There are a lot of ways to get TheDirty.com‘s Nik Richie animated. One of them is to mention New York City mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner’s peculiar defense to the site’s allegations that he’d carried on an X-rated online relationship with a woman long after he’d resigned from Congress for similar transgressions. The politician issued a statement, part of which read: “While some things that have been posted today are true and some are not, there is no question that what I did was wrong.”
Richie, 34, didn’t appreciate the suggestion that anything he’d reported on TheDirty.com was factually compromised. “Those are complete lies,” says the Internet entrepreneur of Weiner’s some-true-some-not claims. “He’s just covering himself for whatever lies he told his wife.” Weiner’s apology, Richie says, is “half-hearted,” and he’s “running a race and he wants people to be confused.”
When politicians find factual errors in a report, they commonly appeal directly to the news outlet and request corrections and other forms of literary recompense. In this case, says Richie, he’s heard nothing from the Weiner camp — no request for takedown, retraction, correction or clarification. “They haven’t reached out whatsoever,” he says.
As boss of a site that admittedly traffics in user-submitted rumors — and that has stirred its share of ethical tumult — Richie is quite accustomed to receiving such requests. After some embarrassing bit of information gets posted, he says, the subject of the news is generally prompt in contacting the site. “It usually takes a good hour for someone from their camp to call saying, ‘Please remove this.’ It happens all the time,” explains Richie, who has been in this line of work since 2007. “I try to never comply. I get my lawyer to send a letter back telling them to go [expletive] themselves.” Harvard University’s Digital Media Law Project calls Richie’s creation a “tasteless website.”
The tip on Weiner’s online extracurriculars, says Richie, came through the tasteless site’s forte — its gossip-obsessed fans. The woman who had this scandal-renewing conversation with Weiner was a fan of TheDirty.com and in April contacted Richie with the bare bones of her online interactions with the freshly aspiring politico. Richie recalls that he “kind of blew her off” because there weren’t enough specifics in her story. “I needed more evidence. I needed to make sure it’s factual. And she got scared and didn’t want to get out there,” says Richie.
Just recently, however, the woman submitted more, including screengrabs of the very conversations that have deepened the public’s understanding of Anthony Weiner. Then Richie got to work comparing those messages with previous samplings from Weiner’s online works. “Similar writing style,” says Richie. He found other clues as to authenticity as well: “There were different little things and things he said where he was an idiot about it,” says Richie, who says he doesn’t fit any political mold but voted for Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election. “I’m the guy that wants to see the [rhymes with “Nick"] pics and naked pictures and see their reaction.”
And he’s hardly neutral on the topic of Weiner: “They look like a fake couple together for political reasons. They want to be Hillary and Bill. It’s so sickening and sad that this lady would stand by this guy, knowing that he has constantly humiliated her,” Richie says.
If those don’t sound like the words of a mainstream reporter, it’s because they’re not. Deliberately, too. Richie suggests that he got this story precisely because he’s “not this stiff reporter” looking for a comment. “I’m your friend,” he says, referring to his relationship with the people who send content to his site. “I’m the person who’s going to help you. … I don’t put these people in fear. I let them be part of this family.”