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LA Times: plays rough with Matt Leinart — a new low for gossip sites?

WWW- On Tuesday, posted some pictures of Matt Leinart that the site’s bloggers said depicted the Cardinals quarterback and former USC star at a Scottsdale backyard party (his backyard).

The party had everything: booze, hot tubbing and girls from Arizona State University. The Dirty also claimed that at least two of the girls pictured weren’t old enough to drink.

Who cares, right? Isn’t this just another celebrity gotcha moment? Add it to the pile. I won’t speak for everyone, but put it this way–the bar is pretty high these days to make this gawker choke on his cheesecake.

But here’s the trick: the Leinart photos are the exception to The Dirty’s Rule. The Dirty is not a celebrity gossip site: it’s a regular folk gossip site, complete with regular folk paparazzi. Its roots are in Scottsdale, ten miles from ASU, where the founders hit on the idea of egging on college kids to snap scandalous pictures of each other.

It’s just that this time Leinart got caught in the crossfire.

“I got tipped off that Nick Lachey, Vanessa Minillo, and Matt Leinart were having dinner at Saporro on Friday night,” said the site’s main blogger, Nik Richie. “Someone took a picture on their cell phone and sent it to me. I put it up and I just put a warning out saying hey, if these guys do anything crazy, send me the pictures.”

“Lo and behold, the next night,” Richie continued. “These guys went out to Dirty Pretty [a club] in old town Scottsdale,” went back to Leinart’s house, “and it was just a college fest. They got dirty.”

The Dirty execs claimed that they’ve received emails from other students who know the girls, and had also looked at the girls’ MySpace pages, and that all of it confirmed they were below drinking age. But these are also guys whose bread and butter is to make regular people look like jerks (none of them would give their real name because they’re worried about retribution–they often refuse to remove pictures when people ask) so I’m taking everything they say with a grain of salt.

What you can’t take away from The Dirty, however, is that the idea of hyper-local tabloids is something pretty dag original.

“98% of our stuff is through submissions from a regular person of just funny stuff someone was doing, or stuff maybe they shouldn’t have been doing,” said The Dirty’s COO Ray Levine.

“It makes it so much more interesting to the reader because it’s reality, so it’s not Britney Spears or Paris Hilton–it’s in your own hometown,” said Ari Golden, The Dirty’s president and CEO. “It’s so much more interesting to see something about your neighbor or your coworker.”

Dirty has sites in a few dozen cities and is trying to plant its dirty seed at as many colleges as possible. This is a good business plan because college towns generate the most photos per capita of drunk college kids.

Do these guys feel any pangs of conscience for posting pictures of people, celebrities or otherwise, that might end up embarrassing them or harming their reputations?

“A little bit,” said Richie. “No, I’m just kidding.”

But was he?

“We do it very satirically and tongue in cheek. There’s no malintent,” COO Levine said. “I don’t think anything we do is going to break someone or destroy their life.

“Everyone looks at celebrities or someone else and are pointing the finger at them for what they do, and they don’t really realize that they’re doing the same, if not worse. It’s just that no one’s paying attention.”

“So the next time they go to pass judgment or throw a stone at someone in the limelight,” concluded Levine, “maybe they’ll think twice about it.”

What’s that? For-profit gossipmongers telling their readers–“the Dirty Army”–to go out and snap as many embarrassing pictures of people as they can, and then when they’re questioned about the moral implications they say they’re doing society a service?

Maybe it’s true that we should all avoid being hypocrites and wean ourselves off the Britney Spears addiction. But it’s hard to take that civics lesson from this particular set of guys, who won’t even use their real names. And look at the site for five minutes and you’ll see plenty of stuff that’s not so altruistic.

One Dirty blog entry featured a picture of a guy just standing there smiling. Below was a caption that contained the guy’s full name. Then it said: “He is a car salesman who thinks he is gods gift and brags that he makes 200k a year and his girlfriend is a “10″. Too bad I saw her on myspace and she is a total cougar! She is 45 and almost as ugly as he is! If he is so rich why doesn’t he buy his own car instead of driving a demo vehicle!!?…His teeth are really yellow and slimy also and he has a double chin.”

Yeah! You go, The Dirty! That’ll teach people to stand there and be taken pictures of!


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