Word has reached Crikey that Tuesday’s News Limited story nailing New Idea for its mindblowing stuff-up over Bec Hewitt’s “other man” could be headed for an interesting postscript.

For those that glazed over it, this weeks’ edition of the supermarket throwaway contained a breathless report claiming Lleyton and Bec’s marriage was now at the mercy of a third wheel, a mysterious “manny” dubbed “Minder Mark”. The report claimed Bec was spending increasing amounts of time with “Mark”, an “American fitness trainer”, based on poolside pics snapped in the US of Bec holidaying with her kids Mia and Cruz:

Bec Hewitt has a new man in her life — and he’s the kind of hunk that every young mum dreams about. He’s tall, fit, outgoing and, best of all, great with the kids.

But in a stuff-up to rival News’ own front-page Pauline Hanson debacle, it turns out that “Mark” wasn’t Bec’s “secret lover” at all but her older brother Shaun. Oh dear.

The Hewitts are now getting ready to sue New Idea’s publishers Pacific Magazines, with substantial damages likely for the article’s egregious inferences of infidelity. The duo are, of course, serial litigants, with court action still continuing over Lleyton’s strained relationship with former managers Octagon, as you can see on their amazing joint website.

PacPubs has every reason to be running scared — as Crikey’s deadline approached its New Idea website was still apology-free, with the “other man” headline nestled beside another story spruiking the “most delicious lasagna ever”.

So how did New Idea get it so terribly, terribly wrong? The answer could lie with the claims and counterclaims of the global paparazzo.

Last week, in its March 30 issue, throwaway rival Woman’s Day also ran photos of Bec and Shaun at California’s La Quinta Resort, just like New Idea did a week later. But Woman’s Day, perhaps aware of Shaun’s real identity, declined to make the link to “Bec’s other man”, leading instead with a more anodyne headline of “Bec’s water babies”. It appears New Idea, no doubt aware of Woman’s Day’s earlier effort, decided to dress up the pics with the despicable inference anyway — a decision sure to interest the Hewitts’ eagles.

The story on how the rival snaps came to light is also an interesting one. In late February, after the Hewitts left Melbourne when Lleyton was bundled out of the Australian Open, paparazzo Jamie Fawcett travelled to the States for Woman’s Day to track the couple as they jetted around the US. Fawcett then returned to Oz, famously turning his mind to fake Hanson in the nuddy, but not before flicking offsider Ben McDonald the Hewitt job. New Idea, aware of Fawcett and McDonald’s Woman’s Day deal, decided to enlist crack snapper Rupert Thorpe to defend its turf (responsible, among other things, for infiltrating Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas’ wedding in 2000).

For the next few weeks, McDonald and Thorpe tailed each other around the US, snapping the pics of Bec and her bro that would eventually end up on the nation’s checkouts.

A report in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph quotes “magazine sources” (read: New Idea) claiming it was Fawcett who gave them the bum steer on the identity of “Minder Mark”. But with Thorpe the real source of New Idea’s photos, this seems extremely unlikely — the concoction appears instead to have been the sole brainchild of New Idea editor Mirella Cestaro and her hubby, picture editor Kevin Anstey.

New Idea, you might recall, has had a fractious relationship with the Hewitts, after the couple did a $1.3 million deal in 2006 with Woman’s Day to publish Bec’s maternal diary (after the deal expired, Hewitt took to the web to complain about Woman’s Day‘s “imaginary journalism”). The rift with both mags has been gradually patched up with Bec and Lleyton appearing as non-negative cover stars many times since.

But the latest revelations have smashed that temporary détente with the upside of a potential new revenue stream for the Hewitts as Lleyton’s ranking falls off the radar.

Crikey put the fresh claims to a New Idea PR flack who didn’t respond before deadline. Messages left on Thorpe’s US mobile also went unreturned.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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