aNewDomain — “If Nightline smells anything suspicious,” an Avid Life Media marketeer wrote to the firm’s CEO back in 2012, “they will kill the whole thing.”
According to email messages allegedly leaked from CEO Noel Biderman’s mailbox in the AshleyMadison.com hack this summer, then Avid marketing VP Binu Koshy was referring to a planned ABC Nightline story about Ashley Madison sister site CougarLife.com.
That site then, as now, purports to be a dating site matching up older women (cougars) with much younger men (cubs). Check out his email, below.
The leaked emails further suggest that ABC Nightline producer Dan Lieberman was busy scheduling the Avid so-called members “Claudia and Paul” as well as “Cindy” and “her cub” for that Nightline shoot. And these weren’t actual members, emails suggest. They were employees and paid consultants.
Lieberman apparently didn’t know that “Paul” would be flying in from Avid’s home city in Toronto and would get paid $500 for the Nightline appearance, nor that his supposed cougar girlfriend, Claudia Opfenkelder, was actually a paid Avid spokeswoman for CougarLife.
At the time, Lieberman could not have known that Cindy, the other “cougar” posing as a Cougarlife.com member, was a paid PR consultant for this shoot, one who in the end received some $20,000 for her part in the effort, according to leaked emails.
Coming up with actors and employees to act like real cougar-cub couples was just the beginning, the leaked emails further suggest.
ABC’s Lieberman, for instance, had asked for numbers and demographics around CougarLife. In one email, Avid execs portrayed CougarLife as a busy dating site that was more than half comprised of female users. Internal data reports, however, suggest that fewer than five percent of the some 21,000 active members in the U.S. and Canada were females — of the human kind or the “engager” bot kind, whatever.
In this email, Koshy runs some of the numbers that PR “made up” for Nightline.
Here was Biderman’s two cents on the “made up” numbers, according to the leaked emails allegedly to and from Biderman’s mailbox.
After the shoot was over and the apparently ginned up stats were provided, Avid had nothing to do but wait for the piece to air on Nightline.
But then, Biderman sent out an emergency message to Koshy and another Avid PR exec, Shari Cogan.
Lieberman, Rocker said, seemed to have caught on to the fact that the dates and the members were fake. What to do?
Lieberman was going so far as googling the term “CougarLife scam,” Biderman told Cogan and Koshy, according to the email.
If you Google “CougarLife scam” yourself, you can see what Avid execs might have been so worried about.
Then, as now, there were complaints about CougarLife.com, AshleyMadison.com and other adult dating sites employing lots of “engager” bots instead of actual female humans …
Biderman instructed the PR department to tell Rocker to stop communicating with Nightline.
He mused that, unless handled carefully, the whole situation could turn into a witch hunt.
It wouldn’t be the first time, Biderman said, that a reporter had found out that a CougarLife shoot was not how it at first appeared. As Biderman said in the leaked email allegedly from his mailbox, Toronto anchor Leslie Roberts had once discovered that Avid execs had inaccurately positioned Claudia Opfenkelder as the founder of CougarLife when in fact she was an employee.
Note: Avid’s own dating “listings” site, ArrangementFinders.com, was a website that competed with SeekingArrangement.com. An earlier version of this post erroneously said that Avid owned SeekingArrangement, but that was an editing error. Avid owns the listings site arrangementfinders.com.
ArrangementFinders.com is one of hundreds of “dating” sites, escort listings, porn sites, live video sex sites and white label sites that Avid either owns or has signed into its affiliate program. Click here to find out about Avid’s Ashley Madison affiliate program, and here for a partial listing of Avid-owned sites and affiliates in markets domestically and internationally. -Ed.
We have yet to find any email in the leaked cache showing that ABC producer Lieberman had complained of any fakery via email. In forwarded emails, he simply says the piece had been moved back to September.
Nevertheless, Biderman and the firm’s general counsel, Mike Dacks, began drafting a letter to Lieberman, demanding to see a version of the piece before it aired and asking for the return of any cash it spent if the piece didn’t end up being “supportive” of CougarLife.com, according to the leaked emails we examined.
Here’s one of the initial drafts of that letter:
It’s unclear, from the leaked emails, if this letter was ever sent. Biderman had one reservation about sending it, as he allegedly wrote in one of the emails leaked after this summer’s hack. That reservation was that ABC producer Lieberman, on seeing Biderman’s name, might realize that he was behind CougarLife. But if he didn’t, what kind of journalist was he, anyway?
Lieberman, now a reporter and producer with FusionNews, as yet has not returned our calls for comment, nor have the other Avid execs, contractors and actors mentioned in this piece.
Part of the piece ABC originally shot that August 2012 did make it to air, but it was lackluster and not worth including in the firm’s media coverage reel, emails suggest.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, in which we investigate Avid’s dealings with other mainstream media over the years, including a deep dive Ashley Madison financial piece a reporter at Forbes did in 2015. Stay tuned.
For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.
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Disclosure: Gina Smith was an on-air ABC News correspondent appearing regularly on Good Morning America, 20/20, World News Tonight and Nightline from 1995 to 2001.