Jon and Kate: Behind the Philadelphia Magazine Story

A Q&A with Jessica Remo about the reporting for her March 2009 article “Jon + Kate + 8 = $$$

Illustration by GluekitWhat did you think of the show before you began reporting?
Before I began my research I was a huge fan. There is no denying how adorable the Gosselin children are, and I thought Jon and Kate’s banter was natural, normal.

When I began my research, I was astounded by some of the things written about the family on some of the blogs written about the show. Actually, heartbroken is the word. As much as I loved the show, I have to admit that being able to watch these kids all the time, in some of their most vulnerable moments (Collin being constipated, the kids coming out of the bath — to name just a few), did feel a little indulgent. I am of no relation to the family, yet I can gawk at their children for hours almost daily. It’s unsettling.

Did you ever meet the family in person?
I did attend two events where I met Kate in person. The first was a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in the Promenade Shops in Center Valley, Pa., right before Christmas. The place was mobbed — you had to get a ticket and stand in line, then they called your number. The turnout at these events is more amazing because they aren’t advertised on the show or Jon and Kate’s website. You have to scour the blogs or be from the area to learn of them.

The other event was the speaking engagement I detail in the story at First Assembly of God church in Marcy, New York, on January 11th. The scene there was giddier — there was even a woman who had cut her hair like Kate. I asked someone working the event if there would be a chance for me to interview Kate, but was told no. I later heard that at other events organizers have asked that no journalists be present.

Kate explained that Jon had just come home from a shoot and she couldn’t make him leave without spending time with the kids. The people at First Assembly were quite disappointed, to say the least, and in my reporting I learned that either Jon or Kate has backed out at the last minute at other events. Rarely do they appear together now, and they’ve admitted as much in recent interviews.

After Kate spoke, she signed copies of Multiple Blessings. I asked her bodyguard if maybe after the signing she would have a few minutes for me. He said he would see what he could do. I waited, and at the very end he asked for me, but the answer was still a “no.” He gave me the phone number for Laurie Goldberg, the senior vice president of communications for TLC, and said we could set something up over the phone. I had already been in touch with Laurie, however, at this point. No interview came of it.

Who else did you speak to during your reporting?
I talked to or corresponded with more than 100 people for this piece, many of whom asked to remain anonymous. I began, naturally, with Kate’s manager, Julie Carson May. I left at least four messages for her over the course of a month, with no response. Then I tried Kate’s book publisher, Zondervan, where I spoke to Karen Campbell, who does PR for the book, and she directed me to Laurie Goldberg at TLC. I tried to set something up with Laurie over e-mail for several weeks, but to no avail. Finally, she said I could e-mail her a list of questions and she’d see what she could do. I told her I would not because it’s not good journalism — we wanted direct access to Jon and Kate because we didn’t want a publicist answering for them through e-mail. In an e-mailed response, Laurie accused me of having “an agenda” and said “we prefer to work with ethical journalists.”

Some of the outside sources I talked to were many people who had appeared on the show; many of the churches that the Gosselins had appeared at or canceled on; many of the local places the family visited on the show; locals in Wyomissing, Elizabethtown, and the greater Reading area; people involved in the makeover of the Gosselins’ Wyomissing home; and other reporters who interviewed the Gosselins, like Shauna Lake from KUTV in Utah. I tried to speak with Kate’s parents, but they did not return my phone calls. I spoke for quite some time with Paul Petersen, whom I mention in the story, as well as the labor departments of California and Pennsylvania to compare and contrast the legislation. I spoke to David Rothermel, Jon’s former employer, as you can also see in the story. And I did see the state’s documentation surrounding Jon’s termination; our research editor also confirmed this with the Pennsylvania unemployment office, which had denied Jon’s claim for unemployment. I also spoke with Julie, Aunt Jodi’s sister, who wrote the blog Truth Breeds Hatred.

How much of the information on the blogs about the Gosselins is true?
Not all of it. There’s a lot of wild speculation out there. I can only personally endorse the facts detailed in my story, which were confirmed by the magazine’s fact-checking department. However, if it’s on the internet and about the Gosselins, I’ve read it. I’ve also watched each episode — there are 80-plus now — at least twice.

The reason I turned to Gosselins Without Pity as one avenue for my reporting is simply because it is the most trafficked blog on all things Gosselin. To not mention or contact them would have been neglectful on my part. But I did not take their word for fact, and I of course read other blogs, with both positive and negative angles. The battle that’s being waged between the different fans of different blogs in the magazine’s web comment section right now has a lot of history. I expected the heat from some of these diehard fans.

Why hasn’t this information been published in the mainstream media before?
Probably because no one has had the time or patience to confirm it all. The reporting on this took me more than two months and included persuading a lot of people to talk to me.

Illustration by Gluekit, from the March 2009 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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