By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Under the volcano

My first thought about the New York Post gossip-column scandal is that Gayle Fee, Laura Raposa, Carol Beggy and Mark Shanahan must be eating their hearts out — or faxing their résumés to New York. Why shouldn’t they lust after some boodle of their own?

My second is that Jared Paul Stern, the gossip columnist charged with attempting to shake down billionare Ronald Burkle for $220,000, must feel like someone who’s been thrown into the volcano in a desperate attempt to appease the gods. It’s not that what Stern is accused of isn’t reprehensible — it is. It’s just that he doesn’t look a whole lot worse, qualitatively or quantitatively, than his fellow Page Six gossips. Especially his editor.

The Post’s archrival, the New York Daily News, broke the story last week (technically, the Post itself broke it on its own Web site), reporting that Stern and Burkle had met over Burkle’s complaints that Page Six was writing unflattering fiction about him. According to the Daily News, Stern responded that a $100,000 down payment and $10,000 in 12 monthly installments could ensure him all the good coverage he wanted.

But the thing is, no one is coming out of this looking good. On Sunday, for instance, the Daily News reported that Page Six editor Richard Johnson and his staff are regularly lavished with high-value gifts. The story continues:

Johnson was feted at a bachelor party last month that cost in excess of $50,000 hosted by soft-core porn king Joe Francis at his palatial estate in Punta Mita, on Mexico’s glorious Pacific coast. More than 2,000 miles from New York, the resort area boasts 343 days of 80-degree sunshine.

Francis, 32, producer of the topless “Girls Gone Wild” spring-break video series, flew the party from New York on his private jet. Francis appears regularly in the column, almost always in a positive way.

Johnson also got a free trip to the Academy Awards last month, paid for by ABC and Mercedes-Benz. The trip included first-class airfare, a three-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel and a car and driver.

Johnson may not have taken money, but it sounds like virtually nothing else is out of bounds.

You might expect that the New York Times would react to all this with bemused attachment. Well, bemused, yes; detached, not at all. The Times has been riding this story since the moment it broke, and its editors appear to be enjoying themselves at least as much as Daily News editor Martin Dunn, who, by the way, was the Boston Herald’s editor for about 15 minutes during the early 1990s.

In this Times account of Stern’s being caught on tape, Stern told Burkle that a business executive (reported elsewhere as Ronald Perelman) bought himself good coverage by hiring Johnson’s fiancée (now wife) — and that media mogul Harvey Weinstein had helped himself by publishing books written by Page Six gossips and had put Johnson to work on a screenplay.

OK, Stern’s not the greatest source. But the bit about Burke’s fiancée is true. And it ought to be easy enough to verify the Weinstein stuff — as I hope the Times did before publishing it. Otherwise, the Times would be no better than a blog.

Seen in this light, Stern’s claim that he was not soliciting cash but, rather, an investment by Burkle in his clothing line strikes me not as sleazy behavior that makes him different from Johnson but, rather, sleazy behavior that makes him very much like Johnson.

If Stern is telling the truth, then I see no particular reason why he ought to be singled out. I say the gods at the bottom of the volcano ought to demand the whole lot of them.

Journalists and math: Not a good mix. An earlier error has now been fixed. Thank you, Mike.


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5 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I am glad this story came out but really, this is no big surprise. We all suspect this is going on when a few favorite celebrities keep reapearing and others we know are just as wild and controversial are never ‘covered.'(I shudder at the mention of Johnson as an ‘editor.’ My God, what a crass way to bring all editors down to an unspeakable level)What I am really curious about is how Fox covers the story. How does O’Reilly deal with it? He loves to rail against ‘character assassins’ ans ‘smear merchants’ in the ‘liberal media’ Let’s see what he says about his own co-workers who are caught by the Feds literally doing what he ‘crusades’ against. Even if he wants to talk about it, how much leash does Fox allow him if at all?I have described Fox repeatedly as a fundamentally dishonest company with no ethics or Journalism mission. It is a crass management style. A crass brand of pseudo-journalism. A crass brnad of political thought/op-ed-driven idelogical activism. This is not limited to the States but MOST profitable in the States.There was barely a mention of this story on the Foxnews.com or Fox many programs this weekend.Without the Pagesix and sports sections, the Post would be toast. Their op-ed columnists have proven to be wrong on just about every issue and are crass blowhards no one is listening to anymore, like a bunch of hollering fools in the middle of some lonely woods somewhere.How about this other beautiful story that never got a mention on Fox anywhere:http://www.nydailynews.com/business/story/404520p-342585c.htmlI thought the recent circulation probes had curtailed these practices. I was wrong again. I guess when you have a con artist’s blood running thourgh your veins, you can never shake off the ‘habits’ the lying, the deception and the unethical behavior. Murdoch’s companies and way of doing business, trickling down through to his proteges like Ailes and Purcell, are what they are. There is no point in wishing they’d change or wake up. They are what they are. Sleaze defined.So, let’s close the circle: if News Corp doesn’t have high Journalism standards or real zeal for reporting the facts for people’s benefit and it has huge problems finding enough dupes/buyers for the copies it already prints, why does it need extra capacity plans to print in the Boston area? Why can’t they shuttle those copies down here? Or are they going to have a New England edition tailored to capture more money from this area’s dupes/advertisers?Or was it just a well-timed posturing move to stick it to an ailing Herald Media?Or is it just another little way to leverage thier ‘brand’ name around this area with eyes on development plans in Southie: Increase attention to area => will facilitate official and public acceptance of their plans and presence. Fool the public that you do business here, you have publishing presence and want to be a community ‘pillar’ (full of fissures of course.)So what’s up, ‘Doch?N.

  2. mike_b1

    Dan, that should be $100,000 down and $10,000 in 12 monthly installments.

  3. Anonymous

    This is such a fun subject, let’s toss the ball some more:Let me direct you to the NYpost’s front page today Monday April 10th, 2006 @ http://www.nypost.com/frontback.htmlFor all the signs of a crass self-serving idiotic publication that was once described by the Big O, New Yorks version of crassness Bill O’reilly not Ordway, our local crassness) as one of the world’s best newspapers. He was asked I believe by Rose if the NYT is not the most eminent paper, who is and the NYpost and Washtimes were among his candidates.But anyway, so on the front page, you see:- The Flag. Of course. Indispensable. As shiny and gleaming as the lapels on every Fox Tv personality. ‘Nuff said on that disturbing sign of crooks taking over patriotism and American Values as their own, supposedly. They care about neither.- 25 Cents per copy: Now, you know they want to give it away for free. They want to reach as many butts out their to mollify disillusioned advertisers. But ‘Free’ would be too hard of a hit on their ego, I guess. 25 cents, 50 cents or a dollar is irrelevant to either the paper or the buyer. It doesn’t even cover the cost of printing and it is not prohibitve for readers to pay if they really want to read the paper. Many don’t even think twice about paying a dollar for the NYT or WSJ or more for their weekend editions when they know they are getting serious journalism and meaningful content even if you disagree with some of it. But these desperate cons of the NYpost can’t even beg their way to the front of people’s eyes. Crass and desperate.- A scratch-off contest. First of all the NY Daily news started this a few weeks ago; so not to be outdone, the Post had to copy it too. If people don’t go to you for great coverage of news and issues, then you gotta try to grab them with the hope of 200Gs (payable in a 40-year annuity or such nonsense.) That alone is telling on the state of the NYToast. Nothing better to remind people that you are a Tabloid, through and through.- “Wolf Pack” Another sensationalist story about a sad passing of a young mugging victim. Now there are tons of really pressing stories out there, including the president’s leak probe and they favor crap like this and what really caught my attention is: what ever happened to sheltering youth’s faces and identities if they are younger than 16? The attackers are about 13 and 15 and they splash their faces and names right across the front page with a scary headline. Nice Job, Rupe. No wonder your name is so close to Rupee, another money reference. The heck with ethics. “Give me ads or Give me death” The Great Rupe- Mets Coverage: Now, since when are the Mets the favorite team of NYpost baseball coverage. They have always been about Yankee coverage. And ever since the big makeoer at Shea and the groggy performance of the bloated Yankees over the last couple of years, they defected from their favorite sports subject and money maker as well. The Post’s coverage of the NY Jets, the Knicks or the Islanders or Rangers has never, ever been more famous or sought-after than the Yankees’. The Yanks ruled on Nypost pages…that until there is just as much money that could be made with/from just-as-cash-flush Mets, rejuvenated and more entertaining to watch as they are (Sorry Mark J.)’Shows you , there is no loyalty in ‘Doch’s land. It’ is all about BottomLine.- Subscription Phone#: How desperate do you have to be that you have to use up precious front or back space to urge people to subscribe? If people really want them, they’d know how to find your subscription dept. I am glad many are not.I disagree vehemently with one of Dan’s recent pet theories that Newspapers are headed to a scrapping hole in favor of online presence.Maybe we can morph that and make it an axiom only for poor performers that are worthless and shouldn’t be called ‘Newspapers’ since the last thing on their minds is the ‘news.’Maybe the Post and Herald would do well or better if they closed shop and published only online. Cut that overhead and have a lot more flexibilty. Maybe we should apply Dan’s advice to the crass brands and tabloids first. Maybe it would give them a better paltform and create breathing room for more legit papers on the stand.N.

  4. Specks

    Compost dialogues – written and uttered – are the business plan of NewsCorp in the USA. Pandering to the lowest common denominator and pulling all down to their sinking levels seems to fail.

  5. Anonymous

    Addendum:After I wrote my post, I saw the NYPOst Edition sold in New England and there are a couple fo differences, not redeeming ones, but worth mentioning nonetheless:- The Scratch and Win section is replaced by two boxes: -1 One headlined “The [L]ip [G]loss [D]iet” It was uncapped and I am not sure why they don’t cap nouns; does it save on ink or space??? Still, a very fitting subject and choice of words for a Tabloid of all tabloids. Vacuous rag! -2 The other reads “Yank dirt for sale” again uncapped around a drawing of what looks like a tombstone marker with a yankee shirt rather than mound dirt. Not a great omen for MJ i guess for his beloved team, but most importantly an indicator for how the Post views its prospects with Exclusive Yankee Coverage we touched on earlier.- The price listed and sought for this edition is the full 50 cents. So they don’t want to appear as desperate as they are on the New York scene.

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