American history is filled with carnival barkers and snake-oil marketers who put showmanship before truth. Blatt was the right marketer in the right circus. Soon clicks would come to determine what gets put in front of our eyeballs. When media follows consumer desire, audiences get outrage and vulgarity—and Blatt was more than happy to deliver.
In the wake of the Hilton tape, every Hollywood hanger-on with a racy video got in touch with Blatt. Someone brought him decade-old footage of Cameron Diaz topless at a BDSM-themed photo shoot. The photographer even seemed to have Diaz’s signature on a release. It turned out to be forged, and he had already asked the actress for at least $2.5 million, making the situation a no-go. Still, Blatt got Diaz’s lawyers to hire him as a consultant. The photographer went to jail, and Blatt began to see new ways to insert himself into a drama and make money.
Not long after, according to Blatt, he met with two men about a video of Colin Farrell having sex with a Playboy model. When he asked to see the tape, the men blindfolded him, put him in the back of a car, and drove to a house in Laurel Canyon for a discreet screening. A day or two later, Blatt says he got a call from a rival he didn’t know he had: the self-proclaimed “sultan of sleaze,” David Hans Schmidt.
Schmidt was a Phoenix-based scandal broker 10 years Blatt’s senior, a blowhard who had helped two women linked to Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, get spreads in Penthouse, and who had arranged the release of a sex tape featuring the late Dustin Diamond (“Screech” from Saved by the Bell). According to Blatt, Schmidt was not pleased to hear that Blatt had also been shown the Farrell tape. “You better step off, or you might get hurt,” Schmidt bellowed into the phone. Schmidt then indicated he had several guns.
Blatt agreed to back off, but he reached out to Farrell’s agents. When copies of the tape appeared online, they hired Blatt to help track down the distributors. This impulse to follow the law and help the VIP would distinguish Blatt from Schmidt, who later agreed to plead guilty to extorting Tom Cruise over stolen photos from his wedding to Katie Holmes and hanged himself.
In Blatt’s slippery moral universe, might makes right—because the mighty are usually the ones who can offer him the most cash or inflict the most pain when crossed.In 2006, Blatt heard from a childhood friend, Farley Cahen, who was working at Adult Video News. He was calling about a tape. The people in it didn’t sound like celebrities, but Blatt agreed to meet his friend and the person selling the tape for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. According to Blatt and Cahen, a guy named Ray J, the brother of R&B singer Brandy, pulled up in a Lamborghini, sat down, and proceeded to tell Blatt and Cahen about a video of him having sex with a woman Blatt had never heard of: Kim Kardashian.
“She’s gonna be bigger than Paris!” Ray J insisted, according to Blatt and Cahen. “I had to beg her not to release this for free.”
“Don’t release it for free.” Blatt said. But he hesitated to get involved. Kardashian was no one, and Ray J was no one.
Cahen ended up advising Ray J around the decision to release the tape through the pornography company Vivid Entertainment. (Through his manager, Ray J declined to comment.)
A few months later, in March 2007, Vivid released an edited version of the tape under the title Kim Kardashian: Superstar. It made over $50 million. Blatt was annoyed—“I don’t like to lose,” he says—though he was impressed by how Kardashian managed to distance herself: filing a lawsuit against Vivid that she quickly dropped and denying to this day that she had cooperated with it coming out. (When asked for comment, Kardashian’s lawyer maintained that she had strongly objected to the tape’s release.)
The Kardashian tape came at a turning point for porn, away from professionals releasing expensive content and toward amateurs uploading their own videos for free. With his adult website clients running out of cash, Blatt came to rely on his gossip work more and more, toggling between promoting and squelching a story. He started peddling scoops to tabloids, in particular Harvey Levin’s TMZ. He soon found that when he saw an actress at lunch and called it in, he got paid. When he arranged for a site to publish an image—such as when Whitney Houston died and Blatt paid someone to sneak into her room at the Beverly Hilton and take photos of the bathtub where it happened—he got paid.