People Who Need People

Jan. 30 2008, Published 8:04 a.m. ET

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The top brass at People magazine have been in damage control overdrive lately, and it has nothing to do with the gossip rag's run-in with Brad Pitt's security detail. Multiple sources close to the mag say People has beentrying to contain another problem in its L.A. office where ToddGold, the weekly's west coast bureau chief, has been accusedof sexually harassing a 29-year-old female reporter who worked for him.

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The trouble started in July when the woman’s lawyer alertedPeople that Gold, one of the magazine’sbest-connected scribes and the author of over 20 celebrity tell-alls, had been makingunwelcome advances toward her over the course of several months, says a highlyplaced insider.

“He’d started buying her all these gifts, including a big bottleof perfume, and brought her everywhere. He tagged along on a lot of herassignments, too,” says the source. “He once insisted that sheaccompany him alone to an ad meeting in San Francisco, even though shedidn’t want to go. She’s a very slight-figured woman, and the stressapparently made her start losing even more weight. It actually got to the pointwhere her hair was falling out in clumps.”

Confronted with the allegations, People management quickly seizedthe pair’s office computers (which, we hear, contained "incriminatinge-mails") but opted not to launch a full-fledged investigation, since “Goldhas his hands in too many projects that they have high hopes for,” anotherinsider says. Instead, we’re told, they allowed the woman to transfer toanother Time Inc. publication. Gold was put on indefinite “bookleave,” ostensibly to write a tell-all with Laci Peterson’s mother,Sharon Rocha.

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“He was asked to pack his bags,” says the insider. “Buthe’s still patched into morning meetings, and the L.A. staffersaren’t happy about it. It’s nothing short of a mutiny. They hatethis guy. Over and over again, he’s used his position to advance his ownagenda. There isn’t one person in the office who likes him or wants him to come back."

A senior reporter at the magazine confirmed to us that Gold, who is marriedand has two children, is known for leaving tearful female reporters in his wake.In fact, in a recently published roman a clef about People calledThey’re Not Your Friends, former employee IreneZutell writes that “Ben Walsh”—reportedly atransparent stand-in for Gold—has “an enormous mean streak. The onlytime he talked was to criticize a reporter’s work.... No one could figureout how someone so vile could charm a celebrity.”

Neither the woman (whose name has withheld for privacyreasons) nor Gold returned repeated calls over the course of several days seekingcomment. People spokeswoman Nancy Valentino confirmedthat the woman transferred to another Time Inc. publication, but said“that’s pretty common for correspondents here,” and declinedto comment on the harassment claim, stating “as a rule we do not talkabout staff.” According to sources within the magazine, the mag's deputy west coast bureau chief, Elizabeth Leonard, followed up the interview with an email to staffers reminding them not speak to reporters and to refer all inquiries to Valentino. Don't they know the crime is never as damning as the cover-up?



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