The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

Category: Media

Call me a contrarian, but I say Netflix is on the right track

Reed hastings
As you've probably noticed, movie and TV fans are up in arms over Netflix's steep recent price hike as well as its decision to spin off its DVD rental-by-mail service, creating a new business operating under the (already much-ridiculed) name of Qwikster. Customers are ticked off with the new price structure --announced two months ago -- which could add as much as 60% to the monthly bill of people who watch both DVDs and streaming video.

Netflix chief Reed Hastings is in such hot water that he's had to put up a blog post (and a YouTube video) apologizing for the way the announcement was handled. As my colleague Ben Fritz notes in a front-page story in Tuesday's paper, Hasting's remarks resulted in 17,000 comments, the vast majority of them distinctly negative.

So is this a disaster for Netflix, as most of the media coverage in the past couple of days has implied? (The headline to the story in our print edition was: "Once High-Flying Netflix Is Sinking.") Call me a contrarian, but I don't think so. 

Continue reading »

Ethicist Michael Josephson is dropped by KNX radio in Los Angeles

Michael Josephson

KNX is giving the boot to a longtime commentator and one of the most recognizable voices in local radio, ethicist Michael Josephson.

The radio station told Josephson Thursday it had made a "business decision" to terminate his contract, ending the personality's 14 1/2-year association with KNX-AM (1070). Josephson's 90-second missives on character and ethics air several times a day.

At least a couple hundred emails of protest flowed into Josephson's website protesting the decision. But true to form and a career giving advice about taking the high road, Josephson said he chose to remember all the good that came with his long media run.

"Of course I was sad at first," Josephson said from his office near LAX. "But what I have tried to say, philosophically, is that you don't look at something like this as the glass being half empty. I have had 14 years to reach people and speak to them in an incredibly liberating format. ...I am genuinely grateful. When I look back I feel like, wow, whoever had that luxury?"

Josephson, 68, got the bad news from Andy Ludlum, KNX's director of news programming.

"Everything has to stay fresh in radio," Ludlum said. "We came to the conclusion we had gone away as a station from opinion and commentary and this was the last of that kind of thing. So we decided to move away from that."

KNX and its sister station, KFWB-AM (980), have downsized staffs in recent years. KNX has focused on an all-news format while KFWB has diversified, the latter recently adding an occasional feature of reporting from various Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The commentator asked if he could do a final 90-second commentary to say goodbye to his fans when his run ends in mid-October. But he said Ludlum told him he could not. "He literally said, 'What is the upside?' and I understand that," Josephson said.

He described himself as surprised but ready to move on. Josephson is a onetime law professor who changed careers in 1985 after making $10 million selling a legal publishing and bar exam review company that he had founded.

He took part of his windfall and started the Josephson Institute of ethics and later Character Counts, a program to teach ethics to school children. The programs are now thriving, with about 40 full-time employees, contracts with corporations like Ralph's and Johnson & Johnson, and assignments to, for instance, write a book on ethical policing for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Josephson said he only receives medical benefits from the nonprofit foundation, living off savings and his wife's earnings from a gymnastics academy. He also sends a newsletter with his radio commentaries to about 75,000 followers.

In a note on his website Thursday, Josephson told of the KNX cancellation. Headlined "A Grateful Goodbye to KNX Radio," the short essay began: "Dr. Seuss said, 'Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.' "

Although some of his fans responded with angry emails and pledges to hammer KNX management, Josephson said that wouldn't be the right course.

"I wasn’t trying to encourage people to storm the Bastille," he said. "It just ends it in a bad way. That is not what we stand for."


Newt Gingrich bashes Politico's John Harris, media in debate ploy

CNN's Chance out of Rixos 'nightmare,' ready to go home

-- James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of ethics, is seen in a 1997 photo. His commentaries on KNX-AM (1070) will end in October, the station has decided. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich bashes Politico's John Harris, media in debate ploy

Newt Gingrich Rick Perry

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The role of stalwart chief executive already had two suitors in Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Casting the rest of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul nailed the libertarian puritan and John Huntsman cornered reasonable moderate. So what job remained for onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich, struggling to make a mark on a stage stacked with eight candidates?

