By Jena Ardell
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Walter Winchell had his Broadway. Luke Ford has The World's Biggest Anal Gang Bang. From a boxy, bedless apartment, the 32-year-old Ford liveslukeford.com, a one-man news and rumor mill about the L.A. porn industry that makes him one of the most hated (and read) columnists on the demimonde of implants and money shots. At his most scandalous, Ford has exposed bogus producers who write bad checks, printed porn stars' real names, and even revealed some say recklessly their HIV status. The industry doesn't know what to do with him, sending him XXX tapes for review even as they bad-mouth him. "He takes people's gossip for gospel," says Gloria Leonard, president of Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade-group in L.A. Gene Ross, in an editorial in Adult Video News (avn.com), had harsher words: "[He's] a pen-wielding Rosemary's baby."
The baby has been taking notes. Next month, Prometheus Books will publish Ford's first manuscript, A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film, the fruit of four years researching porn. But Ford's legacy won't be built on the printed page. He's an archetypal Net creation a bottom feeder who has inserted himself into the higher ends of the food chain. A converted Jew who studies the Talmud regularly, Ford doesn't write his columns as much as amass them from other news outlets, anonymous sources, even IRC chats and newsgroups. (Ford posted large chunks of a 1995 Voice story by an exporn star; he removed the text after a "cease and desist" was issued by Voice lawyers.)
The unavoidable comparison here is to fedoraed muckraker Matt Drudge (drudgereport.com). Both Ford and Drudge are more brand than actual product, wielding more power than authority. Ford doesn't really break news, he personalizes it. By running barely edited quotes from his sources, he gives us the uninterrupted voice of the industry itself: often drugged and adrift in a moral vacuum. In one of his more chilling profiles, HIV-positive starlet Brooke Ashley (star of the 32-guyone girl anal extravaganza) deals with the illness. "I was so run down by that gang bang. You can't imagine what that is like to do," she says. "My boyfriend and I did not have sex for weeks." The shudder you feel is Ford's real scoop. Village Voice: Last year, you published the rumor that porn star Marc Wallice was HIV-positive, then you retracted it, then posted it again when it was proven true. What happened?
Luke Ford:On April 22, I published that many of his peers believed that he was HIV- positive. And within four days of that, I got such a hailstorm of people denying this that I then made a retraction. But my initial post [forced] him to come in and take a test. And when those results came back two or three days after the retraction, they showed that he was positive and had been so for months, possibly a year.
Have you ever been sued? I get threats all the time. But I've never been sued. I just put their cease and desist letters up on the site. [With Marc Wallice], I said at the time, "If he's negative, he should sue me." That was before his results came back. But I'm not worried about lawsuits. I have no money. I live in this tiny place, I drive an old beat-up van. My assets are negative.
What do you think of Matt Drudge? I've gone to his site three times. Yes, we're both eccentric, we've both broken big stories. We've both made big mistakes, and we don't fact-check enough. We both deal with salacious details. But we're actually very different. I do fairly lengthy profiles and historical pieces. He concentrates on breaking news.
How should people deal with you or Drudge? Savvy people know that courts aren't the most effective way to deal with situations like me. If someone really had a problem with something I was doing and they wanted to make a change, they should call the people I get along with in the industry and make the case to them. That works. You network. The real world could learn from this. I owe a lot of people favors. I'm constantly trading things with people.
Do you think of yourself as a journalist? I don't claim on my news pages that they're journalism. There is an element of journalism. But there is a much bigger talk-show element. People call me up, and they tell me something and I run it. An hour later or three days later, people will write and tell me more about it, and I will run that. It's more of a stream rather than filing one story. I've almost got a self-writing Web page. I've got people who read it all the time and they constantly e-mail me. I just cut and paste.
Do you vet your stories? It depends on the importance of the story. If one porner says that another porner sticks bananas up his ass, I will quote that. I don't really care. But if he says, "This guy threatened my life with a gun," that's important and I wouldn't run that until I had more information. If someone will put their name on it, I will pretty much run anything.