By: E&P Staff
The case of the Page Six gossip writer for the New York Post now accused of attempting to extort tens of thousands of dollars from a billionaire–who is presently trying to buy 12 Knight Ridder papers–has grown even more bizarre.
The question of who else might have worked out cozy deals with Page Six to keep their names off the page in a negative context has emerged–among other things.
Meanwhile, the investor, Ron Burkle, released a statement Friday declaring that despite this experience with a journalist he still admires newspapers.
Earlier, the writer, Jared Paul Stern, had been suspended from the Post pending the outcome of a federal investigation into whether he tried to extort money from Burkle. Stern, who worked as a freelancer for the newspaper?s Page Six column, is suspected of demanding $100,000 and an annual $10,000 stipend from Burkle in exchange for not writing negative stories about him.
The FBI probe continued to draw headlines on Sunday. In the latest development, The Daily News in New York, which broke the story on Friday, publlshed excerpts from tapes of an 81-minute chat between Stern and Burkle on March 31, 2006. Burkle’s comments on the tapes followed coaching by his attorneys and FBI agents.
Here are a few excerpts as provided by The Daily News.
Stern: “I didn’t want to spend my whole lifetime in a desk at Page Six, that isn’t something I want to do. … If I go out on a limb for you and something happens, you know, for whatever reason it comes out, this is terrible you know it turns out it was wrong because of me, you know my credibility is shot too, you know what I’m saying.”
Burkle: “It is ruining my reputation and it is driving me crazy. … So if you had been looking after me, what would the article about Gisele [Bundchen] have said?”
Stern: “Well, I think it would have been first of all kind of, ignored some kind of dating or relationship thing and b, there wouldn’t have been something … you know, I don’t think it was fair anyway.”
Burkle: “If you were in my shoes, if you had $220,000 about to shift from this side of the table to that side of the table, what is my year going to look like with protection and what is my year going to look like without protection?”
Stern: “I mean, let’s call it help. Protection I think is, you know, that adds overtones and stuff that uh …”
Burkle: “So you say I can buy it then?”
Stern: “Yup, I am just saying, you know there isn’t some, you know, we don’t have some fund to set up where you just, you know, you write a check to the fund and then you go on with business. You know what I mean? You need me to make that work. You need a strategy and someone to implement it to get everybody on your team.”
Burkle: “Maybe I ought to take [two Page Six staffers] to lunch and tell them, you know, sorry if I have done anything to offend them. Does that stop the articles?
Stern: “No, because first of all they have gotta want to let up on you and B, they have gotta, you know, have reasons to want to be your friend. It has gotta be the right perks.”
Burkle: “This has been ruining my reputation, ruining my personal life, ruining my business life. That is going to go on if I don’t do something?”
Stern: “There is no reason to think that it wouldn’t end.”
Burkle: “It has to stop and I need it to stop. But I am a business guy and I am a simple guy and it is $220,000 and it is only for 12 months …
Stern: “At the end of 12 months and before that, things, you know, you are in a position to where you will be a friend of the paper, friends of the people who work there and you won’t have that problem.”
Burkle: “So I get to choose today whether I want to be a friend or do I want to be an enemy?”
Stern: “Right, um.”
Burkle: “And if I choose to be a friend I need to pay you and if I choose to be an enemy, you just write things?”
Stern: “Yeah, I mean we can still be friends, but we’re not going to be as good friends.”
Burkle: “Maybe that’s what I need to be, maybe I only want to be a partial friend.”
Stern: “I think you need a real friend.”
Burkle: “So if I don’t do anything with you today, I stay on the same s—list?”
Burkle: “I know you don’t have an official list, but …”
Stern: “… On the antagonistic side, it could be worse. Is that clear?”
(Burkle said maybe he shouldn’t pay, that he should just take his chances.)
Stern: “Why is that?”
Burkle: “That is what I do for a living. That’s a lot of money.”
Stern: “It’s not that much.”
Burkle: “It is $220,000, a quarter of a million dollars for all intents and purposes, for 12 months, that’s a lot of money to most people.”
Stern: “Well, if, you know, it is not the kind of offer you get every day. It is not really anybody else who could and wouldn’t deal for it.”
Burkle took a phone call, and then said to Stern: “Take care and send those wire instructions right away.”
Stern: “I mean, it is a smart thing to do.”
Burkle: “Okay, I have never done anything like this before but I’ve never had bad press like this before either.”
Stern: “Well, it boils down to you gotta play the game if you want it to go away.”
The New York Times had reported on Saturday, “But while the accusations against Mr. Stern were serious, it was the specter ? raised by at least three people who said they knew what was on the tapes ? that Mr. Stern implicated several celebrities and New York power figures in an undisclosed, symbiotic relationship with Page Six that prompted an extraordinary day of full-throated and at times gleeful gossip among those who love, hate and avidly read it.
“Those who said they know what is on the tape said Mr. Stern named Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax films, and Ronald O. Perelman, the chairman of Revlon Inc., as among those who had finessed their coverage on the page. Through a spokesman, Mr. Weinstein flatly denied any improper relationship with the page and its main editor, Richard Johnson.”
The Times reported further: “According to numerous people involved in the episode, Mr. Stern agreed to meet face-to-face at Mr. Burkle’s loft in the Tribeca section of Manhattan on March 22. Mr. Burkle’s security team, aided by a New York City-based private investigations firm, recorded several meetings in the businessman’s loft over the last few weeks, according a person who was briefed on the sessions and was granted anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The recordings were turned over to federal authorities.”
Burkle’s representatives released the following statement on Friday:
“For more than a year, Mr. Burkle, his attorneys and other representatives have been complaining to New York Post editors, management and attorneys about the inaccurate items that have appeared about him in the Post’s Page Six column.
“After his representatives’ pleas produced no results, Mr. Burkle wrote a personal letter to the Post’s owner Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Burkle has repeatedly said that he understands that a person might not always like what is written about him, but that his complaints were not about unflattering items, but false ones. Unfortunately, even his plea to Mr. Murdoch appeared to fall on deaf ears.
“Mr. Burkle said that while he has been asked not to discuss the details of Mr. Stern’s conversation with him — because of the ongoing investigation — he did say that the story in the NY Daily News (today) was accurate and that he was shocked angered and saddened by what he heard.
“‘Corporate governance is not just for the boardrooms,” Mr. Burkle said. ‘It is also important in the newsrooms. I am a big believer in the fourth estate. I feel strongly that honest, hardworking journalists make a major
contribution to a free society.'”