Sept. 19, 2006 | 9:54 a.m. ET

Behind Hollywood's velvet ropes (Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent)

It was a perfectly sunny L.A. afternoon, a charming curb-side restaurant right there in the sweet spot of the Sunset strip, lunch with a couple of members of an extremely exclusive club.

And one of them popped up and was across the place — and back — before I quite understood what was up.

“______,” she told me, sitting down again.  “He was the guy in the Paris video...”  THAT Paris video.

A friend of hers, apparently.  Or was he?  As we had been discovering, the tight little world inhabited by the people who show up week after week on the covers of tabloid magazines is not quite the bright wonderland lots of us like to imagine.

Behind those velvet ropes, our lunch companions told us, it's a sometimes dangerous world, inhabited not just by the famous or the wanna-be famous, but by dark characters, bottom feeders and bad boys intent on making use of those very faces you see on the tabloids.

Our purpose, when we started, was to look into a terrifying home invasion robbery way up in the nosebleed section of Bel Air. I mean, way up.  Nancy Reagan’s neighborhood. Homes so expensive you can’t even see them, in there behind their hand built gates, up their hedge-lined private driveways. 

The victim of this robbery is a celebrity himself:  Joe Francis, the man behind a ridiculously profitable moral quagmire called “Girls Gone Wild.”  Joe has been flogging his videos - college girls lifting their tops for the camera, playing sex games with each other, etc, etc - long enough to have built a boy’s dream of a lifestyle. 

Here is a partial list of Joe’s toys:  private jets (2), Bentley, Ferrari, the really nice house, other big house across the country, a place in the Caribbean.... and... friendships with people who are famous.

Like Paris Hilton.  Who says, the second Joe’s name comes up, “He’s NOT my ex-boyfriend.”

But did she know who got into his house one night, tied him up, threatened to kill him, forced him to make a video apparently aimed at making him look gay?

And thus, from our curiosity about a robbery, we found ourselves drawn into the bizarre world of Hollywood night life.

We listened to Paris call herself "like, not that smart." We heard her memory improve remarkably...  after a sandwich.

Paris Hilton: Amateur detective?

What’s it like behind those Hollywood velvet ropes?

Next time you find yourself in a check-out line and your eye is drawn to some ultra-famous party girl — or boy — splashed on a tabloid cover and you wonder, just for a second, how cool it must be to live in that world... you might remember this simple definition of celebrity life, from an L.A. County prosecutor named Hoon Chun: “Its a jet-set version of high school.”

The Paris Hilton tapes airs Dateline Saturday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. on NBC.

Sept. 15, 2006 | 2:35 p.m. ET

News of E.coli in spinach (Lea Thompson, Dateline correspondent)

This latest E.coli outbreak is truly disturbing .  One person has died, 50 others have been sickened, and health officials say they expect that number to rise. 

The Food and Drug Administration is asking everyone not to eat commercially bagged spinach until investigators can pin down what products have been contaminated.  Health officials suspect the outbreak is tied to bagged fresh spinach, but no recall has been issued — and none will be — until the source, or sources, of the E.coli can be determind and confirmed.  For now, please listen closely to announcements from health officials about what not to buy and eat. No one wants anyone else getting sick.

Seeing the suffering this outbreak is causing is distressing. But what is equally distressing is this: no one really knows how to keep it from happening again.

Despite focused research by federal, state and local food safety experts — and despite sincere efforts by the industry — no one has yet pinned down just how E.coli is entering and thriving in leafy greens. And since the experts really don't know how the contamination is occurring, they don't know what to do to keep outbreaks from happening again.

The fact is millions of us eat spinach and lettuce safely every day, so your chances of getting E.coli poisoning are small. But it is also a fact that these nasty E.coli outbreaks keep happening. As we reported in April, there was an E.coli outbreak last year linked to bag lettuce.  This time, it's allegedly bagged spinach that is contaminated.  Over the past decade, the pattern has repeated itself — the Food and Drug Administration says there have been at least 19 E.coli outbreaks linked to lettuce or spinach since 1995.

Let me pass along a few tips to lower your chances of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands before you open the bag. Really, it is important.
Video: How to wash your hands properly
  • Be careful not to allow either the bag or the salad to come close to raw meat juices (they might contain E.coli or other bad bacteria).
  • Before you buy, take a look at that sell by date and don't buy the salad if that date has passed.
  • If the salad stays out too long (gets too warm) at home or starts to look brown or gooey around the edges — don't try to save it, throw it away.
  • And if you do get sick, think salad! It might be the culprit...and if there is any of the salad left in the bag, don't throw it away. (The salad may need to be tested.)
  • If you get really sick, sick enough to go to the hospital, let the doctors know you had salad in a bag. And if you find out you are contaminated with E.coli, call your local health department so someone else doesn't get sick.

Editor's note: Click here to read Lea Thompson's April report. Four months later, the story is still one of the 10 most popular links on the Dateline site. Click here for more tips on safe food handling at the grocery store and at home.


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