In case you missed the front cover of the NY Post yesterday, actor Alec Baldwin was involved in a highly publicized physical confrontation with a Post photographer on Sunday. Baldwin claims the photographer purposefully banged into him outside his East Village apartment, while the photographer (and a Post reporter) claim Baldwin used a racial epithet. It'd be easy to chalk this up as yet another example of Baldwin—who has a notoriously public history of unhappy run-ins with paparazzi—being "hot-tempered," as the Post put it. Handling the paparazzi is something Baldwin admits can be a weakness for him: "The one element of culpability I have is I did let it get to me, and I have been confrontational with them. I have said 'fuck you,'" Baldwin told us yesterday.

Dealing poorly with people who regularly go out of their way to bait you because they know you are (historically) prone to such outbursts is an unfortunate side-effect of being Alec Baldwin. But he vehemently denies that he ever used any racial epithet. And though he sometimes loses his temper when he feels his wife or daughter are being threatened, he is very conscious of everything he says, even in the heat of the moment.

2013_01_ghostbaldwin.jpg
Baldwin hiding from paparazzi in a sheet last summer (Pacific Coast News)

We asked Baldwin if his reputation for flying off the handle is merited. "I want to own my responsibility, which is that I've reacted badly to what they've done to me from time to time," Baldwin replied. "Other times I glide through and don't care. They can say whatever they want about me and I couldn't care less. The Post can say I'm the shittiest actor and I'm a commie...Where I take responsibility is that I have let it get to me from time to time. And that I have to own. I really do have to own it."

Over the course of three phone calls and one lengthy conversation in the East Village over the last 24 hours, we've gotten an intimate look into Baldwin's mindset during this latest scandal. The stakes have been raised this time though: Post photographer G.N. Miller, a retired NYPD detective, is claiming Baldwin called him a "coon." The Post published an article today doubling down on that, stating that the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit is now "investigating" this; police confirmed to us that the unit is "investigating whether there was a possible racial bias used," and when asked for comment, the NY Post's reply was, "The POST has no comment beyond our published report."

This all comes despite the fact that TMZ—an outlet Baldwin has seemingly little love for—claims to have heard the tapes, and they say, "there is NO mention of a racial slur on the tape." Baldwin seems truly perplexed by the term that was attributed to him: "If [Miller] is gonna pull a word out of thin air and ascribe it to me, what word does he choose? I thought that was fascinating. That word in particular...what a ham-fisted thing for him to do." Baldwin, who grew up on the South Shore on Long Island ("I grew up around people who threw the N-word around fairly regularly"), added, "This is a word that no one in the greater New York area uses."

2013_01_baldwinbike.jpg
Pacific Coast News

While Baldwin is adamant that he never said any racial slur, he does admit there were some unsavory things he did say to Miller and Post reporter Tara Palmeri: "I said, I hope you choke to death," he told us. What was lost in the Post's account of the incident was that he meant it facetiously—he did admit it was a "hateful" comment, but not a serious one. He also says the Post got the quote wrong in their front page story, quoting him initially as saying the much more direct, "I want to choke you to death," even though they were recording the whole interaction. They have since corrected that quote in their latest story.

"[Palmeri] came up to me with a big smile, a big loopy look on her face. She said, "Is there anything you want to say to us?" A very anemic question. I put my hand on her shoulder very lightly. I was really sweet. And I said, 'Yes actually, I want you to choke to death.' And I cross the street and I laugh. And maybe people don't find that funny, that's okay."

Baldwin was out walking his dogs Sunday morning, Feb. 17th, when the exchange occurred. The Post was following him trying to get comment and photos due to the recent lawsuit against his wife, Hilaria Thomas. "It's important to remember they take advantage when you have your dogs," Baldwin said. "You can't run...the dogs are there to do their business. When there's a pack of these reporters, I want to make sure they don't step on my dog, or force me to step on my dog, which they'd love that. They'd love to get that."

He said Miller followed him down University Place and kept shoving his camera into his face. "I want to say on the record that I've had a lot of experience with this, and I've never had someone do it as blatantly as him," Baldwin noted. "He was within inches of my face with the lens, antagonizing me." Baldwin said he told Miller, "Don't fuck with me," to which Miller responded, "You don't want to fuck with me man, you don't want to fuck with me. I'm too big for you."

At this point in the interaction, Baldwin felt threatened—Baldwin recited the NY State Law definition of assault and battery for us: "I don't have to wait for your fist to hit me in the face, for me to believe you're going to hit me," he explained. "If you lead me to believe that physical harm to me is imminent, that's assault. Battery is when you hit me. That's why they divide it between assault and battery. So when these guys get their cameras in my face I believe I'm being assaulted by them."

Baldwin physically reenacted what happened next, using us to demonstrate how Miller banged into him with his shoulder as he tried to pass him. He said it was a very deliberate provocation, and we can say that if Miller was hit with anywhere near the force with which Baldwin hit us, it was certainly no accident. Miller told the Post that Baldwin bumped him in the chest.

As the Post reported, Baldwin also called Miller a "crackhead" and "drug dealer"—although once again, just like the "choke" comment, Baldwin insists context is crucial to understanding what he meant. "He said he was ex-NYPD and I said, 'you don't look like ex-NYPD to me," Baldwin told us. "I said there's no way that any self-respecting ex-NYPD officer would become a paparazzi. I said, 'What job did you really want to have that you didn't get that you're doing this job?' That's my common line I say to them. And I said, 'What's next for you, drug dealer?'"

Baldwin admitted to referring to Miller again in a Tweet—Twitter is the venue he uses to vent in public—as a "crackhead," which he soon deleted. Confusingly, he also referred to Miller as "Ralston" (the Post wrote, "It is unclear why Baldwin called the photographer “Ralston”). We asked him about that: "He makes up names for all paparazzi. It doesn't matter, it could be Bob," his wife said while laughing. "Ralston's a nice name, we were thinking about that for our baby."

