- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

OAK HILL, N.Y. (AP) — Inside an old farmhouse, the phone rings constantly and e-mails deluge the computer.

NBC’s Matt Lauer was on the phone at one point. So was ABC’s “Good Morning America.” CNN. Forbes. All want the same thing: to talk to Jared Paul Stern, the much-vilified New York Post gossip writer who has been accused of trying to shake down a billionaire in exchange for good press.

The federal investigation has made Mr. Stern, a freelancer for the newspaper’s Page Six gossip column, a daily fixture in the tabloids since the story broke last week. He is spending his time in the Catskills, more than two hours from Manhattan, as he watches the drama unfold.

In a face-to-face interview with the Associated Press — his first since the accusations surfaced — at his home Monday, Mr. Stern says he’s the casualty of a vicious tabloid newspaper feud. The Post’s rival, the Daily News, has lavished its resources on exposing every detail in a case it calls “Page Fix,” starting with a devastating front-page story Friday.

“It was a solid punch,” said Mr. Stern, a 35-year-old newshound with a fondness for fedoras and monocles. “It was no picnic.”

Ron Burkle, who has an estimated personal wealth of more than $2 billion, thought the Post’s coverage of him was no picnic. He says that several Page Six stories about him were made up and that Mr. Stern demanded $100,000 and a $10,000 monthly stipend to make the stories stop.

Mr. Stern says Mr. Burkle set him up, an accusation the businessman adamantly denies.

“Mr. Stern’s re-characterization of the events are just that,” Burkle spokesman Frank Quintero said.

Mr. Quintero said two videotaped meetings between the two men are clear proof that Mr. Stern was trying to extort.

The Daily News deems it preposterous that Mr. Stern views himself as a victim of overzealous reporting by the paper.

“I find it completely ridiculous that a person who has been caught on videotape in an FBI sting operation is making these allegations,” newspaper spokeswoman Donna Dees said. “It smacks of desperation.”

Mr. Stern said his attorney Joe Tacopina is handling the legal issue, while he is focused on fighting his accusers and getting his job back if he’s cleared of wrongdoing.

“They had their shot,” said Mr. Stern, who had written for the Post for nearly 11 years. “There isn’t going to be any new evidence. It’s a matter of us trying to repair the damage.”

At the end of the interview with AP, he started returning e-mails and phone calls from other news organizations.

But Mr. Stern said he is sure of one thing: He doesn’t plan on talking to the Daily News.

“It’s a joke,” Mr. Tacopina said. “The Daily News is trying to destroy this gossip column, and Stern is a casualty of a paranoid billionaire who had an ax to grind with the Post.”

Mr. Stern said no one from the FBI or any other law-enforcement agency has contacted him.

“If there was a word of criminality,” Mr. Tacopina said, “they would have arrested him on the spot. This is a classic case of entrapment.”

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