Guy Fieri spokesman Jesse Derris: You got it wrong about Al Roker
Guy Fieri on the cover of City Pages
Guy Fieri's PR team is frantically trying to shove the genie back in the bottle after this week's City Pages cover story, which exposed the behind-the-scenes squabbles that nearly brought down the hit Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
The leader of the Fieri salvation job is an amiable chap named Jesse Derris, who describes himself as a "spokesman for Guy." Although no one from Team Fieri would talk to us prior to publication, Derris has seen the error of their ways and has been burning up our phone lines ever since the story exploded nationally on Eater.
"We've been very polite about this," said Derris. "There's stuff that's factually incorrect."
So we decided it was time to turn over all the cards and let the chips fall where they may.
On Friday morning, Derris called. He began the conversation by requesting that it be "off the record." I gave him an unconditional "no." Any conversation he wanted to have about correcting the record should be had on the record. He argued and cajoled, but in the end we never went off the record.
Jesse Darris is the spokesman for Team Fieri
The reason for the call wasn't the original story (more on that later), but rather a follow-up post published that morning, entitled "Guy Fieri responds to City Pages."
Derris was upset by a line that said Fieri's team had released a statement saying the cover story was riddled with "omissions, basic errors, and complete fabrications."
"The official statement didn't say that," Derris argued.
I called up the post on the national food website Eater where the rebuttal had first appeared. It reads as follows:
Guy's reputation speaks for itself. He's a standup guy who does right by people. He would never make the kind of comments attributed to him in this story, and anyone who knows or has even met him knows that. That Mr. Page made these sadly desperate statements says more about him than it does about Guy or anyone on the Food Network team.
A source with knowledge of the situation also got in touch. Calling the City Pages article riddled with "omissions," "basic errors" and "complete fabrications," they accused the author Gregory Pratt of sloppily fact-checking Page's background and simple details about Fieri. They pretty much destroyed almost everything Page had to say, calling Page's recollections of events "fantasies."
Derris was right: the quote wasn't part of the official statement, rather it was something dispensed by an off-the-record source.
So I asked, "Were you the 'source with knowledge of the situation'?"
"I don't know," Derris answered.
"Well, if you weren't the source, wouldn't you know and tell me?" I asked.
Derris changed the subject.
Circling back and looking for a compromise, I asked him: "OK, what would be your on-the-record comment?"
To which he replied: "Your story was riddled with omissions and basic errors."
Now that the off-the-record statement was officially on-the-record, it was time to get down to brass tacks. I asked Derris about the specific errors we should correct.
Al Roker didn't get his due in this week's City Pages
He pointed out two mistakes about the special, Roker on the Road. Our story implied that it had been Page's idea; in fact, Page served as the producer for the show, and Derris attributes the original idea to Al Roker himself. Additionally, we suggested Roker on the Road bombed; to the contrary, the show was enough of a ratings success to pave the way for Diners.
City Pages regrets these errors, and would like to personally apologize to Mr. Roker.
I asked Derris if he could speak specifically to the allegations of boorish behavior by his client, Guy Fieri, which have drawn so much national attention, but he refused to delve into the matter unless City Pages publicly commented on David Page's behavior in the wake of the story.
"I will talk to you as soon as you publicize the behavior your source showed after the story was published," Derris said.
Yes, it's true, Page vigorously objected to several passages of the story. He made several angry late night phone calls to our reporter, as well as sending several emails elucidating his specific complaints.
For example, in the first paragraph of the story, we say that Page "stomps" through his office. Page said that he doesn't stomp, he shuffles.
In one passage, we say Page "lectured" Fieri about making mob jokes. Page says he "counseled" Fieri, not "lectured."
Page also felt we could have included a nicer quote at the end. We quoted Jayne Ubl talking about how she felt "beat up" by Page, but didn't use another quote in which she refers to Page as a "genius."
Here is an email that Page asked us to print in order to better represent his side of the story:
David Page doesn't stomp, he shuffles
You cherry-picked specific negative comments from every employee you interviewed, leaving every single positive thing they said to contextualize me on the cutting room floor. You offered no context for the emails whatsoever - when you agreed it makes a big difference to know they came after the network told me to go away and in response to what I considered traitorous behavior by former staffers. And as we discussed, I didn't write an email to an employee for disagreeing with me - it was because he backed out of a very important deal we had arranged because Match Cut insisted on it.You didn't even include context in your lead--you have me stomping, tearing, and storming (none of which you can honestly say I did), setting me up as uncouth and menacing to start with--but not joking with staff members (which you noted when asking me if I was putting on a show for you), or even stopping to pet a dog. Bottom line - you completely left out my explanation for every bit of behavior for which I was criticized. And that lack of context makes your description of me UNTRUE. You included the part of me that looks bad--and willfully ignored all of the good things people who have worked for me have told you about me. That's defamation. And very poor journalism.
What Page seems to be objecting to isn't so much wrong facts but an incomplete portrait. If any misleading impression was left in readers' minds by these omissions, the above passage will perhaps grant a fuller understanding of Page's true character.
As for the specific allegations about Fieri, ace fact-checker Gregory Pratt called back our second source for the anecdote about gay guests, Kari Kloster. She offered more details about what it was like to break the news of a guest's gayness to Fieri:
We'd vet the place before Guy--in terms of personality of people, quality of food, if the restaurant is clean, not only for Guy but the reputation of DDD. That would be a common practice to make sure this is a place worthy of shooting for Diners.
In the course of doing that in a day and a half the crew pulled me aside and basically told me that I was going to have to tell Guy that this owner was gay and it was going to be a problem. From their experience with him, that was their advice to me. I had a few concerns about how the shoot was going to go, including the fact that the crew had pulled me aside to tell me that there was a homosexual.
So I called David Page to consult with him. I told David that the owner was homosexual and the crew told me it could be a real problem, real problem meaning Guy might walk out on it and not want to shoot the segment, he might treat the guy poorly throughout the process, it might be bad chemistry on camera. So David told me what I needed to do was wait for Guy outside the restaurant and when his car pulled up I needed to brief Guy on the restaurant as I normally would. "Here's what we're doing, we're going to make this and that." And he said that as part of the briefing I needed to let Guy know he was homosexual before entering the restaurant.
That's what I did.
He heard all of that information, he said okay, he came into the restaurant, and we shot the segment, it turned out great, the chef pulled off a miracle of all miracles and cooked the two dishes.
It was a successful shoot day.
From my memory of being a field producer it's just well-known to me among the crew that Guy has a problem - if there was a homosexual in a restaurant, as the main character, the shoot went different.
I know he has a gay sister but Dick Cheney has a gay daughter. That's not something I know a lot about. I've never discussed the issue with Guy so I don't feel comfortable going into detail on his feelings there but it was well-known among the crew.
If any crew members denies it, they're just lying. We all knew that we needed to tell him that. The fact that the crew advised me on it, they clearly knew.
Now that everything is out in the open, we hope Derris will honor his end of the bargain and grant us the interview we requested: on the record.
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