How about Chief Media Basher and All-Around GOP Team Guy?

It may have amounted to a bit part, but one offering scene-stealing opportunity, especially given that the event at the Ronald Reagan Library & Museum in Simi Valley was being broadcast by MSNBC. The liberal-tilting cable network gave the also-ran Gingrich the perfect foil, the chance to play Republican Party uniter and -- who knows? -- maybe begin positioning himself for some future Cabinet appointment.

Gingrich's turn will be most remembered (and already celebrated by multiple conservative commentators) for attacking Politico's John Harris, when the debate moderator tried to get him to take sides between fellow GOP candidates on the issue of healthcare.

The Georgian got in a few other not-so-subtle digs at the media and advanced a much broader thesis: Attempts to tease out differences between the Republican hopefuls were thinly veiled maneuvers "to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated."

That proposition is enjoyable raw meat for the GOP base. And it would make a lot of sense, except for the fact that the entire cumbersome, protracted and heavily covered primary-election process is designed to expose and explain differences among a political party's various candidates. Is there any other way to help voters decide which product to finally pull off the shelf? (Well, probably, but this is the system we are stuck with, for now.)

Yet Gingrich and a sizable pack of post-debate commentators expressed dismay, even outrage, that NBC anchor Brian Williams and Harris would try to get the candidates to talk about their differences. Obviously, given MSNBC's well-deserved reputation for liberal political commentary, this had to be a partisan plot.

This raises many questions: Did all these people sleep through the last several presidential campaigns? Don't any of them recall how the media, to take just the most recent instance, spent months reporting and glorying in every possible distinction between dueling Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton? Have political debates, three years later, been redesignated as "friending" circles?

You would think so to listen to the undeniably bright (and, in this case, cunning) Gingrich. From his first answer, he made clear he would be school-marming and parrying the debate moderators, while playing shamelessly to the partisan gallery.

Asked about writing the forward for Perry's book "Fed Up" -- which outlines the Texas governor's serious doubts about all sorts of federal programs, including Medicare -- Gingrich would have none of it.

"Look, he's said himself that was an interesting book of ideas by somebody who's not proposing a manifesto for president," Gingrich said. "And I think to go back and try to take that apart is silly."

Even though the book was published just last year, Gingrich suggested to Williams that questions about "Fed Up" made no sense. So Check One, on Gingrich's new debating rules: Would-be presidents should not have to talk about their previous scribblings, even ones they wrote as visions of the Oval Office danced in their heads.

Near the end of the debate, the former Speaker would have to straighten Williams out again. In response to a question about Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke (whom he would fire "tomorrow"), Gingrich pivoted to an earlier question. A much earlier question; actually from a previous GOP debate.

"We were asked the wrong question at the last debate," Gingrich said. "The question isn't, would we favor a tax increase? The question is, how would we generate revenue?"

Gingrich said the conversation should be about cutting government and opening vast tracts of Alaska to gas and oil extraction. Never mind that many economists and public-opinion surveys would seem to put some tax increases (for higher-income earners) on the table for most Americans. We nonetheless have Gingrich's Check Two: No more questions about higher taxes. For anyone.

He saved his third rule, and sharpest barb, for Harris, the longtime political writer and co-founder of

Harris suggested that the two GOP front-runners -- Romney and Perry -- had "a genuine philosophical disagreement" over healthcare. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney passed a reform that required residents to buy health insurance. Perry and other Republicans have designated such a "mandate," a key to President Obama's national healthcare law, as just the sort of big-government solution that is anathema to economic recovery and American values.

Harris asked Gingrich to weigh in on the side of Romney's Massachusetts plan or the small-government approach in Texas, where one-quarter of residents are uninsured.

"Well, I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," Gingrich snapped. Harris interjected that there is a real choice to be made -- requiring citizens to buy health insurance, or not.

Gingrich remained unmoved. He huffed that he would "repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated." Check Three: the media should never expect one Republican to speak ill of another.

