Lisa Guerrero Interview: The Dark Side of Playboy
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Journalists
Image attributed to Diana Ragland
Award-winning journalist Lisa Guerrero is the chief investigative correspondent for the syndicated newsmagazine show Inside Edition. Her interview with preacher Kenneth Copeland about his use of private jets went viral worldwide and was seen by over half a billion people and was one of the first journalists to set foot on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. Guerrero is also an actress, former sportscaster and model.
The award-winning investigative journalist hosts two upcoming episodes of A&E’s documentary series Secrets of Playboy, airing on March 28 and April 4, 2022. The exposé examines Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire, unearthing allegations of coercion, sexual assault, drugging and manipulation gleaned from interviews with former Playboy employees and girlfriends.
"At one point, I met Hugh Hefner. He tried to kiss me kind of open-mouthed. I turned my head, and he kissed me on the cheek with a wet kiss. I was just really uncomfortable there. That was the end of my Playboy Mansion experiences."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Lisa, let’s start with Monday Night Football. How was that an abusive situation for you?
Lisa Guerrero: Well, I was a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. Although I had worked my way up from local sports in Los Angeles to regional to national and had been a sportscaster for 12 years, I think my hiring at Monday Night Football came as a surprise to a lot of people. The type of role I was told it would be was a little bit different from how it ended up being. I was told they were going to combine entertainment reporting with sports reporting, and I had done both in recent years before I was hired. But at the end of the day, they went with a more traditional sideline reporter concept, although I had never covered sidelines before. Although I’d been a sports anchor, a correspondent, had been in locker rooms and covering sports for a long time, this was a very different type of sports storytelling on the sidelines, especially on Monday Night Football with 40 million people every Monday night. So I was definitely learning on the job.
I had a boss that was, I believe, very verbally abusive to me that hurt my performance rather than helped it. If you have a boss that is yelling at you, especially if you’re new at a job, then you’re not going to get the most out of that employee. That’s how I felt during that year. It was a real learning experience for me. I ended up getting better every day, and I learned on the job. I ended up leaving sports, still with a love of sports, but also really secure in the next job that I had. I would work with people on a team and a boss that treated me respectfully.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tell me about your experience with the Playboy organization.
Lisa Guerrero: When I was younger, as a teenager, I was a model. I was discovered in high school when I was 15 years old. When I got a little bit older, like probably 17-18 years old, I started to do a lot of swimwear and fitness modeling, and in Los Angeles, that’s a big part of modeling. A couple of years into being signed by my then agent, I found out there was another agency called Playboy Models that also represented a lot of women that did fitness modeling and swimwear modeling, which I did. So I modeled through the Playboy Model Agency at 18, 19, 20, and I was offered an opportunity to be a Playmate at that time. I rejected it because I had big dreams of someday becoming an actor, and I wanted to be a sports reporter. I thought that if I was nude in Playboy as a Playmate, that that would not help me get where I wanted to go with my career goal someday. So I decided not to be a Playmate.
As part of the agency, we were invited on Friday nights to go to the movie screening at the Mansion. I was very wide-eyed and quite innocent going to the Mansion party. One of my earliest memories of it was seeing this huge buffet table and thinking that I had never seen that much free food sitting out there in my life. So the second time I came, I brought a bag full of empty Tupperware. While everybody went in to watch the movie, I stayed out there and filled up my Tupperware with free good and then left before the dirty old men came out of the screening. I was trying to avoid the men, but I still wanted the free food. That was my crazy experience at the Mansion. I went a few more times and finally, this woman came out as I was out there filling up my Tupperware for the third time in a row. When she came out, I thought I was busted and was going to get thrown out of the Mansion. Instead, she handed me pre-packaged to-go boxes of the good and said, “Next time you come, don’t bother bringing Tupperware. I’ll give you the food.” She knew I was sneaking out before the men came out of the screening. She she told me which bathroom to avoid, what hallways to avoid. I was very young and naïve. I felt that I was nervous around these guys.
At one point, I met Hugh Hefner. He tried to kiss me kind of open-mouthed. I turned my head, and he kissed me on the cheek with a wet kiss. I was just really uncomfortable there. That was the end of my Playboy Mansion experiences. I went probably five or six times, and I decided it wasn’t for me and moved on with my career. Years go by from at this point, and I’m now 40 years old. I had just had my Monday Night Football experience, and I had been asked every year over the last several years before that to be a celebrity cover for the magazine. I kept throwing away the proposals they would send me. At one point, my husband said, “What’s this?” He fished it out of the trash can, and I told him, “Every year, they ask me to be on the cover of Playboy, and there’s no way.” He goes, “Why? This is an iconic brand. You look beautiful. You’re 40. You’re a Latina. Huge stars have been on the cover of Playboy. Why won’t you do it?” I had never really thought of it that way, and I also decided maybe it was a good idea to do Playboy and to use that platform to do what I wanted to do next, which was to work for an entertainment magazine or a newsmagazine and to move on from sports to another type of reporting. So that’s why I did it. I took a huge risk, a calculated risk but a huge risk to be on the cover of Playboy, and it worked because Inside Edition did a story about me coming from Monday Night Football and being on the cover of Playboy at 40. Their audience liked it.
