Kidding a Kidder
Sunday in Riverside Park. 1:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Page Six in the New York Post is the most widely read and influential gossip column in America. Its Chairman and CEO, Richard Johnson got married this past weekend in Palm Beach to Sessa von Richtofen in the presence of the rich, the chic, the media princes, et al. The couple have been together for quite some time. This is the groom’s third marriage and the bride’s first. Congratulations are in order.

But, as New Yorkers know, this past weekend wasn’t about nuptial celebrations, unfortunately for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. It was about the Page Six/Ron Burkle/Jared Paul Stern alleged extortion scandal.

The way the story reads, Jared Paul Stern, an occasional stringer for Page Six was allegedly engaged in trying to extort money from Ron Burkle (as recorded by hidden video cameras) in exchange for keeping Burkle’s name out of Page Six in the future. Or so it evidently seemed to Mr. Stern at the time of their discussions. Although the question remains, where did Mr. Stern get the authority to negotiate with Mr. Burkle? Or: did Mr. Stern in fact even have the authority to negotiate with Mr. Burkle about reporting policies of Page Six? That remains very unclear.

In the past, Page Six has written what Burkle claims were false items about him. One had to do with someone who flew on his private jet whom he claims did not fly on his private jet. Another had to do with an intimating that Gisele Bundschen was his girlfriend. Which she is not. Not true, but hardly deeply damaging, or even embarrassing stuff.

Mr. Burkle is not the only one who has had “issues” with the veracity of Page Six, and therefore the New York Post, and therefore Col Allan the editor, and therefore Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful press lord in the world. There are many -- famous and not-so -- who have been chortling for the past few days over the recent turn of events. To them it looks like Page Six, Richard Johnson, Col Allan, the Post and Mr. Murdoch are getting what they have had coming for a long time. And it all came about with an ole one-two punch delivered by an innocuous but super-rich butter and egg man from the West Coast.

Clockwise from above: Sessa von Richtofen and Richard Johnson; Rupert Murdoch; Col Allen; Jared Paul Stern; Ron Burkle.

That’s the way it looks. Mr. Burkle’s use of Jared Paul Stern as his pawn, automatically cast grave doubt on the veracity, integrity and inferred the corruptibility of all of them. It was a masterful move. Therein lies the rub – because Mr. Stern is not a player, does not have the authority, and cannot speak for Messrs. Johnson, Allan and Murdoch. Yet he was assigned (by someone) and assumed and carried out the part of their Iago.

Until now, Ron Burkle has not been regarded as a power to reckon with politically - at least not on this coast or in this town. He is well known in his business, and to readers of Forbes. Democrats know him for his fund-raising capabilities especially for the Clintons. He is also known on the Beverly Hills-Bel Air circuit where girls keep tabs on rich (and preferably single) men. To the general public, however, before last Friday, Ron Burkle was unknown and without consequence in the national scheme of things.

Although, it is true that inside his circles, he is quite well known -- as the California supermarket billionaire who has raised and/or given a lot of money to the Bill Clinton campaigns; as a also friend of the famous – Michael Jackson, Leo D., Bill C., etc.; and as a big investor in Puff Daddy/P.Diddy’s clothing line. He is also said to be the biggest supplier to McDonald’s in the West.

Mr. Burkle’s interest in his personal privacy also led to his known support for changing a law in the state of California. The new law would limit public access to divorce records. It contains a provision that would require judges to find that withholding the financial information of parties in a divorce case outweighed the public’s right of access to the information.

Mr. Burkle’s well known interest in this bill led some people to think he has something about his divorce or his finances to hide. Backers of the bill, however, say the law is needed to guard against identity theft, the disclosure of business secrets, and unwarranted invasions of personal privacy.

Mr. Burkle also already had a reputation for being thin-skinned about publicity about himself that is either untrue or distasteful. A few years ago he had his people go out and buy stacks and stacks of copies of an L.A. business journal that contained an article about his divorce that displeased him. His explanation for the mass magazine purchase was that he was trying to protect his son.

Having made his billions, Mr. Burkle now has expressed interest in acquiring media.  Recently there has been talk about his re-financing Maer Roshan’sRADAR Magazine. It is also said that he is trying to acquire the Knight-Ridder media empire.