It seems abundantly clear, as Gingrich pointed out, that Republicans are unified in opposing Obama's healthcare changes. But not so clear, or true, is Gingrich's contention that only slippery, scheming journalists want to talk about Romney's healthcare record. The record of the last few months will show any number of occasions in which Republicans on the stump, with little aid from villainous reporters, used "Romneycare" to bludgeon the former Massachusetts governor.

Could the news media in clear conscience cover the current campaign and not raise one of the front-running candidate's major policy initiatives, one that was also a substantial public policy watershed? Wouldn't a moderator who failed to question what other candidates felt about that initiative be guilty of sloppiness, if not malpractice?

That Gingrich has begun flailing to draw himself attention is not just a conclusion of crazy liberals. Speaking on Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, anchor Chris Wallace said of Gingrich: "He is doing this stunt, which he did with me and he did with John Harris yesterday, which is attack the messenger. If he thinks that works, fine. I find it kind of sad."

[For the Record: 2:08 p.m. Sept. 9: A previous version of this post said anchor Chris Wallace spoke on Fox Business News.]


Jon Stewart blasts Mitt Romney's jobs plan

Perry, Romney square off in Reagan Library debate

On the Media: A grim reminder of Iraq tragedy from WikiLeaks

-- James Rainey

Photo: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich greet after a debate among GOP presidential candidates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Musuem in Simi Valley on Wednesday. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Groupon IPO delayed but its exclusivity rules are probably legal


Speculation about Groupon Inc., the online coupon site, is spiraling this week with news that the company intends to delay its initial public stock offering.

Reuters quoted sources as saying Groupon's meetings with investors had been postponed because of market volatility, though the insiders still said the stock would go public before the end of the year.

Bubbling beneath the headlines about the viability and value of the discount site (estimated at up to $30 billion) are complaints from consumer advocates and competitors about how the fast-expanding operator treats customers and the competition.

I previously wrote about complaints regarding Groupon’s fuzzy rules about the expiration of coupons. In fact, various state laws prohibit such discount offers from losing all value on an expiration date. More recently, a businesswoman emailed the Big Picture to complain that the site is trying to elbow out other online discounters by requiring its business partners to sign six-month exclusivity agreements.

Under a provision in Groupon’s contracts, businesses that offer discounts via Groupon are not allowed to sign on with another discount promoter for three months before and three months after the Groupon deal. “It seems to me that there is no reason for Groupon to prevent businesses from offering similar promotions other than to squash competition,” said a Phoenix acupuncturist who used the site.

Speaking to the Kansas City Business Journal this spring, a Groupon spokeswoman answered similar complaints about the six-month blackout period. The rep said the exclusivity arrangement was not meant to shut out competition but to prevent “merchants from cannibalizing their own business.”

You would think the businesspeople themselves would be in the best position to judge what would, and wouldn’t, damage their operations. But, that said, at least one antitrust authority tends to agree that Groupon is not legally prohibited from requesting exclusivity from its business customers.

Georgetown University law professor Howard Shelanski said in an interview that it is very difficult for businesses to prove that rivals are unreasonably shutting them out of a market. “The barriers to entry appear to be not particularly high, because Groupon has a number of competitors,” Shelanski said. “This sort of arrangement could irritate competitors. But you would have to show a lot more -- really that there is an effect on competition” -- to constitute an antitrust violation.

Shelanski said that if the six-month blackout period for signing other online discount deals is truly onerous, competitors without the exclusivity requirement should arise and succeed. “If that alternative hasn’t entered or survived in the marketplace, it suggests the exclusivity is not such a bad thing to customers,” Shelanski said.

As imposing as it may look to competitors, some analysts have quite the opposite opinion about Groupon. They wonder how it can continue to grow and justify its high costs, with a growing number of competitors gnawing at its ankles.

The company has not commented on the delay in the initial stock offering.


