The “world exclusive” is featured at the bottom of this week’s cover of Hello! magazine. Mildred Patricia Baena is pictured next to her teenage son. “I want to tell the truth,” she says. In case you don’t already know the identity of this woman, the British tabloid proudly proclaims: The Mother of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Child Breaks Her Silence. Inside, in what she promises is her first and last interview, Baena talks about confronting Maria Shriver with the news of her husband’s love child. “[Maria] was so strong,” Baena told the magazine. “She cried with me … We held each other and I told her it wasn’t Arnie’s fault, that it takes two.”
But the most surprising part of the interview actually came after the issue hit newsstands overseas. Baena’s lawyer told TMZ that she didn’t make a cent from the interview. “Mildred was tired of people selling their lies to the media or claiming to speak for her when they do not,” the attorney said. TMZ reported that Baena chose Hello! because her attorney has a personal relationship with the freelance reporter who delivered the interview to the magazine. Hello! is a sister magazine to the popular Spanish weekly ¡Hola!
The international managing editor of Hello!, Juliet Herd, backed up the lawyer’s assertion that Baena wasn’t paid. “Hello! appreciates that this is a major story in the U.S. and we have taken care to make sure it is conveyed in an accurate, fair and respectful manner,” Herd said in an email to The Daily Beast. Is the interview available in the United States? “We have a small distribution there,” she emailed. Did the family sit for a photo? “Yes, shoot done for Hello!” she emailed. Was the mother or child paid to sit for the photo? “Absolutely not.”
The denials raised many eyebrows in the world of celebrity gossip rags. “I’m wondering if she wasn’t paid,” says Bonnie Fuller, the former editor of Us Weekly and president of HollywoodLife.com. “I think it’s pretty well known that Hello! pays for stories and photos. It wouldn’t be unusual for them to pay her. Maybe she thought it would protect her privacy more. Maybe she didn’t realize that Hello! would be reported here. She may have felt the urge to set the record straight, to put her side of the story out.”
Another source who has worked at several tabloids agreed. “That doesn’t sound believable, especially for a magazine like Hello!, which is notorious for paying,” the source said. The source also had insight on why Baena might have gone to a foreign magazine with her interview. “It doesn’t ruin her reputation. Had you seen her on the cover of People, the backlash would have been a lot more. British tabloids will sometimes get an interview with a celebrity, because it’s often more on their [the subject’s] terms.”
The blog chatter over whether—and how much—Baena was paid comes because it’s widely presumed that celebrity tabloids pay for stories. Perhaps as a byproduct of reality-TV culture, or the 24-hour-news cycle, stars have become savvy about how much access to them is worth. Even as its parent company Time Inc. was busily laying off staff, People magazine reportedly paid a record $15 million for the photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s twins in 2008. Kim Kardashian reportedly snatched $300,000 for flashing her engagement ring to the magazine. Even B-list celebrities like Hilary Duff can command more than six figures, as she did for the wedding photos she sold to OK! magazine last summer.
In 2006, the morning networks were caught in a flap when ABC sources claimed it had offered $100,000 for an interview with Paris Hilton after she fled jail, but lost the interview to another bid “even not in the same galaxy,” according to The New York Times. NBC, which had initially landed the Hilton interview, denied it paid sources. Because of the taint over potential bidding, Hilton was ultimately dumped by both networks, and appeared instead on Larry King Live.
Even though most journalists working for mainstream media outlets would deny paying a source, the practice isn’t completely taboo, especially now that journalism and blogging have merged. The tech blog Gizmodo paid a source $5,000 for the new iPhone prototype, according to Nick Denton, head of Gawker Media. When Gawker does pay, it’s usually disclosed right in the post.
Last year, writing for Slate magazine, Jack Shafer described how even reputable news organizations like The New York Times used to pay for sources. Shafer wrote: “As the American Journalism Review reported in 1999, the New York Times paid for the Titanic scoop in 1912 by giving a wireless operator $1,000 for his story, the Hearst newspaper chain covered the Lindbergh kidnapping defendant's legal bills during the trial to keep information flowing, and Life magazine paid the Mercury-7 astronauts for their stories. In his book, If No News, Send Rumors, Stephen Bates reports that a 19th-century speaker of the House charged reporters for interviews, earning hundreds of dollars a week; that the Times paid Charles Lindbergh $5,000 for the story of his flight; and that the Times also paid for Robert E. Peary's North Pole expedition in exchange for an ‘exclusive’ on his story.”
What does that mean for the mother of Arnold’s love child? Well, if she really didn’t make any money, it looks like she was cheated.