Eat The Press

hard-to-kill-radar-poster.jpg

from Radar "Hard To Kill" poster

Is it Schadenfreude if you actually have a hand in creating the misfortune of others? German scholars, get back to me; until then, we report via Gawker that Page Six's Sarah Polonsky has been fired, no doubt due to yesterday's rather damning Radar item, or, more precisely, to the behavior reported in that item.

So: If Polonsky really did pull the "don't you know who I am?" line to get a dinner comped, and otherwise contravened existing New York Post policies about accepting free stuff, then the firing is hardly surprising. But there are a few things about Radar's recent Page Six items, and other items, that we feel compelled to point out.

First of all, disclosure. Radar published two items, Wednesday and yesterday, about Page Six or those associated with Page Six. Besides the above, we have opinions on the fairness of those items, and we'll get to that, but for now, we will say this: Both items were in regard to Page Six staffers (or almost-staffers) accepting benefits based on their position. And both items mentioned Jared Paul Stern, the former Page Sixer who this spring was alleged to have attempted to blackmail supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.

That's the same Ron Burkle who has been alleged to be a part-owner of — wait for it — Radar. In March, before the Page Six scandal broke, the rumor surfaced on WWD that Ron Burkle and Yusef Jackson were in talks to fund the then-defunct magazine (broken, in a poetic twist, by then-WWDers Sara James and Jeff Bercovici, the now-Radar staffer who wrote both the above-linked items). Jackson did indeed go on to fund Radar, and has specifically not confirmed (but not denied) that Burkle is involved ("I don't discuss my investor group," he told the Chicago Tribune, even though everyone else does: both the Trib and the NYT mentioned Burkle and Yousef's partnership in making a play for the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004).

Radar editor Maer Roshan would not so confirm, either, saying "To my knowledge, Yusef has not publically named any other investors in this venture, but your question about Ron Burkle's involvement is best addressed to him." (That request was forwarded to Jackson yesterday afternoon.) Even so, in the case where Radar is owned at least in part by Ron Burkle, any attacks on Page Six for graft ought to be duly disclaimed. That goes double for posts that namecheck Jared Paul Stern — particularly where they leave out the word "alleged" (yesterday's item said of Stern that he "was busted trying to use the column's clout for personal gain" — a claim which originated with Burkle, which Stern has disputed, and which has not been otherwise supported by an arrest warrant, Grand Jury subpoena or other legal action).

Burkle's (possible) preference for anonymity isn't the point here; that need should not trump the interests of transparency. This is not to suggest any impropriety on Radar's part in running the items; Page Six is a powerful media institution and is thus legitimately a target. But the appearance of impropriety must also be addressed. This wouldn't be the first time that Burkle's effect on editorial policy was contemplated; LA Weekly's Nikki Finke yesterday noted that the LA Times has backed off from an investigative feature on Burkle, and wondered if that had anything to do with his interest in buying the paper. Burkle doesn't even have a stake in the Times yet; if he does — or even might — own a piece of Radar, then that ought to be mentioned. What's a little disclaimer between friends?

The other issue is one of fairness. We refer now to the characterizations in the pieces of Corynne Steindler and her misfire on accepting a farewell-Jossip-hello-Page-Six event from Thom. We say "misfire" because it was definitely that, which Corynne has herself admitted in follow-up emails to her original party invitation, but it seems obvious that the issue was one of a lapse in judgment in the acceptance of that offer rather than an active agenda of pursuing freebies (per Corynne on being "totally not permitted by Page Six" to accept the offer: "Who knew?"). In light of the preceding, it seems slightly misleading to characterize the snafu as "Corynne Steindler's plan to throw herself a welcome-aboard party and let Thom Bar pick up the tab," as per the follow-up Polonsky item. Not to get too wonky here, but the difference is one of offer and acceptance, and implies a state of mind (to score a free party) that seems inconsistent with Steindler's own account (Hey, score! A free party!). This difference may seem small, but it is important, since it goes to intention and motivation and, really, to the type of person one is, which goes to reputation. And those ought to be handled with care.

Here is my disclosure: I have great affection for Steindler (and for Bercovici). As for Radar's characterization that Steindler is "error-prone," I will readily attest to throwing a few typo-alerts her way...and publicly thank her for pointing out the mistaken use of "to" where "too" should have been just this morning in this item. We all do our best but everyone slips up sometimes, so let's keep the gratuitous sniping to a minimum, shall we? There but for the grace of God go us all. Okay, off soapbox; make your Rodney King jokes where ye may.

Rachel Sklar

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