Groupon files for a $750-million IPO

Groupon changes accounting method, reports losses

Groupon, Zynga reportedly delay IPOs

-- James Rainey
Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Groupon founder and Chief Executive Andrew Mason, whose group discount company has slowed an initial public offering of stock that had been estimated to value the company at up to $30 billion.  Credit: Anthony Bolante / Reuters

Groupon files for a $750-million IPO

CNN's Chance out of Rixos 'nightmare,' ready to go home

LibyaMatthewChance Just out of Tripoli's Rixos al Nasr Hotel, which had been his prison for five days, CNN's Matthew Chance gave thanks for a turn of fortune that freed him and 35 other journalists, said he was still looking for a good, square meal and looked  forward to flying to London to see his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

A 15-year career as a foreign correspondent has taken the Briton to trouble zones from the Balkans, to Chechnya, to Iraq and Afghanistan. "Of all the terrible places I find myself in, this was by far, by far, the most terrifying of them all," said Chance at the end of five days of captivity at the hotel, which for months has been the Libyan government's headquarters for visiting journalists.

In an interview with the Big Picture, the 41-year-old Chance described the captive journalists grouping together for safety, plotting repeatedly how they might escape and making a nighttime raid on the hotel kitchen to bolster their shrinking provisions. Among the others at the hotel were news crews from the BBC, Sky News and Reuters. 

On Wednesday, CNN viewers could see Chance smiling broadly on camera from Tripoli, holding a flower handed to him by residents of the city, apparently liberated after more than four decades under the  dictatorship of Moammar Kadafi. He elaborated on his televised comments in a phone interview late Wednesday, Libyan time.

Chance said the situation at the hotel--which was profiled Wednesday by L.A. Times correspondent Patrick McDonnell--deteriorated over the weekend when official government minders disappeared, along with many of the loyalist troops guarding the hotel.

Five or six agitated guards with assault rifles remained behind, waving flags, shouting warnings and refusing to let the reporters and camera crews go.

"We couldn’t understand why we were being held against our will in this hotel," Chance said. "We were put in a hostage situation. We didn't call it that [on the air] because we didn’t want to escalate the situation. But that's what we were, hostages. We just didn't see what the point was or how it would end."

When the five-star hotel lost power, it became "hot, dark, sweaty and miserable," Chance said. Stray bullets would occasionally smack the side of the hotel or tear through windows.

"We would talk and go through all these paranoid scenarios," Chance said. "What if Kadafi's army makes a last stand? What if it's in the hotel lobby and we are stuck in basement or the top floor?"

With water and food in short supply from the start, the captives armed themselves with flashlights for a nighttime foray to the kitchen. "We opened fridges and cabinets and took cheese and dried fruit and water and the like," Chance said. "We hauled it all back to our sort of assembly area that we had set up on the upper floor."

The three dozen journalists talked continually about trying to escape. Perhaps they could scale walls behind the hotel and run. But they were not sure the entire group was fit enough to make it. Guards on the roof had Russian-made sniper rifles, with high-powered scopes.

From almost the start, the Westerners had been trying to persuade their guards that there was no point in holding them at the Rixos.

"They didn’t believe Kadafi would ever go away. They couldn't imagine Libya without Col. Kadafi," Chance said. "And when it finally sank in that that world outside the hotel had changed, that Kadafi was no longer there, things changed in an instant."

The ragtag crew of guards apologized, turned their rifles over to the journalists and fled into the streets of Tripoli. "It was a remarkable transformation they underwent," Chance said.

The International Committee for the Red Cross soon had four vehicles at the hotel, which is not far from the Kadafi compound overrun by rebels this week. The rescuers drove the journalists to safety. The reporter, who had kept the outside world apprised of the situation via Twitter, posted another missive just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, local time: "Rixos crisis ends. All journalists are out!"

The situation for journalists in the country remained dicey, though. Four Italian journalists were reported kidnapped Wednesday on a road about 50 miles outside the capital. There was no word on their  whereabouts.

On Wednesday evening, Chance said he was still looking for a good meal and to rotating out of the war zone. He has been based for several years in Moscow, but is relocating to London with his wife and young girl. "She starts school Sept. 5. I want to be able to take her."

Chance said he will be back to cover the Libyan revolution. He is not sure when. But he knows one thing: "I'm not going back to the Rixos. I wouldn't give it a good review at all."

