Hooman Karamian, the wannabe Perez Hilton...
Sometimes, God sends you free room service. That's what it felt like a couple of days ago when Hooman Karamian's flack with the mega firm of 5W PR called me and offered him up to me on a silver platter. Hoo-da Hooman? You know him better as "Nik Richie," purveyor of ribald pics of drunken nightlifers vomiting and/or exposing themselves for the camera. Karamian's decidedly retail genius is that through a variety of Web sites spun off from The Dirty.com and tailored to cities nationwide, he allows local losers to be Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton for a day.You know, flashing, or acting the fool, just like a real life celebrity, only without the celebrity.
And that's the catch, because Karamian only scores big when he nabs a celeb doing something naughty, like when he published pics of second string Cardinals QB Matt Leinart helping a lass with her beer bong. Or even the decades-old shots of Billy Idol in his prime being serviced by three nekkid wenches, which Karamian put up not too long ago.
The problem is, ordinary shlubs acting like idiots are still ordinary shlubs, and who cares 'bout them, save for their shlubby friends?
Indeed, women who want to be spotlighted by Karamian's sites desperately send in shots of themselves half-nude or better, asking Karamian if he would do them. Similarly, dudes might send in shots of their bros passed out or doing something retarded, hoping Karamian will rag on them.
Karamian is the perfect enabler for a society without shame, and I don't blame him one iota for banking on it. But when he tries to market fake outrage to me, that's where my bullshit detector starts blinking red. I mean, if your site features pics of models dropping a deuce, fat girls licking themselves, and cheesy tanning salon refugees flexing their guns, you ain't one to be talkin'. Rocks, glass houses and all that.
So when 5W PR's Roxanne Romero e-mailed me, pitching a story about photos Karamian posted on his site of some UofA student and her boyfriend dressed up for Halloween as a plane (the girl) flying into one of the Twin Towers (the guy), I figured this would be an interesting exercise in moral relativism, and told her to have him call me. Romero jumped at this so quickly that her desperation was palpable. I later found out that though 5W PR claims big name clients such as Starbucks, McDonalds, LifeStyles Condoms, Benny Hinn Ministries, and Ice Cube, they'd so far only been able to pimp this story successfully to Phoenix wing-nut and Mexican-basher Darryl Ankarlo of KTAR.
One of the 9/11 Halloween pics on Karamian's site.
In any case, I spoke to Karamian that afternoon, and we did discuss the pics of this UofA student and the 9/11 Halloween costume. Karamian described the costumes as worse than dressing up as Adolf Hitler, and I quibbled with that, seeing that Hitler killed 6 million Jews, along with the 20 million Russians who died in WWII, and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were killed fighting the Axis powers. Karamian replied that 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were "not something that happened 60 years ago or whatever," but something that has happened in "modern times." Plus, it was unpatriotic, he argued.
"I think they're disgusting," he told me of the costumes, adding, "Lives were lost, and I think to make fun of something like that, it's really bad."
Still, I had a hard time buying his indignation at two college students who dressed up like this at a private party. People dress up like crazy shit for Halloween all the time -- Nazis, serial killers, you name it. I even questioned if the pics had been staged by Karamian, or one of the fans in his "Dirty Army" who send him pics like this on a routine basis, or even the subjects of the pics themselves. Karamian insisted this was not the case.
Another troubling aspect was how the woman, identified by Karamian's site as Nicole Cassese, is repeatedly threatened by posters to The Dirty. Karamian said his site moderates such comments, but more than a few violent posts made it through Karamian's rigorous screening process, like one from "the man," saying, "someone should just run her over with a car to put her out of her misery."
Or there's the "Spurs Fan," who suggests, "Somebody torch this girl's car, with her in it." Seems a little harsh for wearing an un-PC Halloween outfit. Especially, since The Dirty prides itself on publishing provocative, embarrassing photos.
"The premise of the web site is for people to be held accountable for their actions," Karamian stated. "Obviously I poke fun at it, and throw it in somewhat of a funny light. But at the end of the day people don't want to be exposed as something that they kind of shun...If The Dirty wasn't around, people would be just going on like nothing ever happened."
To some extent, Karamian added himself to that list earlier this year when he pleaded guilty to a DUI he received in Scottsdale. Details of his arrest and his true identity were exposed to the world on The Smoking gun.com. (Karamian also copped to it all on his blog.) But some subjects are still a little sensitive for the Hooman. For instance, in September, Karamian briefly posted the names of several prominent individuals that he alleged were johns in the Desert Divas prostitution ring bust in Scottsdale. But as soon as those bigwigs complained, Karamian caved, and took down the names. When I pushed Karamian on why he hadn't looked into those claims before posting them to his site, Karamian insisted that those individuals were guilty.
"I posted just a couple of people that I just really don't care for because they don't have the greatest reputations," he explained. Karamian remained vague on why he had to take the names down if his source was accurate.
"I never claimed myself to be an investigative reporter if that's what you're asking," he admitted.
Things got really interesting when I asked Karamian if he had ever done business as "Corbin Grimes," as certain Maricopa County Superior Court Documents state. Grimes was the CEO for a company called Capitol Imaging Group, which promised to score contracts for up-and-coming musical acts. For a fee, of course. Problem is, many of CIG's former clients are pissed because they say the big record contracts they were promised never materialized.
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But when I began to ask Karamian if he'd done business as Corbin Grimes, he laughed, and said, "This is so funny...The saddest part about this is that I'm the biggest supporter of the New Times."
Karamian's flacks, who were still on the line as well, then jumped in and told Karamian to hang up. The flacks were ticked because I hadn't cleared this line of questioning with them first. I told them that's not the way journalism works. At least not the way New Times practices it. The thing I don't understand is, if Karamian's got nothing to hide, why won't he answer questions about his business with CIG?
New Times has attempted to talk to Karamian before about this, but he has refused our interview requests. This time, he and his flacks came calling to us. He can hardly be surprised that we took the opportunity to ask him some real questions. After all, that's what we're here for.