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Irony In Action

Don't know if out-of-towners are following this, but there is at the moment a scandal raging around New York City's very own Murdoch-owned, right-wing rag, the New York Post. The Post's famous gossip section is called "Page Six". A part-time writer for that section, Jared Paul Stern, has been caught on tape trying to shakedown publicity shy billionaire Ronald W. Burkle, offering to keep his name out of the gossip section in exchange for some pretty impressive remuneration. In short, we're talking an extortion racket, here. Stern offered "protection" -- i.e., keeping Burkle's name out of the gossip column -- for $100,000 up front and $10,000 a month thereafter.

Worse, excerpts from the tapes printed in this morning's Daily News offer tantalizing suggestions that this isn't just Stern running a racket here. There are hints that other "protection" arrangements have been made.

Blake Fleetwood writing at the "Huffington Post" adds detail:

This past summer I called Richard Johnson, Editor of Page Six, with what I thought would be a gossipy bit of dirt, just up their alley, exposing the foibles of the rich and powerful.

Ed Klein, who was getting much attention for a rumor filled smear book about Hillary Clinton, had been my editor at the New York Times Magazine. At one editorial meeting Klein bragged to me that Lou Rudin, a powerful NYC landlord, who was lobbying against rent control laws at the time, had recently given him a large rent controlled Park Avenue apartment for a few hundred dollars per month.

In New York City a large rent controlled prewar apartment, with lifetime tenancy, is literally worth millions. Klein explained that Rudin, head of the Association for a Better New York, had lots of rent regulated apartments (real cheap) that he gave out to journalists, celebrities, and public officials. No specific quid pro quo was made, but it was kind of understood. When Lou called with a story, or something he wanted, you were expected to take his phone calls. He was a master at the game.

So, in a not so generous mood, I thought that Klein, after digging up all that dirt on Hillary Clinton, deserved a little payback. But Richard Johnson was not impressed.

"Everyone does it," Johnson told me. "Its not news. Rudin is very generous. He gives out lots of cheap apartments to reporters and people on the City and State payroll."

"In fact years ago, he gave me a cheap (rent controlled) apartment on the Upper West Side." Johnson said as if to emphasize how common the practice is.

Lots of news outlets are covering this, so I wanted to see what the Post itself was saying about it.

This morning, not a word.

But I did find an editorial called "A Damning Silence". The particular silence here is not, of course, the Post's silence on its "Page Six" racket.

And in a final twist, the Post offers this morning a review of Eric Burns' Infamous Scribblers, a recap of the vile and slanderous and "pay to play" roots of American Journalism. Burns is host of Murdoch's Fox News Channel's "Media Watch".

I've heard Burns interviewed about his book. It sounds fun and interesting. He's obviously fascinated by the topic and seems a skilled observer of the phenomenon of corrupt journalism. Perhaps he can thank working for Murdoch for that.

As they say: "Write what you know." Except, of course, as far as the Post is concerned, when it means reporting on your own corruption.


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Sigh. I have maintained since the late '70s that the NY Post is not a trustworthy source of anything, including puppy-litter, so I'm not surprised; the wonder is that major journalistic scandals haven't erupted there biennially.

(Purest schadenfreude, by the way. Har!)

Yeah, and the Daily News is getting a lot of joy-at-the-discomort-of-another mileage out of this thing. Fairly amusing to watch.

To hell with all this journalistic ethics stuff! What did that Burkle character do that's worth $100K up front and $10K/mo thereafter? Enquiring minds want to know!

What did that Burkle character do that's worth $100K up front and $10K/mo thereafter?

Heh. The further irony is that (a) the gossip about him was so mild I found it difficult to believe it could make it into Page Six at all, and (b) Burkle pointed out to Page Six that none of it was true anyway.

I think they said he was being seen around town with some hot babe, and that he had given a ride to Spiderman Toby Maguire in his private jet to a New Year's vacation in Colorado, or something. I was sitting there puzzled, trying to figure out, what, they think he has a crush on Toby Maguire or something? Why are they putting this in the paper?

I don't really get gossip. I don't get why this billionaire was so bothered by it. I understand how extortion works, though. It's basically a standard, run-of-the-mill economic transaction, not unlike buying insurance. Nice work if you can get it, I guess. Well, except for the prison part, of course.

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