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Journalists, including CNN's Matthew Chance, right, arrive at the Corinthia hotel after being evacuated by the Red Cross from the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, where they had been held captive for five days by loyalists of dictator Moammar Kadafi. Credit:  Paul Hackett / Reuters


CNN's Matthew Chance rides highs, lows in Tripoli war zone

Saifkadafi The giddy lows and highs of working as a foreign correspondent in a war zone have been on vivid display over the last 24 hours, courtesy of CNN's Matthew Chance.

As one of a couple of dozen Western journalists working out of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, Chance has been in the midst of the Libyan revolution but strangely removed from it.

On Sunday night, loyalist troops kept Chance and fellow journalists penned up in the hotel, until the minders suddenly left, as much of the capital city appeared to fall to rebels. A few agitated soldiers remained behind,  shouting at the journalists and issuing dictates.

As Chance's furtive glances and pacing made clear, the journalists had no idea what to expect--fearing both Moammar Kadafi's troops and rebels who they worried might overrun them. The news crews hurriedly posted banners, at the hotel proclaiming "TV," in hopes of warding off an attack.

 The Rixos may be a five-star establishment, but journalists have reported for months feeling harassed and menaced by government minders, who sometimes forced them to leave on a moment's notice.

Chance reported that electricity had gone out during the day Monday and that food and water at the hotel were in short supply.  In the early evening he wrote via Twitter: "Mood in Rixos much darker than before. Everyone really worried about what's going to happen to us." After nightfall, he tried to sound a positive note: "On bright side, am with excellent group of journalists at Rixos. We are feeling our way around corridors with candles. No power."

The digital communiques give a sense of Chance's roller-coaster ride, including frustration at not being able to get out of the  hotel compound. Then, a breakthrough: Just before midnight in Tripoli, Monday, the journalist tweeted news that Kadafi's son Saif al-Islam would arrive at the hotel for a news conference. Two exclamation points accompanied the missive. But then another setback--a report that Saif had aborted the visit because of the power outage at the Rixos. Finally, an hour later, the news whipped back in the other direction, as Chance confirmed that he had visited with Saif, who had arrived at the hotel, in a caravan of armored SUVs.

The dictator's son claimed through a translator that he would complete a "walkabout" in Tripoli to prove that neighborhoods allegedly in rebel hands really were still in the government's control. He accused the enemy of lying and said  "to hell" with the International Criminal Court, which said it would bring the Kadafi family to justice.

About 2:30 a.m. Tripoli time, Chance concluded in another Twitter message (via his handle @mchancecnn) that Saif's appearance was a "major PR coup for Gadhafi – if the rebels lied about this – what can we believe?"

Chance is a senior international correspondent, based in Moscow. He has been near the front lines before--in Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq and in 2008 on the Georgian-Russian war. He is a native of Britain and attended the University of London, earning a bachelor's degree in archaeology and art.

Chance remained locked in the hotel, but back in the reporting game. He transmitted a shadowy Twitter photo of Kadafi's son before the journalist presumably tried to get a few minutes of sleep.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: An image grab taken from the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya satellite television station shows Saif al-Islam Kadafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, speaking to journalists in Tripoli in the early hours of Tuesday. A CNN correspondent was one of those to bring the world news that Saif was not in the hands of rebels, as the anti-Kadafi forces had previously reported.  Credit: AFP / Getty Images


Britain riots, Fox's O'Reilly asks: where are the guns?

BillOreilly Fox News personality and sometime media critic Bill O’Reilly thought he detected yet another case of liberal media bias last week, this time coming from England. The subject was guns.

As my "On the Media" column suggests, the recent riots in Britain have raised a lively discussion about whether social networks and cellphone communications should be limited.

O’Reilly suggested on his Fox News program that the social unrest should spark another debate. But he said “the BBC and the other liberal British press” had been remiss, failing to report how  British cops and shop owners weren't armed well enough to rein in the chaos.

If you “don’t have a gun, you’re in real trouble,” facing rioters, O’Reilly said.

