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 lives lukeford.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.
How is the Net changing sexuality? The Net is much more wide-open you can find bestiality pretty easily on the Net . . . [and] "rape" videos and fisting videos, which are generally considered illegal in America.
You have a therapist. Do you talk to her about this? I'll tell her about my favorite video, Never Say Never to Rocco Siffredi, about the 15 guys [with one woman], and my therapist is an Orthodox Jew and that gives it a special élan.
What attracted you to Judaism? I was brought up a Christian but it didn't speak to me. But I was still interested in religious issues and looking for some guidance. . . . [Judaism] is a profound way to live a life and a way to discipline people so that they live more morally. And I thought it was the best way for me to become a finer human being.
You outline in your book that two groups dominate the industry Jews and Italians. Publishers Weekly took me to task for that "offensive generalization" about Jews, but it's true. The big machers are Jewish Steve Hirsch, Paul Fishbein (who runs and publishes Adult Video News), and David Sturman, who owns [production company] Sin City.
What is to be learned from all this porn? I read my introduction to my book now and I shudder. . . . I wrote it with the belief that this [book] will give us insight into the dark niches of human sexuality and that there is plenty for people who aren't interested in porn. I now retract that. . . . I've come to the sobering conclusion that what most people think about the porn industry is basically correct and they don't need to learn any more. It's a slimy, sleazy industry of people being manipulated by frequently nasty people. . . . It's something you would want to keep your daughter or your sister or anyone you cared about far away from.
If you're so put off by it, why do you keep doing it? I do think there is legitimacy to covering porn. It's a part of life. I view my beat [as akin] to people writing on the drug trade or the alcohol industry. . . . And I find [the industry] amusing, disgusting, funny. I found a niche. If I went and switched to writing on Hollywood, there are a thousand people writing on Hollywood. Writing on porn is probably the only area in the world where someone with my talents can make a living.
Do you have any impact? Yeah. The [Wallice] HIV thing . . . really brought it home to people. [Actors] will read my site and find out who has a reputation for writing bad checks, which happens all the time, or who has a reputation for violence against women, or who loses their temper on the set. I hold a mirror up to the industry and I think that can't help but do some benefit.
Will there come a time when you see yourself moving out of the industry? Oh, very possibly. It's not a locus for meaning and for family life. I hope that I will get married and have children. And I think it's awkward now writing on porn when most of my friends are from synagogue. What would it be like with a wife and kids? I'm dating someone now, and [my job] is mildly amusing to her. But she's never introduced me to her family.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.