Andrews, Edmund L. "Hollywood Tales Just Fiction, German Paper Says," New York Times, 2

 

Andrews, Edmund L. "Hollywood Tales Just Fiction, German Paper Says," New York Times, 2
June 2000, p. A3.

FRANKFURT, June 1 - Ivana Trump confided to him her anxiety about pimples and skin rashes.
Courtney Love told him how she used her breasts as a political statement. Sharon Stone told him
how she loved to torment men.

Those were just a handful of the intimate celebrity interviews that made Tom Kummer one of the
hottest young journalists in Germany.

Writing for a number of German magazines from Los Angeles, the brash 37-year-old writer from
Switzerland mesmerized editors here with what seemed to be an unparalleled entree to America's
biggest stars.

While most other foreign journalists in Hollywood grumbled about being last in line for even
rigidly controlled 15-minute interviews, Mr. Kummer claimed to have befriended many stars and
even to have worked out with them in the same gyms.

There was only one problem: many of his interviews never took place. Most, published in the
magazine of the Munich newspaper Sddeutsche Zeitung, were cobbled together from material
published elsewhere. Some appear to have been entirely fabricated.

In a scathing report on Saturday, accompanied by an apology to readers, the newspaper
concluded that many of Mr. Kummer's interviews in its magazine "had obviously not taken
place" and had been "falsified." On Tuesday, it fired the magazine's two top editors, Christian K
mmerling and Ulf Poschardt.

It was more than just an embarrassment. Sddeutsche Zeitung is one of Germany's most
respected newspapers and has won widespread praise for aggressive reporting on the finance
scandals surrounding former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The incident also sheds light on the grip of American popular culture. Thanks to satellite
broadcasting, the Internet and ever better techniques for dubbing, Hollywood has never seemed
as close to home. But the reality is that foreign journalists get very short shrift from the industry's
public relations machine. Access to movie stars is dished out to those journalists most likely to
increase sales, and those are mostly the big American news organizations.

"My bosses got mad at me, asking me why I couldn't get the kind of interviews that Kummer
was getting," recalled Claus Lutterbeck, who worked in Hollywood for Stern magazine. Stern
was so taken by Mr. Kummer that it briefly hired him in 1995 and transferred Mr. Lutterbeck to
Washington.

In its own report, Sddeutsche Zeitung said the editors of its magazine ignored widespread
suspicions about Mr. Kummer, as well his firing from another magazine in 1990 for fabricating
an article.

In April 1999, the magazine cut its ties to Mr. Kummer after editors became convinced that he
was fabricating material once again. But they never told readers until a competitor, the magazine
Focus, published allegations about him two weeks ago.

Mr. Kummer, unrepentant, has admitted using material from different sources to create what
looked like one-on-one interviews. He also argues that magazine editors knew and approved of
his methods.

In a recent interview with the German magazine Spiegel, he belittled questions about the
authenticity as "too one-dimensional for me."

Praised by editors for his wit and efficiency, Mr. Kummer sold articles to Stern, the Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung and the magazine of Zurich's Tagesanzeiger.

Over the last five years, he published "exclusive" interviews with singers, actors and celebrities
like Whitney Houston, Brad Pitt, Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger, and Ivana Trump, the ex-wife of
the New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump. Spokesmen for Ms. Stone, Ms. Basinger and
Courtney Love have all denied that any interviews took place, Focus reported.

Sddeutsche's magazine published the interview with Courtney Love in late 1996. In it, Ms.
Love supposedly told Mr. Kummer: "I play with my breasts, not to show off but to demonstrate a
kind of revulsion. I simply transform myself into a voice for all the tormented souls of this
world."

But according to Sddeutsche Zeitung, Mr. Kummer had expressed this thought himself in an
article nearly two years earlier in the Swiss newspaper Weltwoche, writing: "She plays with her
breasts not to show off but to demonstrate revulsion. She wants to embody the voice of all
tormented souls in the world."

Perhaps the most bizarre case was his cover story on Ivana Trump in April 1999. Not only did
the described interview never take place, he inserted thoughts from "The Philosophy of Andy
Warhol" and inserted them into her mouth. "There may be no great mishap in life than skin
problems," he quoted her as saying. "Pimples are not really a problem. They come and they go.
Skin irritations are much worse. It can only get worse when you're turned down by a famous skin
clinic."

Catherine Saxton, a spokeswoman for Ms. Trump, said Ms. Trump never remembered any
interview at all with Mr. Kummer and did not even know about the cover story.

"We have looked through our calendar and cannot find any record of a meeting with him," she
said.

Even after publishing its own investigation, the Sddeutsche Zeitung was unable to explain how
an obscure freelance writer could carry on a deception involving world celebrities for nearly five
years.

Before being fired as co-editor of the Sddeutsche's magazine, Mr. Poschardt told his superiors
he thought that Mr. Kummer had been "rehabilitated" and had learned from his past mistakes.

But Stern's publisher, Werner Funk, said he cut the ties with Mr. Kummer after his first
interview because editors were convinced he was trying to sell them a fabricated interview with
the actress Christina Ricci. Referring to Mr. Kummer and his editors at the Sddeutsche
magazine, Mr. Funk said "they appeared to have a different idea of journalism."

But Mr. Lutterbeck, now Stern's Washington correspondent, said many German editors were
vulnerable to falling into the same trap.

"The problem is that no one, not even our bosses, knows how Hollywood really works," Mr.
Lutterbeck said. "They don't know how hard it is to get any access at all. They think we spend
our time at cocktail parties with movie stars. So someone like Kummer can come along and they
have no control over him."