By: Joe Strupp
Jared Paul Stern, the suspended Page Six gossip writer accused of trying to extort tens of thousands of dollars from a California billionaire, said he is surprised that more journalists did not come to his defense when the accusations were first put forth.
“I guess it shows how effective the smear campaign was at first,” Stern, 35, told E&P during a phone interview from his Upstate New York home Tuesday. “I was surprised that the coverage wasn’t a little more balanced.” He said the hostility against him will eventually “rebound.”
Referring to the excerpts from surveillance tapes that have emerged, he said, “We could talk on the phone for three hours and I could take a scissors and edit it and make you sound like Osama bin Laden.”
Asked if the attention to this incident had helped sales of his clothing line, Stern jokingly offered thanks to the New York Daily News for linking to his Web site, www.skullandbonesjps.com. “It is not anything insane, but a lot of orders have come in,” he said. “A minor flood.”
Stern, who is alleged to have sought more than $200,000 from California billionaire Ron Burkle in videotaped conversations last month, also said he should have cut off the discussions with Burkle sooner after the business owner began to discuss his objections to the Post and a possible smear campaign against the paper.
“I should have woken up at that point. I could have wised up a little sooner, but I didn’t think of it,” Stern said, recalling the second of three meetings he had with Burkle several weeks ago. “He was threatening at one point to smear the New York Post. There is no excuse for me to still be sticking around after that. I didn’t realize that he meant it.”
Stern’s comments followed several days of heavy media coverage about his meetings with Burkle, which occurred in late March in Burkle’s home and were videotaped. Stories about the meeting have alleged that Stern sought a payoff from Burkle in exchange for keeping negative press about the billionaire out of the Post. Since the accusations became public, Stern, a part-time freelancer for the paper, has been suspended and an FBI investigation into the charges has continued.
Stern, who has contributed to the Post for 11 years, said he is innocent and believes he will be exonerated once the entire videotape of the meetings is reviewed. He also accuses Burkle of working with the Daily News to discredit him unfairly. Burkle denies this.
“I think that is where the focus is heading,” Stern said. “They attacked me and had their shot at a smear campaign and I think it is going to rebound. The truth is coming out.” On Burkle’s role, he added, “he handed it to them [the Daily News] on a platter, he handed them very inaccurate material and they weren’t too careful about parroting it – five minutes of heavily-edited material.”
Stern has not taken the past few days of accusations sitting down. Along with proclaiming his innocence to numerous media outlets in interviews, he has also been on an e-mail campaign with continuous messages to reporters offering links to stories and Web postings that call into question Burkle’s charges.
Burkle issued a statement Monday denying any set-up of Stern or other attempt to unfairly accuse him. “Regarding what occurred in the meetings between Messrs. Burkle and Stern, the tapes are very clear as to what Mr. Stern said and what he didn’t say,” the statement said. “They are also clear with respect to what Mr. Stern meant.”
Daily News officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Stern, who has run a clothing line for the past year out of his home, contends that he met with Burkle in an effort to seek an investment in the clothing company, Skull & Bones. He said he met Burkle last summer through a mutual friend, and eventually sold several dozen shirts to the businessman.
“We were discussing money, but it was about a clothing company,” Stern declares. “We were also talking about media strategy and the company he needed help with. He is the kind of guy anyone in the clothing business would give their right arm to meet with.”
But Stern stresses the conversation turned toward an obvious effort to get Stern to incriminate himself. “If anyone gets to hear the whole tape, it will be on there. He was trying to beg, trick, and bully me in to saying something, but it just wasn’t happening,” he said. “I should have cut it off a lot quicker, but it clouded my judgment.”
Stern said he is hoping to get his position back with Page Six once he is cleared, but said he had not spoken to anyone at the paper since his suspension. While he firmly says he did not and has never sought money for good or negative press, he admits that the gossip game is built on favors, and has to be. “It is based on relationships,” he explained. “The stuff is not what people want us to print, we have to dig it up through relationships. You have to be able to get things no one is to eager to give you.”
Stern said he had rarely received any gifts more valuable than flowers, “but it doesn’t mean we are going to alter coverage. It is not always material things.” He cited as an example pursuing one tip and being directed to another. “Say we call a publicist with something on their client and they say ‘we would rather not have that in, but here is a better story that is about someone else.’ We will go with the better story.”
Declining to comment on any legal action he may take, Stern said his attorney is “working on getting my name cleared,” adding that the coverage has been fueled by “innuendo and insinuation” by Burkle and the Daily News. He said it is too early to speculate on what legal avenues he may pursue, noting “I would not rule anything out.”
He also did not rule out pursuing his clothing line full-time if it takes off. “Clothing companies can do very well, it could be the next Ralph Lauren, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It is better than writing two days a week. I started the company because I wanted to build a business. It definitely has the potential to be huge. If it starts to make me a million dollars, I will not be doing freelance work.”
As for Page Six, Stern said this episode will likely help the gossip pages’ reputation once, as he believes, the Daily News and others are proven wrong. “At the end of the day, Page Six will be better known,” he said. “They are reading about it in China.”