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News

Lessons Learned in Times of Crisis

If you run a google search for “quotes about failure,” you come up with a really robust list of results. It’s almost a cliché. But even in clichés, there’s always a kernel of truth. In that spirit, Folio: asked a variety of magazine industry professionals to tell us about their own professional “failures” and what they learned from them. What we got was extraordinary. The first-person accounts shared here run the gamut. They’re wise, they’re funny, they’re illuminating, and sometimes they’re flat-out crazy. Read on!

 

Dylan Howard

VP & Chief Content Officer / American Media Inc.

“Fly down here and test my pee. When it’s clean? Then what? If you sign an agreement to DRINK it … we are on!” 

Those were the furious words of Charlie Sheen, television’s highest-paid star, in a phone call to me in 2011. I had called directly to tell him Warner Bros. was abandoning shooting of “Two and a Half Men,” based on credible allegations that he was abusing drugs again, and he was about to be fired. He was at a boiling point. My “best” mistake was that I agreed to drink his urine. 

With that agreement, I had no idea of the storm that was about to be unleashed. Four years later, RadarOnline.com and The National Enquirer broke a story that stunned the world: Sheen was HIV positive. Not only that — he had known for four years. His wild lifestyle had exposed countless girlfriends, models, porn stars, and prostitutes to unspeakable risk. In the meantime, no journalist in the history of entertainment news and journalism had been allowed such intimate access to a superstar, nor in such spectacular circumstances. 

The drink-my-pee challenge — in exchange for voluntary urine and blood tests in an attempt to prove his sobriety — ingratiated me into his inner circle and ultimately led to the HIV bombshell. What we uncovered was a story of extraordinary corruption, violence, lies, intimidation, death threats, and millions of dollars paid out in hush money — and the biggest cover-up in the history of American entertainment. A story that reveals the heart of darkness beneath Hollywood’s whited sepulcher. 

Sheen passed that drug test. 

Fortuitously, though, I never drank the urine. Had I not agreed to do it, however, the truth might never have been known. Entertainment journalism can get a bad rap, but in this case, the right to privacy of one individual was far outweighed by the risk to those who did not know about his HIV status. We refused to be cowed — in spite of personal death threats and ongoing abuse. We have a right to free speech and our readers have a right to know. Celebrities need to know we will fight for the right to report stories of such incredible importance.