They liked me, and two weeks later, they signed me to a two-year contract as a correspondent for Inside Edition, and that’s where I’ve been ever since 2006. I got promoted through the ranks, and now I do investigations, but I wouldn’t recommend being on the cover of Playboy to be a journalist. I’m probably the only person that’s done that and had it work out quite this way. I used to look back at the experience kind of fondly until I saw Secrets of Playboy, until I saw the docuseries. Then I really viewed my participation with the Playboy organization differently through the lens of time, maturity and post Me Too and realized that I really dodged a lot of bullets, and I was lucky I didn’t have a bad experience. But I certainly recognize that other women did.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are the most appalling allegations that have been brought to life in those two episodes of Secrets of Playboy you are hosting?
Lisa Guerrero: Season six of The Girls Next Door starred Karissa and Kristina Shannon. They, for the first time, told their story on what really happened behind the scenes on The Girls Next Door. More importantly to me, they spoke about their past and the trauma that they endured that brought them to the place where they ended up meeting Hugh Hefner and going to the Playboy Mansion to begin with. They had a history of abuse and trauma that they hadn’t spoken out about before Secrets of Playboy. So when the audience met them originally on The Girls Next Door, they were these adorable, cute, blonde, funny, gregarious 19-year-olds. That’s the memory I have of them.
When they walked onto our set, and they revealed their experiences before Playboy, that’s what really clicked for me. That’s what really brought me to the place of saying, “Their lives didn’t start as a Playboy Playmate or a Bunny or as an employee of Playboy or as a centerfold. Something happened to them beforehand that brought them to the precipice of being part of the Playboy organization, and in that first episode of those two episodes I’m hosting, I really got to experience that in a really close and personal way.
Both Karissa and Kristina revealed a heartbreaking story. I guess that’s as succinctly as I can put it. It was heartbreaking to hear their story. The rest of what happened to them made a lot of sense. That’s just one of these stories we’ve been hearing through Secrets of Playboy. These women are from different generations and different backgrounds, but something about their past trauma brought them to the same place where they were taken advantage of.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: A question that is often asked of sexual assault victims is, “Why did you wait so long to talk about your side of the story?”
Lisa Guerrero: Yeah, and I think this is really important because these are the things you hear on social media when people push back at these women about coming out and and telling these stories. They say, “Why didn’t you tell these stories before?” Every woman has a different experience and some different reasons why. She either didn’t tell her story or in some cases, she did tell her story but it was not believed or it was not amplified by others. Some of these women tried to write books. Some of these women tried to talk about their experiences, and as you know, Miki Garcia also testified in front of a pornography commission. So for many decades, these women have been speaking out about these experiences. So I would push back a little bit against the narrative that they did not.
But certainly, there is a universal feeling that, if you have suffered trauma or abuse at the hands of a man at work or as an employee, because of the Me Too movement, you’re now more likely to be believed or at least listened to. I think that’s part of it. I think the timing is important. It’s not just because Hugh Hefner died a few years ago. People say, “Yeah. You waited until he died.” I think that’s not the entire story. Part of it is about Time’s Up and Me Too. These women are now at least given platforms to tell their stories, and that makes people more likely to believe them. And if you believe the women, and I believe the women, I completely understand why it took them years, and sometimes decades, to come forward.
Finally, on that point, I think it’s incredibly brave of these women to come forward because they knewthey were going to receive push back. They knew it. And they did it anyway because they thought it was the right thing to do. They needed to do that for themselves, for their family and for their legacy so they could rest at night knowing that they had told the truth. I think that is incredibly courageous because it’s not like they thought, “Oh, I’m going to speak out, and nobody’s going to say anything about it.” They knew they were going to endure pushback, and they did it anyway. They’re heroes, in my opinion.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Totally agree. In my research, I was reminded that Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner were longtime close friends. There was a woman who claimed she was drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby at the Mansion and that Hefner conspired with him. I believe there was a lawsuit and a settlement, but no criminal charges were filed. Incidents like that could add credence to these women’s claims.
Lisa Guerrero: Sure. I think you hit on something really important because history is going to have the final say. As more and more women come forward, and more and more women watch these brave women speak out, they have now reached out to tell their stories also. So this works like Harvey Weinstein, right? More people feel like they’re going to be believed because they see these other people come forward first. So we don’t really know the whole story. We might not know the whole story for years or decades from now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Lisa, you had an experience with sexual harassment?
Lisa Guerrero: I was one of the first people in the Me Too movement to speak out about Steven Seagal. I was sexually harassed at an audition and on the set. I was the first woman, I believe, to come forward. After my story was reported in The Hollywood Reporter and around the media, seven more women came out including Julianna Margulies and Portia de Rossi with very similar stories. Finally, two women claimed that they were raped by Steven Seagal also in an audition situation eerily similar to the story I told.
