At least three women were hired by Ashley Madison parent company Avid Life Media to pose as the presidents and CEOs of sister sites and were paid per interview. So reports the Financial Post in an exclusive investigation into the "trove of Avid Life’s corporate emails" that were leaked, along with the personal info of some 37 million members, over the summer. (Avid Life was also fingered in September for secretly running an escort site, reports the Daily Dot.) Claudia Opdenkelder, who spoke as the founder of Cougar Life; Simone Dadoun-Cohen, who posed as the head of Established Men; and Whitney Thompson, who presented herself as the founder of The Big and the Beautiful, all managed to dupe reporters for publications such as the New York Times and NBC.
"In reality they were spokesmodels—invariably very good-looking spokesmodels—with most reporters taking them at their word about their executive roles," Claire Brownwell writes in the Financial Post. What's more, she asserts, Avid Life established a pay grid for various media appearances, and the women's relationships with the parent company did not always end amicably. In fact, Opdenkelder sued the company in March for $750,000 for lost income and mental distress. Freelance journalist Julie Beun, who profiled Opdenkelder in the Ottawa Citizen in 2010, admits her editor would have been less interested in a story about a dating site had it not involved a strong, beautiful female leader who herself has a much younger partner. "Is it sucky of her to have done it?" Beun asks. "Yeah. Am I surprised? No. It’s called marketing." (Avid Life, meanwhile, says all this publicity just means more users.)