"The difference between America and Great Britain is that here in America many of us are armed because of the Second Amendment," O'Reilly began. "In Great Britain they don't like guns . . . .the cops don't even carry guns."

No doubt a loaded firearm would have caused some hooligans to think twice before, as the Brits say, pinching (shoplifting) a pair of trainers (sneakers), or attempting much worse.

Of course, arming the populace can have other consequences, as O'Reilly should recall, since he was in Los Angeles at the time of the 1992 riots.

Fifty-four people died in L.A., about two-thirds of them from gunshot wounds. (Eleven of the dead were shot by police or the National Guard.) In the riots that swept several British cities this summer, a total of five died. One of them was by a gunshot. (Three others died after being intentionally run over by a car. One  man was beaten to death.)

A Los Angeles Times account a few months after the riots showed the mixed impact of private gun ownership. Widely distributed pictures showed Korean American shop owners defending their stores. But not all the gunfire went toward the right targets. The story described a group of Korean American youths who went to help the shop owners, only to be mistakenly shot themselves. Edward Song Lee, 18, died of his wounds.

Fox News Correspondent Amy Kellogg told O’Reilly last week that, despite the London riots, the debate about arming the police, or allowing more guns in the hands of private citizens, “has not come up.” O’Reilly is not ready to drop the subject, it seems. He ended the discussion predicting that, in the event of continued trouble, “the gun debate will ramp up.”

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Fox News' top-rated host, Bill O'Reilly has helped drive the entire cable network's ratings higher. Last week, he wondered why the media had so little to say about the lack of guns in rioting Britain. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times



Will NBC bosses bring more Latino talent to KNBC-TV?

A couple of organizations representing Latino journalists have complained that KNBC television in Los Angeles has diminished the role of Latinos on the air in a city where the ethnic group represents about half the population.

A letter from the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) this week follows a similar complaint last week from the CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California. The letters to station management noted that several journalists have been demoted in recent weeks and that Channel 4 has no Latino anchors. L.A.'s other top news stations have at least one Latino anchor.

But NAHJ President Michele Salcedo reported on the organization's website Friday that station management has indicated changes are on the way. Salcedo's said the assurances came from  outgoing KNBC General Manager Craig Robinson, who is being named diversity officer for all of NBCUniversal.

Salcedo said that Robinson told her "it is not his goal to be without Hispanic anchors, and he and station executives are continuing to recruit Hispanic anchors and on-air talent.”

The chief of the Latino journalists group added that Robinson assured her “that the anchor lineup six months from now is not going to look as it does today. We also discussed establishing a pipeline to groom Latino broadcast journalists to fill positions throughout the newsroom as well as executive offices.”

Among the moves that alarmed Latino journalists was KNBC's removal of veteran Ana Garcia from her position as anchor of the 6 p.m. news. She was replaced by Lucy Noland, who was born in Vietnam of a Vietnamese mother and American father. Garcia remains at Channel 4 as an investigative reporter.

“I do think there is a huge problem with fact there is no Latino or Latina in a primary position at the station,” said one KNBC insider, who declined to be named for fear of angering management. “I think that is extraordinary, when you look at the population of Los Angeles. I don’t understand it.”


Juan Williams: Muzzled, but still talking all the time

No hacking at the N.Y. Post, says former N.Y. Post hack

Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Ana Garcia arrives at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 63rd Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards this month. Garcia was part of teams that won a couple of the trophies but she lost her spot anchoring the 6 p.m. news at KNBC. She continues to work at the station as an investigative reporter. Credit: Valerie Macon / Getty Images


No hacking at the N.Y. Post, says former N.Y. Post hack

New York Post's Jared Paul Stern denies hacking at paper
Jared Paul Stern certainly doesn’t have the warm fuzzies for his old employer, the New York Post. The one-time contributor to the Page Six gossip column was driven out of the tabloid after accusations, never proven, that he tried to extort money to keep one high-profile magnate out of the headlines.

But despite his estrangement from his former employer, Stern said in an interview this week that he doubts Rupert Murdoch’s rambunctious  U.S. publication has employed the phone hacking and police payoffs that were endemic at its British cousin, the now-shuttered News of the World.

