Britney Spears may have done a lot of questionable things, but drinking whiskey on the street in the middle of the day is apparently not one of them.
A paparazzo snapped the newly engaged singer on July 12 when she was drinking out of a tiny bottle she had purchased at a Venice, California, liquor store, and the New York Post as well as U.K. tabloids ran with the shot, claiming Spears' drink of choice was Glenlivet whiskey.
The Sun ran the story Wednesday with the headline "Britney on the Rocks," while the Post put the singer on the cover Thursday, with the front-page headline "Britney Hits the Bottle" and an inside headline of "Boozer Britney: Daylight Bottle Blonde."
But Spears says she actually bought a vial of the herbal supplement ginseng, which she chased with a can of Red Bull. She's now threatening to sue the New York Post unless she gets an immediate retraction, an apology and a financial settlement. Spears' lawyer Martin Singer called the Post article "totally fabricated, fictional and defamatory."
"Prior to publishing the article, the New York Post could have easily ascertained the truth that Ms. Spears did not purchase any alcohol, but instead purchased ginseng from the store," Singer said in a statement.
The clerk who rang up the purchase backs up the singer's claim. Arif Alam, 43, of Joe's Liquor, said that she bought a 10 ml bottle of Panax Red Ginseng Extractum for $1, as what he thought was an impulse purchase when she and fiancé Kevin Federline dropped in to buy some other snacks.
"I noticed who she was probably about 10 seconds after she came in," he said. "There wasn't anyone else in the store, and I didn't notice any [photographers] outside. There wasn't any alcohol involved. They didn't ask for alcohol, she didn't buy any alcohol."
However, the New York Post claims that it did attempt to fact-check the story and was told by the photo agency, Bauer-Griffin, that Spears was consuming whiskey. The New York Post said that it called Spears' rep twice to ask if that was accurate, and she declined to comment each time. According to the Post, Spears' rep said off the record that she had seen the pictures and "they are what they are."
"She was given every opportunity to deny it but did not," the Post's editor in chief, Col Allan, said in a statement, noting that other publications published the same story.
"According to our information, the bottle that Britney Spears was drinking from may or may not have been hard liquor," the photo agency said in a statement. "We are not prepared, at this stage, to confirm or deny the original information. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."
The Spears flap is the second embarrassing slipup this month for the Post, who on July 6 printed the front-page "exclusive" news that John Kerry had chosen Dick Gephardt as his running mate. Kerry actually chose John Edwards (see "John Kerry Chooses John Edwards As His Running Mate").