I don’t know whether to laugh or puke. Crying has nothing to do with the stink being given off by the justifications Jared Paul Stern is offering for his recent dealings with supermarket magnate Ron Burkle. For the measly sum of $100,000 up front, and a $10,000 per month retainer, he offered the California billionaire freedom from the abuse that Stern’s employer, The New York Post, has been heaping on him via its “Page Six” society column.
Stern has taken refuge in the classic contemporary two-part rebuttal when one is caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Part one, claim to be framed or entrapped, and part two, justify it by saying, what does it matter? Everyone does it anyway.
For part one, he claims that it was Burkle who was continually trying to get him to use the word protection, that only selected bits of a three-hour conversation were released, the $100,000 was for a proposed investment in his clothing line, “Skull and Bones”, and the $10,000 per month for work as a media consultant. Besides that, he claims to have told Mr. Burkle that he didn’t need protection against lies being told him in “Page Six” stories because the column did not print them:
“If we do an item and we say, ‘There’s a rumour that so-and-so is doing something,’ it’s not inaccurate that there’s a rumour of something,” he said yesterday. “We report on what people are talking about.” Jared Paul Stern The Globe and Mail 2006-04-12
Somehow the printing of hearsay and innuendo has become not lying about a person as long as you say somebody is saying it’s gossip or a rumour. Does it matter who says it? If, for example, Mr. Stern’s editor says it to Mr. Stern, and Mr. Stern then runs a story saying, rumour has it that Mr. Burkle has sexual relations with farm animals, how is that not lying?
Anybody can say anything about anybody and preface it with “I heard”, or “rumour has it”, but that doesn’t make it true. Why print it if you don’t know whether or not you can substantiate what has been claimed? The only reason could be to damage the reputation of the person in question. There is no such thing as benign gossip or innuendo, so why do these people at “Page Six” think they are an exception?
Part two of the classic defence, the everybody else is doing it bit, is not only being wheeled out by Stern himself, but he actually has supporters who are rallying to his defence. Although I personally wonder who is going to take the words of a person who is referred to as a “gadabout” seriously anymore, (didn’t they go out of style with Bernie Wooster and the “anybody for tennis” crowd?) one Toby Young offered the following justification on his blog:
“Even if Stern is guilty as charged — and he maintains he’s guilty of nothing more serious than ‘an error of judgment’ — this is surely exactly the behaviour you’d expect of a Page Six reporter,” Young wrote. “In fact, it’s precisely because columns like Page Six give off such a pungent whiff of old-fashioned corruption that they’re read so avidly by media insiders.
That sort of comment takes your breath away. What kind of world do these people live in where they get their thrills out of reading the writing of people they know are lying, and trying to cheat others for money? Why would newspapers devote a millimetre of column space to these people, whose only claim to fame is they inherited money?
In response to reports that have surfaced of “Page Six” editor Richard Johnson and his staff having entered into arrangements of the kind proposed to Mr Burkle in the past, Stern’s comment cements his commitment to the everybody’s doing it alibi with his claim of, “You’ll see people on all levels and all kinds of publications doing that”… “It’s just not really a huge issue.”
Which is an interesting statement to be making when it goes against any ethical standards a newspaper needs to maintain if it wants to keep the trust of its readership. How much would you trust a news source if you thought that it had entered into “a relationship” with certain parties that offered soft coverage in exchange for financial considerations?
Maybe some of you think, like Mr. Stern does, that the coverage this story is receiving “is completely insane”, due to the fact that it’s only a gossip column. But that’s not the issue; the issue is the conduct of the people involved. Is this what we want from our journalists, people who think the truth is only another commodity to be bought and sold?
The people who inhabit the world that Jared Stern writes about are the leaders of industry and the wealthiest individuals on the face of the planet. Are they truly as morally bankrupt as he makes them out to be, or is he simply depicting them as such to defend his actions?
Mr. Burkle had written to Rupert Murdoch, owner of the New York Post, expressing his concern over the repeated number of slurs on his character being expressed on “Page Six”. The response, seemingly, was to send out Mr. Stern to negotiate a deal of some sort for representation of some kind.
Whether it’s as Mr. Stern claims it was, an innocent conversation about a job and investments, or what the F.B.I. claim it was, extortion, pales next to his lack of contrition for potentially committing a felony. His plea of innocence is seriously undermined by his quickness to try and excuse the behaviour by claiming everybody does it. If he were truly innocent why would he have to resort to making those types of accusations?
Clouding the issues by tarring others with same brush hasn’t even worked for politicians, so I don’t see why he expects people to buy it from a journalist. Especially one who claims that something isn’t a lie as long you preface it with the magic words, “was claimed”, or “said to be”.
If so-called legitimate news sources like the New York Post are stooping to reporting innuendo and rumour, and allowing its staff to augment their salaries by reaching side deals with their subject matter, no matter what the situation or circumstances, it calls their credibility into question. Any claim to objectivity on the part of their staff and management is immediately made suspect by the behaviour and claims about policy made by Jared Stern.
It’s one thing for a newspaper to have an editorial policy endorsing certain policies and slanting its coverage to reflect that, but it’s another all together to sell coverage on demand. At the very least they have a responsibility to their readership to be clear as to their purpose.
Is their purpose to provide across the board, objective as possible news reporting? Or do they merely serve to function as a public relations vehicle for those who can afford their services? That is the point that really need clarification.