"Maybe I have more in common with Bush then I thought I did," Baldwin concluded. "Giving these nicknames, like Bush apparently did. I give all the paparazzi nicknames."

Baldwin was clearly shocked when he learned Sunday evening that Miller was planning to accuse him of using the racist epithet. As he put it in a tweet that night, "Why did the photographer make no mention of this when the cops showed up? Cops make rather good witnesses."

Everything is completely he said/he said right now, with one exception—the Post noted in their initial story that Baldwin approached "a dad pushing his child in a stroller" to say something about Miller. “He was saying some serious racist stuff,” Miller told the Post. “He said some choice words about my mother, and he was telling people in the street that I’m a drug dealer."

That witness, who asked that we identify him only by his first name, Jamie, wrote a letter to the cops on behalf of Baldwin, and is being interviewed by investigators today at the Hate Crime Unit. We've contacted him to speak about the incident, and will update if and when that happens.

2013_01_alechil30rock.jpg
Getty Images

Baldwin is not paranoid about the press, but he is certainly not trusting—at least with what could be called the "right-wing" press, such as the Post and Fox News. Baldwin, who mentioned that he deletes his texts and a lot of his emails, believes much of the animosity between the two sides stems from his outspoken liberal political views: "If I comment about the hacking scandal, if I talk about the Leveson inquiry, I think a lot of what happens winds up being payback for that kind of thing," he told us. "If I say the Post is the worst paper in the world, if I spit on the Post in any way or criticize them, they have this reaction, what I characterize as a 'swiftboating' technique. They're going to take something about you, the Big Lie, and they're gonna say—and I've never had an issue with this in my life previously—something like, 'this person is a racist.'"

Obviously talking in terms like "the Big Lie" sounds paranoid at first—but when you step back from the he said/he said of the incident, you realize someone really is lying, and they're sticking to their guns. Either Baldwin said this racial epithet and lied to our faces, or Miller is prepared to go through with an even bigger lie—albeit one where he is backed up by the considerable resources of the Rupert Murdoch-owned NY Post. Even if this case never does go to court (Baldwin has filed an assault complaint, Miller has filed a harassment complaint) and even if it fades into the background like other disposable celebrity confrontations, the only memory of this incident for people half-paying attention will be a negative one of Baldwin (unless Miller recants his side of the story entirely).

Yet that part doesn't seem to bother Baldwin so much. He describes living in two worlds: one in which he has to deal with paparazzi and the "swiftboating school," and the other in which he is a celebrated philanthropist. "I'm forever going into rooms in which...I'm not going to say I'm given the Nobel Prize or I'm treated like I'm [Innocence Project founder] Barry Scheck. I'm not some Civil Rights hero, you know what I mean? But I'm forever involved in organizations I care about, and everything is fine [in that world]. And then I have this other world [in which they try to] bring you down in some way."

His wife is more sensitive to it though: "These people are so vicious," Thomas told us. "The things they do to us—I had bruises up and down my arms right before we got married, because they attacked [me] right outside." She described an experience from Monday morning in which a photographer blocked her as she tried to get into her building. "They'll get so close to you that [you feel] they're going to hit you, and it just happens."

2013_01_alechiljune.jpg
Getty Images

There was a word that did not come up in any of our conversations, but seems to lurk behind all of Baldwin's run-ins with paparazzi: respect. Respect is something he clearly feels is lacking from the Post's journalistic standards. He brought up his wife's lawsuit, and pointed to the Post's article on it from Sunday in which they noted, "A spokesman for Hilaria declined to comment" (Update: the original Post piece said the rep for Hilaria "did not return calls"—that wasn't changed until late Sunday afternoon). Both Baldwin and Thomas said that was a blatant lie, and they have the text messages to prove it: "Her publicist had text exchanges with the writer," Baldwin noted. "What they said is a lie. That can be proven."

Respect is also something that Baldwin very clearly feels has not been afforded to him by the Post: "I make appointments with the press all the time. I'm in front of the press all the time. I do press junkets, Letterman—I mean those are more managed, but I'm in front of reporters with cameras all the time. I'm not a difficult 'get.' I'm not Johnny Depp living over in Paris." That's something we've now learned first-hand.

But that availability may change soon—maybe not so much because of this latest incident, maybe more because his wife is pregnant with his second child and he plans to devote his time to raising that kid. But Baldwin seems resigned to the fact that he will never be able to live his life as a "regular" New Yorker.

"I'll tell you this other thing: a lot of people I know in this business, they live a certain life," he told us. "I don't judge them, I don't condemn them—they just live a certain life. They step out of an SUV with four bodyguards in headsets and midnight blue suits who are all ex-linebackers from the NFL, and they just pulse 'celebrity celebrity celebrity.' And I've never done that. I've tried to live my life like a regular New Yorker."

The term 'regular' is also open to interpretation: he has a car and driver that take him to work, but he says that's only because it helps him "cram as much into the day" as possible. And there is nothing regular about walking out of your apartment and being hollered at by someone in a random car... who turns out to be actor Chris Noth (which is actually what happened when we met Baldwin last night). But Baldwin described a moment this weekend when he bemoaned to his wife about not getting out of the house quick enough to take the subway up to 90th and Central Park West for the day: "When I have time, I like to live the New York life in a more authentic way. It's not all tinted windows and that kind of thing to me."

"And sometimes I think maybe that was a mistake." Trying to live what he calls "a more normal life" doesn't seem realistic anymore. "Now that my wife is going to have a baby, that's probably going to change dramatically. It's a shame."