Gwyneth Paltrow is supposedly terrified about an upcoming Vanity Fair cover story, which is expected to paint the image-conscious actress in an unflattering light, and possibly expose details of marriage troubles with husband Chris Martin – including an alleged 2008 affair with billionaire Jeff Soffer, an affair Paltrow's camp has vehemently denied. Beyond that, there is little known about the dirt Vanity Fair intends to dig up, though talk of a dispute between the actress and the magazine has been circulating for months. So far, the rumors have done little more than generate more interest in a celebrity profile that might otherwise have elicited much more than a collective eyeroll. Which is why I'm skeptical that the controversy is entirely genuine.


The media coverage about the conflict has been widespread, but for the most part is recycling the same narrative: The actress reportedly sent an email to friends, asking them not to cooperate with the magazine on her story, and warning them not to work with them again. In response, Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter told the Times of London that Paltrow had “forced his hand” and that the story would be running with or without her blessing. The New York Post first reported back in June that Paltrow was asking her friends not to participate in Vanity Fair's planned cover story about her. In September, the New York Times published content from an email Paltrow reportedly sent to friends, in an story about Vanity Fair having recently taken a harder edge in its celebrity coverage. "Vanity Fair is threatening to put me on the cover of their magazine," the email reportedly read. "If you are asked for quotes or comments, please decline. Also, I recommend you never do this magazine again." The story cited an unnamed source who had seen the email. The New York Times did not respond to a request to verify whether or not the reporter had also seen the email.

Carter's discussion of the profile with the Times of London resuscitated the story again this week, and the Post pushed it further with an item about Paltrow's alleged affair – which would have happened in 2008, if it happened at all. Paltrow and Martin are no strangers to media speculation about their relationship, and Paltrow herself has acknowledged that the marriage has hit rough patches in the past. It's hard to imagine that a reveal of a five-year old affair would be enough to send Paltrow into panic mode. Further, if Paltrow really was so concerned about the possibility that her friends might cooperate with Vanity Fair, why send out a mass email that could easily end up in the wrong hands?

The reports of a dispute have not only drummed up interest in the profile. They also reinforce the image that Vanity Fair has indeed “toughened its coverage” of Hollywood, as the September New York Times piece announced. The same article provided data that showed a decline in total revenue and newsstand sales for the magazine, and said “the magazine's visitors and page views still ebb and flow largely based on the success of individual stories.” One such story is Maureen Orth's October 2012 expose of Tom Cruise's involvement in Scientology, published a few months after Cruise and Katie Holmes' high-profile split. The thrust of that story was based on rumors that have been circulating in and around Hollywood for years – particularly the discussion of “girlfriend auditions” that the Church of Scientology conducted on Cruise's behalf. Reports of these auditions would not have come as news to anyone with even loose ties to the entertainment industry. The article did for the first time identify a little-known actress who participated in these auditions and subsequently dated Cruise, but that was the story's only big scoop.

The year before, Vanity Fair took credit for influencing the Los Angeles County Sheriff to re-open the investigation into Natalie Wood's drowning death in 1981. The impetus for re-opening the case were statements made by Dennis Davern, the captain of the yacht Wood was sailing on when she died, who in 2010 had published a book that recounted the hours before Wood's death and questioned the role of her husband Robert Wagner in the drowning. In an appearance on the “Today” show in November 2011, Davern admitted that he didn't have any more to add to the story that wasn't already published in his book. “I'm not saying anything different,” Davern said. “All the information that I've revealed in the past, it's all in that book, and now it's just up to the investigators to do an investigation.” The investigation was re-opened on November 18, 2011, and an article about Wood's death appeared in a Vanity Fair special edition that was released the same week.

It remains to be seen whether Vanity Fair, which has put Paltrow on its cover five times in the past, really has the goods on the polarizing actress, or whether the supposed dispute is part of a sophisticated publicity campaign. If it turns out that Vanity Fair has the scoop of the century on Paltrow, then I'll gladly eat my words. But until then, I'll be taking the news about it with a grain of salt.