Payoffs and Lap Dances

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with ‘Minding the Media.’

I sometimes take a gander at The New York Post. Not for its coverage of the news, of course. For that we have real newspapers.

But because it’s so determined to splash people’s indiscretions and failures across its pages, the more salacious the better. It’s a view from the gutter, sure, but it relieves the tedium of really bad news about Iraq, the White House and hapless nonentities like Alberto Gonzalez.

Since the writers and editors at The Post spend so much time happily skewering everyone else, you’d think they themselves would be above reproach.

And you’d be dreaming.

Last week a former Post reporter said his old boss, Page Six editor Richard Johnson, accepted money from a restaurateur after publishing positive items about the restaurant.

Johnson also attended an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico for a $50,000 bachelor party thrown for him by “Girls Gone Wild” producer Joe Francis, after which Francis was described on Page Six as “the next Hugh Hefner.”

The Post’s editor, Col Allan, was “said to have received sexual favors” from strippers at a New York club.
And Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Post and is trying to buy The Wall Street Journal, apparently ordered Page Six to spike stories critical of China, where he does a lot of business.

We’ve heard some of this stuff before, but as David Carr wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, the reminders about them last week were “remarkably ill-timed.”

Murdoch “is in the midst of a public makeover from ruthless mogul to reverent steward of the news,” Carr wrote. “So while there’s fun to be had with the allegations of payoffs and lap dances… the paper’s alleged behavior raises serious implications for Mr. Murdoch’s plans to buy The Journal.”

“If you were a member of the Bancroft family,” which owns The Journal’s parent company and is trying to decide whether to part with it, reading Friday’s New York Post “might have made you choke on your bagel.”

That’s when Page Six ran its own item about the accusations against it, evidently a pre-emptive strike to avoid the appearance of being on the defensive.

The allegations came from Ian Spiegelman, who was fired as a Page Six reporter three years ago. He spoke up at the request of another former Post reporter, Jared Paul Stern, who was forced to leave the paper after being accused of blackmailing the grocery-store tycoon Ron Burkle in exchange for favorable coverage.

Spiegelman said that “accepting freebies, graft and other favors was not only condoned… but encouraged as a way to decrease the newspaper’s out-of-pocket expenses.”

In its story on Friday, The Post called Spiegelman’s allegations “outlandish,” but then acknowledged at least some of them.

It said that Johnson, the Page Six editor, had accepted $1,000 from restaurateur Nello Balan, a frequent Page Six subject, as a “Christmas gift.” The paper said it was used “for a big day of drinking by the staff.”
Johnson paid for his own flight to Mexico for the “Girls Gone Wild” party, the paper said, and it quoted Col Allan as saying his behavior at the strip club had been “beyond reproach.”

But the paper didn’t deny several of Spiegelman’s allegations, including one that said Murdoch cancelled the publication of a book by a former Hong Kong governor that was critical of the Beijing regime. Instead, Murdoch ordered up a “stunningly awful” biography on Deng Xiaoping, authored by the Communist Party boss’s own daughter, who was paid a $1 million advance.

Post spokesman Howard Rubenstein told Carr the paper ran its own story on the allegations so that its “denial would not be relegated to the last paragraph of a story in some other newspaper where all they would get to say is, ‘We didn’t do it.’ ”

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, ‘Minding the Media’ on KCRW.



Nick Madigan