June 07, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

People often ask me, “What’s the saddest, most infuriating thing you’ve read in the last 10 minutes?” The answer, readers, is this. It’s a tad longer than your usual web fare, but trust me, it’s worth it. If you enjoy getting worked up.

To sum it up: The author, a “serious” journalist, made a devil’s bargain with Russell Crowe. The actor contacted him, flattered him, and groomed him to be his Jeff Gannon: a publicist disguised as a journalist, writing stories favorable to Crowe. The author seems aware of this stratagem from the very first, has his doubts, and keeps harping on his journalistic scruples — yet goes along with the game, thrilled to be at the center of Crowe’s attention. The story unspools like an unhealthy, even abusive relationship, and while Crowe behaves more or less as we’d expect him to — by turns seductive and threatening, a pure animal of entitlement and ego — the real monster is the author himself, a needy creature so desperate for a star’s friendship that he’ll put aside his ethics, his self-respect, and his better judgment. They’re quite a pair, really, these sad little men, sub and dom. And their tragic little tango, which appears to culminate in what may or may not be a death threat, is all too familiar.

I know. You’re saying: “Ah, well, what does it matter? It’s nothing but trash celebrity journalism, anyway.” Ah, but it’s so much more. There are echoes of Judy Miller and Scooter Libby here. There are echoes of every journalist who develops “a special relationship” with a source or subject. And guess what? Every journalist does just that — perhaps not to this extent, but still. Everyone knows you only get the “good stuff” when the boundaries get blurry. But there are ways to guard against this. My colleague Michael Slezak asked the obvious question: Where is this dude’s editor? The answer, sadly, being: At Russell Crowe’s house, in Russell Crowe’s chair, sipping Russell Crowe’s cognac. Journalism 101: When your editor is your subject, DON’T TAKE THE JOB.

Moral of the story: When Russell Crowe offers you candy if you’ll just get in the car, run away and call for help.

addCredit(“Russell Crowe: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com”)

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