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At first, he was courted by the right-wing party, Cambio Radical. But when he outlined his libertarian platform — ending state subsidies to the Catholic Church, legalizing abortion and drugs, and dissolving the armed forces — and then criticized Cambio Radical's candidate for mayor of Lima, the party dropped him. As an independent, Bayly initially polled well, pulling in 8 percent of votes. But he lacked the hundreds of thousands of signatures required to run. Without a party or a real campaign office, people soon understood that his candidacy was mostly a publicity stunt. His poll numbers fell to a few percentage points. By 2010, he had dropped his bid for office.
"I think he took the joke as far as he could," says Fernando Vivas, a TV critic for Peruvian paper El Comercio. "But actually running for president was a magnificent public relations stunt by someone who has never lost his ability to command an audience on television."
Since dropping out of the race, Bayly has won back popularity — or at least legitimacy — in Peru with a series of devastating political reports on TV. This past September, only a few weeks before the October 3 mayoral election, he aired an audiotape of conservative candidate Lourdes Flores saying her critics could "stick the mayor's office up my ass." Bayly was questioned in court over how he obtained the tapes, but the damage to Flores was done: She lost to the candidate Bayly endorsed, center-leftist Susana Villarán.
Then Bayly picked a fight with Peru's current president, García, who had been elected for a second time after weathering past accusations of human rights abuses and embezzlement. Shortly after the September election, "The Sniper" set his sights on García in a column that ran in newspaper Peru21. This past December 6, Bayly described a dinner with García in which the president urged him to run for office. When Bayly protested that the job paid too little, García allegedly said: "Don't be an idiot. The money arrives on its own." In the column, Bayly also claimed García's comments were a "subtle and deceitful way of saying that the money arrives under the table, in suitcases, in bribes, and secret accounts."
According to Bayly, García also threatened to use the army to stop Ollanta Humala from taking office if the leftist candidate wins in 2011. García has since said his comments were taken out of context, but it's too late. This year's election has been thrown wide open.
"Those two revelations have caused a minor scandal here," says Vivas. "So even when he's not on TV in Peru anymore, he can stir things up with his newspaper columns. And his columns have started ringing much truer than in the past. Before, they were more works of literature, but recently, his columns have become more of a settling of personal accounts."
Jaime Bayly may be a good journalist, but he's a fickle friend and phlegmatic lover. He has built a career out of criticizing anyone and everyone, but he rarely forgives even small slights. The double standard stems from his romanticization of writing. Any good artist, he argues, is ultimately self-loathing and alone.
"I was always the kid at the party who still wasn't totally comfortable being there," he says. "A writer is always an outcast, a menace, a party pooper — the guy who is in the party but afterward tells all the secrets he saw or heard. That's my life."
The secrets Bayly has revealed haven't nailed just politicians. They've also hurt friends and family. In 2008, two years after his father died of cancer, Bayly interviewed his mother on El Francotirador in Peru. During the hourlong show, Letts admitted that her son's first novel had stung her and her family.
Bayly has also burned many in the journalism world. The night after his testy interview with María Antonieta Collins — who had appeared on his show several times before — Bayly called her "an annoying old lady" and said she had "the IQ of a bird, but not a crow, because they are actually quite smart."
In September 2008, Bayly was nearly fired from Mega TV after complaining on-air for 18 minutes about the temperature of the television studio. The signal was cut when he claimed the station was violating his contract. An on-air makeup with Mega TV Chief Executive Cynthia Hudson the next night saved his job. While some viewers took the fight as a publicity stunt, Bayly says the tension between the two contributed to his leaving the station in 2009. He returned only after Hudson moved to CNN en Español. (Hudson declined comment.)
Then there's José Manuel Rodríguez, a close friend at Mega who helped persuade Bayly not to quit over the spat with Hudson. When Bayly was in the hospital for a week after undergoing an emergency liver operation in February 2009, he accused Rodríguez of trying to steal his show. Bayly now calls Rodríguez a "backstabber" and a "traitor" because he cohosted in Bayly's absence.
"[Rodríguez] thought I wasn't coming back, that I was going to die," Bayly claims bitterly. "He thought: This is my chance to become famous. Of course, he failed, and they fired him because he did a lousy job. But it was painful for me to see someone who I consider a friend taking advantage of my bad health and trying to be me on TV.