Claire Hoffman propelled her career last year with a much-discussed profile in West magazine on "Girls Gone Wild" mogul Joe Francis. You might remember the piece: She got manhandled and screamed at by her subject.
It's after 3 a.m. and we're in a parking lot on the outskirts of Chicago. Electronic music is buzzing from the nightclub across the street, mixing easily with the laughter of the guys who are watching this, this me-pinned-and-helpless thing. Francis isn't laughing. He has turned on me, and I don't know why. He's going on and on about Panama City Beach, the spring break spot in northern Florida where Bay County sheriff's deputies arrested him three years ago on charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and promoting the sexual performance of a child. As he yells, I wonder if this is a flashback, or if he's punishing me for being the only blond in sight who's not wearing a thong. This much is certain: He's got at least 80 pounds on me and I'm thinking he's about to break my left arm. My eyes start to stream tears.There was lots of hemming and hawing in local media circles about whether the piece should have been turned into a straight news story or whether Hoffman, now an unwitting participant, was the most appropriate person to be writing it. That, of course, only made Hoffman a bigger deal and no doubt led to a contributing editor spot at Portfolio, the overhyped NY-based business monthly. So guess what she has in the November issue? It's a look at the highly-trafficked but little-known X-rated site YouPorn, which is similar in format to YouTube, except in the obvious ways. Anyway, this veeery long piece ambles around the Valley porn industry - lots of already reported stuff - before it finally gets back to YouPorn, and its mysterious front man, Stephen Paul Jones, who supposedly is a Stanford alum and looking to monetize the site. After considerable effort, Hoffman gets Jones on the phone. He claims that “Stephen Paul Jones” is an alias, that he is 27 and manages billions of assets at a Newport Beach hedge fund. Here's more:
It turns out there is a Stanford alum named Stephen Paul Jones. But he’s fortyish, not 27, and he lives in South Lake Tahoe, California, not Newport Beach. In the past two decades, this Stephen Paul Jones seems to have had no connection to the adult-entertainment business. Public records show that he was involved in a handful of security companies. According to Stanford alumni records (he earned his M.B.A. last year), he enjoys skydiving, stunt piloting, and snowboarding. Meanwhile, the man who says he’s 27 and uses Jones as an alias has stopped returning my calls. So I drive north to Lake Tahoe. I knock on the door of a lodgelike three-story house with an enormous backyard. A blond, barrel-chested man answers, an entourage of children in tow. I tell him my name and ask to speak to Jones. “Wrong house,” he says, as his face goes hard. His wife asks what this is about. I say I am a reporter writing about an internet company. “Oh,” she says and gives him a look.
He hustles his family inside, grabs a pack of cigarettes, and comes back outside to yell at me. And from the minute he starts talking, I recognize his voice and his patterns of speech. This is the man I spoke to on the phone. This is the same Stephen Paul Jones. Jones confirms this, apparently without meaning to, saying he knew during our phone conversation that I had an agenda because I told him that I didn’t like porn. (I told him no such thing.) He threatens to sue me, saying he has “Google’s lawyers.” Then he asks if we can talk somewhere farther away from his home. He drives his S.U.V. about a mile down the road, with me following. For the next 2½ hours, in a diatribe that is always convoluted and occasionally hostile, he keeps returning to one theme: his amazement at the sheer number of people who visit YouPorn every day. And he repeatedly insists that he is not the site’s owner.
Shouldn’t someone tell Claire that she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd?