By: Joe Strupp
James Brady, the longtime celebrity and business columnist who essentially invented Page Six as a Rupert Murdoch executive more than 25 years ago, said Sunday that the gossip franchise will likely survive its latest scandal. But he said some changes in its approach may need to be made.
?I certainly don?t think it is irreversible,? Brady told E&P during a phone interview from his East Hampton, N.Y. home. ?I think it is embarrassing. But to my knowledge, if it doesn?t go any further than Stern, it is an aberration. If he did what he is accused of doing, he is a bad guy and ought to be canned.?
The Stern to whom he is referring is Jared Paul Stern, the Page Six contributor accused of soliciting bribes from a California billionaire in exchange for protecting his name from negative gossip items in the New York Post?s famed gossip sheet. Stern has been suspended from the paper while an investigation into his alleged solicitation of money from billionaire Ron Burkle (who is presently involved in an effort to buy 12 Knight Ridder newspapers) is conducted.
Brady, the former Parade and Crain?s columnist, who now pens a weekly column for Forbes.com, created Page Six for the Post in 1977 while working for Murdoch. After leaving to run New York magazine soon after, Brady returned to the Post in 1980 and oversaw the gossip report for nearly three more years.
?We wanted it to be a kind of gossip column that would have an editor to impose an ideology and a unity of items provided by different members of the [Post] staff,? Brady recalled, noting that the Page Six name was a temporary title that stuck. He based it at the time on the Daily Express of London and its gossip columns by William Hickey.
Since then, the gossip page has grown in to what many consider the top insider report of celebrity, scandal and personal tidbits (although it is no longer actually on page six). Brady believes, despite the black eye of the Stern revelations ? if proven true ? the gossip franchise will live on.
?I think it is going to bounce back,? Brady said Sunday. ?If there is any conflict of interest that [Page Six Editor] Richard Johnson has benefited, the Post has to crack down on those and set up rules. But those are just allegations. They may have to put in some new rules.?
One change Brady suggested was to eliminate so-called ?blind items? ? those titillating briefs that do not name specific targets, but describe them as ?a certain NY sports figure? or ?a well-known blonde anchorman.?
?I don?t believe in blind items,? Brady said. ?They are sloppy journalism and don?t belong there.? Brady said such incomplete briefs bring anyone sharing the same description as the target under unfair scrutiny. He noted that a blind item about ?a certain news executive? brings all news executives under suspicion. ?You blur the name of all of them,? he said.
Brady also took the Post to task for not playing the scandal up first on its own. ?Their headline should have been, ?Scandal On Page Six, Read All About It, Exclusive,?? he said. ?That would have been a lot of fun. But they didn?t and they also sort of distanced themselves from Stern in a bad way.? He said they made it appear that Stern was less of a regular Page Six source than he really was.
Brady also said it was not surprising that the Post is getting some extra attention from those it has picked on in the past, such as The New York Times and rival Daily News. ?It is a delicious story. I can see why they are having a good time,? he said of the Post?s critics in the press. ?The Post is very hard-hitting and it needles the Times any time the Times does something wrong. And they have been harassing the Newsday folks over phony circulation figures. So it is natural that the other newspapers are salivating over this news.?
Still, Brady stresses that if the scandal does not go beyond Stern, Page Six will live on. ?It does damage to Mr. Stern, but I don?t think you tar the entire paper or the entire Page Six, that they are all all bad,? he said. ?Because they ain?t.?