about LA and everyone in Europe is eager for it. After doing about twenty non celeb features, I made the transition and then all they wanted was entertainment stuff”.
Working for his two key outlets and receiving two full time salaries, Kummer was given room to move by his editors, with a relaxed schedule that saw him deliver about one interview every two weeks. He reveals, “I didn’t have to work a lot, most of my work at that time was very prominent and they gave me a lot of time.”
“I wasn’t leading a party hedonistic lifestyle. The problem was that the Euro editors thought I lived high on the hog, there was lots of jealousy and envy. I think they assumed I had a certain lifestyle due to the elaborate interviews I was delivering.”
He says this assumption in addition to instilling a lot of resentment, also fuelled a lot of criticism and scrutiny. “The funny thing is was that my chief editor mentioned there was a lot of talk and rumors as the years went on and the celebrity cover stories continued.”
“As things proceeded I felt I wanted to talk myself do something other than just deliver standard interviews. I created these stories like you would a movie script or a play. I always included facts that were out there to balance it out. You want to take readers on a journey, to suck them in and keep them with you. I would spend ten days or up to two weeks on them.”
In the wake of the controversy, Kummer’s fabrications were being cited as a major travesty by mainstream media in Germany and beyond. Yet as second tier and leftist media began to cover the case, they began dissecting the incident as endemic of a new period in journalism, even praising Kummer as some form of heroic dissident symbolizing benign empowerment to others.
Kummer says he felt uncomfortable with the attention. “There was no support except for the second level leftist media who rallied around me. I became some sort of cult hero, it was very odd. They really had no real power still all the independent papers did great stories on me which made the mainstream media and those judging me even angrier .”
As to blaming his superiors, Kummer says he doesn’t feel good that some of his editors lost their jobs over the controversy. He believes it wasn’t due to their ineptitude, ”I just think my then editor was mesmerized and didn’t bother took look into anything as long as I kept delivering.”
He continues to wax lyrical about the incident, confiding that he has dissected it over and over in his head for the past decade. In retrospect the incident takes on new meaning, which he says he continues to ponder on a deeper level.
“Essentially, it was possible due to the laziness of the system, “ he reiterates. “In Germany the people want to dig deep. The whole soul searching thing is huge and I think I really delivered what they wanted with the celebrity interviews I did.”
Kummer says he couldn’t do what he did then in this current digital age. “It I would have been a different story today, it would be impossible. If millions of people could have searched online and accessed information “.
He also cites a cultural shift in terms of the concept of celebrity “Since that era things have changed in terms of media and the cult of celebrity. In the forties, fiftes, sixties and seventies the role of the publicist was to protect the star, to control all information about their talent.”
“This control has gone. Now there is too much information and celebrities are overexposed, yet there are certain things that the public should not know, they should instead anticipate. Every morning I get massages and see stories about celebrities. I really don’t care anymore.”
Kummer also notes that the overall concept of celebrity has been diluted. “Just look at reality stars and their sense of entitlement. In the eighties an mid nineties if you starred in a big blockbuster you became a real star.
“Now there are new stars that want to ingratiate themselves to star status but they have done nothing. So the idea of what is a celebrity has fallen apart. You need to have people who are pulling the strings who are in control.”
After a few years lying low supporting his family by playing tennis, Kummer was approached by an independent publisher to recount his fabrications. The book, Good Morning Los Angeles is testament to his career as a writer, and something he says he is proud of. Still it sold poorly and despite being published by credible publishing house Tachenbuch, it failed to attain the accolade it deserved.
Kummer believes this was due to it being released only in German and a lack of press and positive reviews, fuelled by a still highly resentful mainstream German media.”It was about my life and a chance to explain what happened to me as journalist. It felt good to be able to write and express my point of view.”
Kummer also penned a satirical children’s book about the popular Polar bear Knut, since deceased, though once a star attraction at Berlin Zoo. "Knut, The Little Ice Bear,” was written under a pseudonym and released in Switzerland and Germany, it sold well, though sloppy negotiations led to poor profits for Kummer.
Soon after in 2004 a documentary filmmaker Miklos Gimes offered Kummer over $40,000 to participate in a documentary about his life. Called Bad Boy Kummer the documentary won several awards at various film festivals .
REAL TIME 2013
Now 13 years after this debacle, Tom Kummer is a survivor. He remains relatively unscathed, considering the brevity of the entire scenario. Unlike millions of American’s still effected by a dire economy he earns around 60K a year for part time work as a tennis coach at an elite LA club.
With his wife and two children, he lives in a comfortable spacious home in the now gentrified LA precinct known as Koretown. He also takes an annual two to three month summer holiday to Switzerland and Germany with his children
He reflects, “My writing career is far from over. I find I have about three ideas a day as a writer, for either stories or books so there’s no lack of ideas, just outlets.”
He adds, “I like to write but im not desperate to write. I have a family and two kids and I have another form of income . I like to write as an obsessive , stay up all night, drink and write, fall asleep for two hours and write again.”
Asked to offer some reasoning in closing about his concocted stories, Kummer concludes, ““I wanted to hit back at the Hollywood machine – as if to say hey you cant use me, I’m gonna use you. I think there was a lot of that energy behind what I was doing. I put words into the celebrities mouth and fed the hunger of the readers with something lyrical and artistic. The way I used the celebrity subjects was to create something.”
Written by Craig Stephens
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