Again, I have spoken out what happened to me years ago. My agent and I reached out to SAG-AFTRA and told other agents and actors about it to warn them about Steven Seagal. So yes, I have been somebody who has endured that. I remember being frustrated that people didn’t believe me at the time, and I was very happy to know that after the Me Too movement, people believed me. More people came forward and basically told the exact same story that I did. It was incredible.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I am so very sorry that happened to you, Lisa. For Inside Edition, you reported on the late Christian televangelist Marcus Lamb about a jet he purchased to use for family vacations and also interviewed televangelist Kenneth Copeland on his fleet of private jets. I think I’m sensing a theme here.
Lisa Guerrero: (Laughs) I know, right?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: At one point in the interview with Kenneth Copeland, he became extremely angry and actually appeared that he might lunge toward you. What were you thinking about during that time?
Lisa Guerrero: I always take the perspective of the victims that talk to us first. Before I do an interview like that, I speak to victims, I speak to people who have survived, people who have donated, who have been scammed. So before I get to the point where I’m doing an unscheduled interview with what we term the “bad guys” or the scam artists or crooked politicians, the first thing I do is I research the subject matter, and I talk to the victim. In the case of Kenneth Copeland, I had been told by many people that they had donated to him over the years. In one case, a woman said that her mother had given her life’s savings to him. She had cancer. But Kenneth Copeland said he was going to pray over her donation and cure her. Of course, she died.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Wow.
Lisa Guerrero: The daughter was furious that Kenneth Copeland promised to heal her mother if she donated to him. So after hearing a lot of stories like that, we started doing stories on not just him but other people like him. When we finally interviewed Kenneth Copeland, the controversy at the time was that he had said that the reason he flew private jets is that he didn’t want to fly commercial because he didn’t want to get into a tube full of demons. That meant, I guess, that people who fly commercial are demons. So we wanted to ask him about that. I wanted to ask him about whether or not he thought it was right that poor people, marginalized people, people of color and elderly people donate to him. They couldn’t afford to fly private, so is it fair that that is where their money is going? So that was the premise for the interview.
When he reacted the way he did and kept going and went from flirting with me to yelling at me to complimenting me and from pointing at me to lunging at me, I just stood there feeling like my responsibility is to the victims that came to me with their stories, and I’m trying to get an answer. I was trying to speak on their behalf. I didn’t take it personally because he doesn’t know me. I just felt like he was revealing himself, and that’s what journalism really could and should be, right? It’s the opportunity to let somebody reveal themselves good or bad. Good or bad.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Very true. Did you ever receive any pushback from people on social media when you interviewed the televangelists?
Lisa Guerrero: Oh, yeah. Sure. Some people didn’t like the televangelist stories, and I like to remind people I was raised as a good Christian girl. Both my grandfathers and a grandmother were pastors. So I don’t have a problem with religion in any form. I do have a problem with people downing people. But there’s always going to be something that somebody’s going to have a problem with. For me, I just keep going to the next story. I’m just trying to tell the truth, to investigate stories and to be a platform for people to tell their stories.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you ever not been taken seriously as a journalist because you’re an attractive female?
Lisa Guerrero: Thank you. Yeah. I had over 10 years of sportscasting. I started in my 20s. I think a lot of my early career was spent putting down this notion that I didn’t know sports because I was a woman or I couldn’t be a good reporter because I was a pretty, younger woman. Then when I got older and wasn’t younger anymore, they’d say, “Well, she’s got long hair, and she’s glamourous.” I think there’s always going to be a narrative that based on what you look like, you can’t do X, Y and Z.
So there’s been that throughout my career. I think part of that I used to my advantage. When I confront a scam artist or a bad guy, and they see me walking up or running up to them, they may not expect me to be equipped with a lot of information about the wrongdoing (laughs). I think being a woman actually helps me in some ways. I think we use every tool in our belts, don’t we?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: We absolutely do. We have to.
Lisa Guerrero: I’m on a visual medium. I used to joke that yes, of course, I’m in the chair to get my hair and makeup done before I go on television, but so were Al Michaels and John Madden when I was on Monday Night Football with them. So, yeah, there’s always that. But again, I don’t take that stuff too seriously, especially anymore. I’m an old broad. I’m 57. I used to say I’m a size four, and now I’m a size eight because I’ve had to develop a thick skin.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I know exactly what you’re talking about. You know, Hugh Hefner always called himself a feminist. Some people agreed saying he led the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Others called him a misogynist that used women to build his empire. Now, many women have come forward to accuse him of being abusive, of being a rapist and a control freak. What do you think should be his legacy?
Lisa Guerrero: You know, like everybody else, human beings are complicated. I think it’s fair to say that in some ways, he definitely helped the conversation about women’s body positivity and sexuality in a healthy way. I think that can be a part of his legacy. But I also think that since we’ve seen these stories and heard from women, there’s a much darker legacy he has now.
Like me, we’re still processing our memories of the Playboy brand, what that Bunny meant and what that man meant. It’s going to take a while to continue more and more stories because the stories aren’t over. The stories continue. So as we continue to hear these stories, I think his legacy gets darker and darker and darker and darker.
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