With each day bringing a fresh angle to the juicy gotcha involving a New York Post gossip columnist - we'd call it the fop and the billionaire - the Columbia Journalism Review goes back in time and mines a Philadelphia connection to the scandal.
They call their post, "Where's Harry Karafin when you need him?"
The fop is Jared Paul Stern, the Philly-born, Bennington-educated, fedora-and-fob wearing freelance gossiper, who is on FBI video asking California businessman Ron Burkle for $220,000 to assure no more troubling mentions on Page Six of the Post. Burkle is managing partner of The Yucaipa Companies, which, among other things, has teamed with the newspaper union to bid for the Inquirer and 11 other Knight Ridder orphans not wanted by the McClatchy newspapers.
But Karafin? That one requires some institutional memory. He was the Inquirer's feared investigative reporter of the '50s and '60s, who made a nice living from companies by pledging to manipulate their coverage. He did this saying he was doing owner Walter Annenberg's bidding. CJR Daily recaps his infamy, and links a historical piece by former Inky columnist Edgar Williams. Former Inky ME Steve Lovelady, now CJR Daily's ME, 'fesses to having thought of Harry.
CJR writes: Karafin would approach subjects and let them know that he would hate to make public the dirt that he had on them -- and that to keep this from happening, he would act as a kind of PR agent, all for a monthly fee. Karafin was considerably slicker at it than the hapless Stern appears to have been, however; he got away with it for nearly eight years before another journalist, a writer for Philadelphia magazine, finally called him on it. He was eventually convicted of extortion in 1968 and sent to prison, where he died in 1973.
The journalism-review blogger, Paul McLeary, wonders what fate awaits Stern, who has gone on the counter-attack, contending Burkle set him up to take down Page Six. There is always the opportunity for a second act, CJR notes - "a lucrative contract, complete with movie rights, to write a smarmy "tell-all" book, which will purport to lay bare the world of tabloid mud-slinging and the various snipers and bottom-dwellers who thrive within."
Who'd play Stern? David Spade?
The Stern affair reminds blogger Steve Silver of Karafin as well. Silver, who is editor of The Trend Leader newspaper, a K-R property in King of Prussia, wrote last week:
This also brings up all sorts of questions: Does Page Six do this sort of thing often? Why approach Burkle and not someone like Paris Hilton, who gets mentioned in Page Six every day anyway, and probably has more money than Burkle? And since this has become public, how will Page Six cover Burkle in the future? Will they mention this every time, and since that would be unbelievably awkward for the Post, won't he pretty much now get his immunity anyway?
By email Lovelady wrote: "My very first thought when this broke was, compared to Harry, this is the amateur hour. Good craftsmen are hard to find any more."