In the Boston Phoenix, Reason contributor Harvey Silverglate dissects the case against "sleazy but not criminal" gossip hag Jared Paul Stern. The New York Post's erstwhile Page 6 star became the subject of an FBI investigation a few weeks back when it was revealed that he had put some pressure on supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle. Reviewing the full transcript of Stern's conversations with Burkle (during which Stern hinted at making Burkle a "friend of the paper" in exchange for some financial and editorial favors), Silverglate notes that the Feds don't seem to have anything substantial on Stern, and says The New York Times' prominent coverage of the fiasco shows the Grey Lady in full Judith Miller/Wen Ho Lee/Enron thralldom to leaks from the government:
What we're seeing is the kind of pitch that PR men and women make every day in the Big Apple and elsewhere. The only difference is that Stern, by playing on both teams, engaged in a nasty conflict of interest that should get him fired, but not indicted.
Silverglate overloads his case at points. He takes at face value Post editor in chief Col Allan's assertion that Stern was merely a twice-a-week contributor and thus unable to influence the paper's coverage. (Allan's ass-covering claim may be technically true, but even casual Page 6 readers know Stern was an important presence in the section.) He's also willfully naïve in one section:
More important, in additional transcript excerpts published by Post archrival the New York Daily News last Monday, Stern makes reasonably clear that he is not seeking to extort Burkle: "It is not a stickup," Stern assures the mogul at one point.
I may not be the most street-smart guy in America, but I know that when somebody says "It is not a stickup," that means it is a stickup. Which of course, doesn't mean that's prosecutable evidence. (You say something like that specifically because it isn't prosecutable, just as you'd speculate about what a shame it would be if some guy's store were to burn down.) In fact, the whole exchange reveals Stern to be even less innocent than I initially thought, clearly skirting Burkle's attempts to get him to say key words that carry legal overtones.
The point, however, is that he seems to have been successful in avoiding those keywords, and as Silverglate notes, there's not much here for the feds to work with. In fact, the first time I read that a heavily edited version of the tapes may have been released publicly because the FBI knew it didn't have a case was in…The New York Times.
Which may be the real key to the story. Nobody is upset at the Daily News for pushing the Stern story, because the Snooze is the Post's traditional rival. What may be the story here isn't that the Times is too comfortable with repeating misdirection from the authorities (hardly a new development), but that America's paper of record now sees itself as a rival of the New York Post.