October 18, 2021

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Sex Tapes, Hush Money, and Hollywood’s Economy of Secrets

Beginning in 2011, Blatt spent nearly two years milking Charlie Sheen’s descent from highest-paid television actor in history to drug-addled sideshow who ranted about “winning” and “tiger blood.” He represented three different porn stars who partied with Sheen, even flying with one to New York to go on Howard Stern and Inside Edition.

He sold a story about a tape of Nadya “Octomom” Suleman whipping a man dressed as a baby in a ball pit. He flew to Oakland to meet a guy at a Kinko’s and watch a tape of Tupac Shakur getting oral sex in the middle of a party.

But by the early 2010s, the market for celebrity sex tapes and the public narratives around them were getting pretty confusing. With the porn industry in free fall, companies were releasing more “celebrity sex tapes”—the wrestler Chyna, Teen Mom Farrah Abraham—all of which were supposedly stolen, none of which actually were. Between lawsuits and denials, the average person had little understanding of what was real and what was legal. In 2008, Blatt sold TMZ a story about a sex tape featuring Austin Powers star Verne Troyer (aka Mini-Me) and his then girlfriend, Ranae Shrider. Troyer sued TMZ, Blatt, and Shrider for a combined $40 million. Blatt says that Shrider brought him the tape. But Shrider tells me that Troyer, who died in 2018, gave Blatt the tape and filed the lawsuit for attention, to boost a movie that came out the same week. She also says she signed away her copyright and the paperwork affirming she was over 18, making it legal to air clips.

It was in this environment, in 2012, that the website Gawker chose to publish a clip of Hulk Hogan having sex with his friend’s wife. Hogan was allegedly not aware he was being filmed: an invasion of privacy. No one had signed away the copyright. Hogan sued. Gawker editor A. J. Daulerio had thought, probably like many members of the public, that all celebrity sex tapes were fair game—and testified to this belief in court.

Blatt testified at the Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker trial too. In a video deposition, he explained to the court what he does and how most celebrity sex tapes never get released, because, like Hogan’s, they lack the proper legal documentation.

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Hogan won the trial. Gawker was shut down. Blatt’s work continued.

By 2017, Blatt felt he understood all he needed to know about how Tinseltown worked. Then The New York Times and The New Yorker published explosive investigations about Harvey Weinstein. Blatt once again found himself trying to shape-shift.

In the months after the #MeToo movement took off, his business increased fivefold, as more and more women decided to remind influential men about their past transgressions.

Then, as the reporting around Hollywood’s harassment and abuse problems deepened, Blatt noticed that his specialty—hush money and binding legal agreements—was itself starting to attract attention. Pundits began to question the fundamental ethics behind paying women to stay quiet about what they’d experienced.

Blatt had always managed to think of himself as a good guy, saving all these famous people from embarrassment, but now he wondered: Was he actually a bad guy?

Blatt says he’ll call the police if he sees evidence of a crime in the content he’s shown, and during the months I spent following him around in the spring and summer of 2018, I did see him cooperate with federal agents. But this wasn’t to report some instance of powerful-male misconduct. It was to help identify a woman who was trying to extort former world champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

Blatt insists that he’s never handled anything as “bad” as what he thinks of as a #MeToo scenario: explicit proof of a professional quid pro quo, or, as he puts it, “Blow me and we will get you this.” But the more I push on this subject, the more he seems to contradict himself. He tells me about a video of a producer who “was banging hot little girls after auditions” together with an actor. Blatt says he never pursued the story, because neither man knew they were being recorded, and he later clarifies that the woman he saw in the video appeared to be over 18.

Like much of Hollywood, Blatt has resisted taking a close look at his own complicity in the ongoing dynamics that favor and enable powerful men. Instead, he’s become cynical about what he sees as the desperation for fame that drives women in Los Angeles to make bad choices. A lot of the women who spoke up around #MeToo, he says, simply have “buyer’s remorse”—women who slept with someone like Harvey Weinstein to get ahead and now look back on it with regret. “I’ve gotten a couple of those girls,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Well, why didn’t you say anything?’”