“Their whole game is more sort of intimidating people or cozying up to people to get information,” Stern said the other day of gossip reporters at the Post. In more than a decade contributing to Page Six he said he never saw or heard of phones being improperly accessed. The only payments, minimal ones, went to public relations types who acted as virtual stringers for Page Six, Stern said.

Not that Stern attributes the failure to employ the so-called “dark arts” on any particularly high motives on the part of Post gossip writers.

“They couldn’t hack an electric toothbrush there,” Stern said. “There are no techno-whizzes to figure it out and they don’t have anything like the budget of those British papers. The Post hemorrhages money. They don’t have the budget for any extras.”

The Post has been reported to lose tens of millions of dollars a year. News Corp. leader Murdoch is said to keep the paper going because of his love of tabloids and because of the political leverage it gives him in America’s biggest city.

Stern experienced a brief and unwanted celebrity in 2006 when one-time supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, a close friend of former President Clinton, accused the tabloid reporter of trying to pry money out of him in exchange for keeping Burkle out of the Post.

Burkle videotaped a couple of his meetings with Stern and federal prosecutors investigated the case as a possible extortion before deciding not to file charges against Stern. The writer subsequently sued Burkle, Clinton and others, claiming that they had tried to ruin his reputation. A judge tossed the lawsuit out.

Now Stern said he is working on various projects, though he declined to go into much detail. His website on style had new entries as recently as this summer. And he suggests that his proposed memoir on life in the tabloid lane, dropped by one publisher, might have new life given the scandals sweeping the industry.

“The stuff going on now is breathing some new life into it, so I am reworking it,” Stern said of the book. “It definitely has a lot more relevance and appeal.”


News Corp. shares soar amid market rally

Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

Murdoch seeks to defuse investor concerns over phone hacking scandal

-- James Rainey

Photo: One-time New York Post gossip writer Jared Paul Stern, who contributed to the paper's Page Six column, said he never heard of phone hacking or big-money payoffs while he worked for the tabloid. The paper's British cousin, News of the World, was closed after its use of the "dark arts" caused a scandal in Britain. Credit:  Shiho Fukada / Associated Press.


Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

GuardianRusbridger As I report in my On the Media column, the reporter who broke the story over phone hacking and corruption in the British tabloid press is coming to L.A. this week to “see whether there is a U.S. end to this story.”

Based on his email conversations with me, it’s hard to tell whether Nick Davies of the Guardian has a specific angle, or is just taking a broad look at how British tabloids and others operate in America.

Most journalists, both over the pond and here, believe that if the “dark arts” are being employed in the U.S., they are not  nearly as endemic as they appear to be in Britain.

Davies' editor, Alan Rusbridger, said he thinks trouble in the press there might be linked to the ascension of editors who began their careers covering celebrities. The editors had an anything-goes attitude, Rusbridger said, a sensibility they carried into hard news coverage when they became the top editors at their outlets.

Among those with showbiz coverage roots who went on to run British newsrooms were Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who later became chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, and Piers Morgan, onetime editor of the Daily Mirror and now a host on America’s CNN. Though implicated by a former Mirror reporter as having knowledge of phone hacking, Morgan has vehemently denied it.

Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media columnist, said he has been directly told of an agreement among British press executives to not report negatively on each other. That common interest could have been magnified, in recent months, by the realization that many of the papers might have a common problem with phone hacking. Any investigation might cascade from one newspaper to the next.

News International, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., went to some lengths to kill the hacking story. Greenslade said in an interview that he got a small personal taste of the campaign. One of News International's senior executives took him to dinner last year and, after dispensing with some niceties, began to argue that "there was nothing to the allegations and why couldn’t I bring some sense to bear at the Guardian.”

Greenslade didn’t do anything of the sort. The Guardian never slowed its reporting. And the scandal has caught up a good hunk of Britain’s press, police and political class.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger gives evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in the House of Commons in 2009. Much of the English press ignored the testimony, as the Guardian fought a lonely battle to expose illegal phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Credit: Press Association / AP Images


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: