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Notes on a scandal

Could a botched sting operation compromise Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes?

BUDDY SYSTEM: Jared Paul Stern alleges that he was set up by billionaire Ron Burkle to ward the press away from romps he arranged for his pal Bill Clinton.

The saga of gossip columnist Jared Paul Stern has entered a new phase, one that could end up generating both the biggest political and the biggest media story of the year. In a civil complaint filed with the New York Supreme Court last week, the former New York Post freelancer — who was accused of extortion by California supermarket magnate Ronald Burkle but never charged with any crime — struck back with several charges of his own, including libel and criminal conspiracy. His targets? Burkle, of course; two Burkle associates specializing in security and public relations; the New York Daily News; William Sherman, who wrote about the Burkle-Stern contretemps for the Daily News; and — wait for it — both Bill and Hillary Clinton.

First, a quick refresher. In April 2006, Burkle accused Stern of demanding $100,000 (plus $10,000 monthly for a year) to forestall negative coverage on the Post’s Page Six. This claim hinged, apparently, on three hours of videotape that spanned two separate meetings between the two men (roughly six minutes of which was leaked to the New York Times). Problem was, while Stern urged Burkle to employ him as a media consultant in those meetings — and also suggested an investment in his clothing line, Skull & Bones by Jared Paul Stern — he didn’t actually threaten any repercussions if this didn’t occur. That didn’t keep the press from running with the story, however: the New York Times, for example, offered a credulous front-page, above-the-fold accounting of Burkle’s claims on April 8, 2006.

One needn’t view Stern as an angel of virtue to recognize — as the feds apparently did when they dropped the case against him — that he was likely the victim of a set-up. Some highlights from his recently filed complaint (none of which, one must remember, have yet been proven):

● Burkle allegedly “socializes with celebrities and carries on sexual liaisons with fashion models” in a way that could put him at cross purposes with the authorities. (p 2)

● Frank Renzi, who allegedly helped Burkle coordinate his meetings with Stern, is an “ex–Secret Service agent formerly in the employ of Bill Clinton and [now] head of security for Burkle’s investment firm Yucaipa Cos.,” where Clinton is chief marketing officer. (pp 2, 15)

● Both Hillary and Bill allegedly “used their influence and position with federal authorities in New York to further [Burkle’s] scheme” — i.e., Burkle’s successful attempt to convince federal authorities to investigate his allegations. (p 4)

● “Burkle and Bill Clinton spend upwards of 500 hours a year together, more time than Clinton spends with his wife. Bill Clinton frequently flies on Burkle’s jet and stays at his houses in the company of young females procured by the billionaire.” (p 16)

● Finally, the motive — it’s a biggie: by discrediting Stern, Burkle and the Clintons allegedly “hoped to divert and intimidate journalists who might attempt to report on their illegal activity or publish embarrassing revelations of Burkle and Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct, including Clinton’s extramarital affairs facilitated by Burkle, . . . and even more importantly dissuade negative coverage of the numerous scandals that have been attributed and which will undoubtedly be uncovered about Hillary Clinton as she runs for the presidency in 2008.” (p 14)

● While they were at it, the Clintons also wanted to destroy the Post. (p 16)

Die-hard Clinton defenders will surely note that Stern’s attorney, Larry Klayman, is a conservative activist who, according to the Washington Post, made his name largely by filing multiple anti-Clinton release-of-information lawsuits (regarding persons such as Vince Foster, Ron Brown, Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers, and Janet Reno) as the founder of Judicial Watch.

Then again, as the Monica Lewinsky affair demonstrated all too painfully, Clinton has a history of giving in to his troublesome appetites, political consequences be damned. If Klayman gets subpoena power and starts dragging new information about Bill into the light of day, Hillary’s presidential campaign could take a serious hit. (For his part, Stern tells the Phoenix that other aspects of Klayman’s background — e.g., suing Halliburton on behalf of shareholders and naming vice-president and ex-Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the complaint — show he’s more than a partisan hack.)

Thanks to the earlier credulity of the Times, the Daily News, and the Wall Street Journal (which ran an op-ed by Burkle on the purported scandal on April 12, 2006) — and the general lack of reportorial follow-up when Stern wasn’t charged — the New York media probably won’t come out of this looking great, either. These outlets might be disinclined to give too much play to a case that puts their own journalism in an unflattering light, especially if details of their own sausage-making process start to emerge. That certainly seems to be the case so far: while the Times devoted a great deal of ink to Burkle’s charges, the paper barely took note of Stern’s new lawsuit, reporting it in a 142-word Associated Press brief that ignored the Times’ previous reporting on the subject. (That’s 142 more words than the Daily News gave it.)

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  Topics: This Just In , Jared Paul Stern , Ron Burkle , Bill Clinton ,  More more >
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