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MORT, FONDLY REMEMBERED: Columnists George Rush and Joanna Molloy have written a memoir of sorts about their many years as the Nick and Nora of the gossip trade, “Scandal: A Manual.” It’s a zippy overview of nearly three decades on the front lines of the tabloid wars that has the real-life couple trading anecdotes about their battle scars and greatest hits. In between stories about Mia Farrow, the Donald, Madonna and other Nineties tabloid fixtures, an impressionistic portrait emerges of what it was like working for Mort Zuckerman, the owner of the New York Daily News, where they finished a 15-year run of their namesake column in 2010.
The two write that having the socially ambitious billionaire as a boss meant every now and then helping out some of his buddies, like Rupert Murdoch who, as owner of the New York Post, had taken care of Zuckerman whenever personal items about him got close to surfacing in the Post’s Page Six. In the late Nineties, when Rush and Molloy found out Murdoch, then married to second wife Anna, had started seeing a younger woman — his now estranged third wife Wendi Deng — the two moguls came to a gentleman’s agreement in private about the story — Rush and Molloy could write about Murdoch’s divorce, but mentions of the younger woman were to be omitted. “I don’t want to get into a pissing match with Rupert,” Zuckerman said at the time, according to the book, which is out this week.
Later, when it was speculated Deng was cheating on Murdoch, he again appealed to Zuckerman, who helped quiet the rumors by running a picture in the News of the smiling couple out and about in New York.
The boss’ involvement wasn’t always so heavy-handed. In 2009, Rush got hold of a lawsuit against financier Jeffrey E. Epstein, who had once bid for New York magazine with Zuckerman. The Daily News owner arranged for an interview between the columnist and his former business partner. When Epstein’s accusers sued to make public the interview, which had been off the record, Zuckerman was stuck with an expensive court case. A judge ordered Rush to turn over his tape, but Zuckerman pursued an appeal to overturn the order. “Despite his anger, Mort stepped up to the plate,” Rush writes.
In the book, Rush and Molloy also relate a few anecdotes about their former peers on the beat, Cindy Adams and Richard Johnson, who are now the lone survivors from the heyday of the tabloid gossip columns. Johnson unveiled a regular gossip column in the Post last week. Once, Molloy confronted Johnson when she suspected his then wife, publicist Nadine Johnson, had tipped him about a story she was already working on. Johnson claimed he was already looking into the story. But then his wife made the mistake of accidentally leaving a voicemail for Rush and Molloy. “God, Richard is such a good liar,” she said before hanging up. On another occasion, Rush had the temerity to look into a story about Dewi Sukarno, wife of the Indonesian president, and found himself on the receiving end of a phone call from Adams, whose forte used to be dictators and their wives. “Dewi is a dear friend of mine,” Adams declared. “If anyone writes about her, it will be me.”