Backgrounder: William Bastone

William Bastone

William Bastone.
Photo courtesy of Gelf Magazine.
© Gelf Magazine 2006.

William Bastone, 44, editor of The Smoking, usually adheres to a simple formula when he’s breaking stories: follow the paper. Bastone posts documents from mug shots and court records to rock band contracts. This minimalist approach to investigative journalism has garnered a huge fan base and resulted in some of the site’s biggest scoops, among them—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tawdry account of an orgy in a 1977 interview with Oui Magazine, and the lawsuit brought against Fox’s Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment by a former female co-worker, who charges him with explicitly sharing his views about everything from vibrators to masturbation and threesomes.

Bastone started his journalism career in 1984 as an intern at the Village Voice. By 1997, he was a Voice staff writer, specializing in city politics and organized crime. A crack investigative reporter, Bastone often found himself sifting through public records attained through the Freedom of Information Act. He developed a fascination with documents and started obsessively collecting them.

He co-founded The Smoking in 1997, with his wife graphic designer Barbara Glauber and the freelance journalist Dan Green, to showcase his cache. Originally a side project, The Smoking was bought by Court TV in 2000, enabling Bastone to quit his job at the Voice and focus on the website full-time.

The Smoking Gun’s document-driven brand of tabloid-style journalism has proven highly successful, but Bastone’s recent exposé of the million little fabrications (give or take a few) in recovering addict James Frey’s confessional “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, wasn’t the usual Smoking Gun fare. Departing from the site’s characteristic brevity, Bastone wrote a 13,000-word story that methodically debunked Frey’s version of events.

It started with an unsuccessful search for Frey’s mug shot. “We couldn’t find anything,” said Bastone, in a February 2006 interview, with Gelf Magazine. “So we decided, ‘Something is not right here.’ [Frey said he’d] been arrested 13 or 14 times. Usually … that leaves a mark.”

The article proved wildly popular, racking up nearly 75 million hits in January alone, according to It ignited a media firestorm and set the stage for the brutal tongue-lashing talkshow host Oprah Winfrey gave Frey on her nationally televised program, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Thanks to Bastone’s old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting—and Oprah’s wrath—Penguin canceled Frey’s two-book deal in February 2006, Reuters reported.

The Smoking’s readership eagerly awaits the next salacious scoop Bastone discovers at the end of the paper trail.

Cleve Wiese is a second semester graduate student in the newspaper program at NYU. After graduation, he hopes to work as a correspondent in Latin America.