Jared Paul Stern claims he was “set-up” by Mr. Burkle, ignoring the fact that it was he who was sitting at table talking cash money with Ron Burkle. He also claims that Mr. Burkle, not he, who first brought up the business of the hush money. And that Mr. Burkle had earlier approached him (Stern) about investing in his shirt business. Stern evidently never asked himself why Burkle was so interested in him, preferring, it seems, to fancy himself an important link rather than the Weakest One.

Indeed, on the face of it, it is puzzling as to why Ron Burkle chose Jared Paul Stern as his messenger. Why did he not go instead directly to the source -- Richard Johnson who is, after all, The Man. Mr. Burkle did claim he complained to Rupert Murdoch about the false reporting but got nowhere. But then why did he go to Jared Paul Stern, a relative naïf given to flattering himself with delusions of media power?

So the question remains, since there is no evidence that this matter involved anyone other than Jared Paul Stern – what was Ron Burkle after? He was after the Principal Players, that’s for sure, because that’s whose reputations have been called into question by this exposé. But why? Just to cause them to cease and desist in writing trivial (even uninteresting) untruths about him in the future?

Whatever the answer, Mr. Burkle has certainly succeeded in calling off the dogs of Page Six, if that was what he had in mind. Others will be taking a page (if you’ll pardon the pun) from Mr. Burkle’s book in the future. And whatever else it was – yet to be determined -- we can safely assume that Ron Burkle knows what he’s doing, and indeed, whom he’s doing it to.

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Friday night in the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental at the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle, the Friends of New Yorkers for Children held their annual Spring Dinner Dance “A Fool’s Fete” to benefit New York’s children in foster care. It is rare that major galas are held on Friday nights but the Friends’ “A Fools Fete” has become one of the most important Spring benefit galas of the younger set in New York.

New Yorkers for Children was founded by Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to assist and improve the lives foster children in New York. Mr. Scopetta, who was brought up in foster care himself, is deeply aware of the need to increase the private sector’s awareness of child welfare issues. One of the objectives of the “Friends” this year was to raise funds to assist foster children going off to college – supplying with some of the basic tools they will need – including an allowance for books and a laptop computer.

Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos chairs the Friends Committee that stages this event. The Friends Program Committee supports, in collaboration with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), opportunities for sustained guidance and networking between young adults and members of Friends of NYFC. It develops a pool of needed resources (restaurants, gift in-kind donations, and volunteers, as needed) to be used to directly support Children’s Services activities and efforts. They raised $300,000 for the cause.

There are almost 17,000 children in foster care in New York City. NYFC works with the City to provide them with comfort, support and guidance during this especially difficult time in their lives. If you want to get involved, there are all kinds of opportunities (including donating funds). Visit their web site: http://newyorkersforchildren.org/getinvolved2.html

This evening has become a fashion event. It is also another high profile social event where many women arrive unescorted either with other women friends or alone. Outside the ballroom there is a photographers’ frenzy and the girls are ready for it.

This was the year of the backless dress, at least that’s how this reporter saw it. It was a long cocktail hour, as usual, making it hard to seat a crowd of several hundred. Finally, Mrs. Kanavos brought me a hand mike and asked if I would announce that it was time to “sit.” A couple of announcements later they were settled in.

After the second course, the crowd took to the dance floor – which remained jammed and jumping for the next few hours.

Todd Romano and Rachel Hovnanian
Andrew Saffir and Ashley Schiff

Chani Arangruren with Sonja Morgan

Jonathan and Liz Eliot
Elizabeth Harrison

Ashley Schiff and Rusty O'Kelley

Alexis Clark and Rusty O'Kelley
Dana Stubgen and Dr. Patrick Stubgen

Natalie Leeds Leventhal

Eric Javits and Mark Gilbertson
Arthur Backal

Todd Romano and Robert Burke

Helen Lee Schifter
Olivia Chantecaille

Bettina Zilkha

Andrew Shore and Allison Minton
Louis Dubin and Kim Mnuchin

Lacy Booth and Oliver Hammond

Oliver Hammond and friend
Nick and Patty Raynes

Peggy Siegal

Valesca Guerrand Hermes
Kelly Bensimon

Graziano de Boni

Matt Brown and Ayla Farnos
Phillip Wolffe

Larry and Denise Wohl with Derek Blasberg

The rich, the chic, and the backless
Billy Norwich and Tory Burch
Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos and Marisa Noel Brown
L. to r.: Vanessa von Bismarck; Paul Kanavos and Abdi Mahamedi; Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos.
The backs of Gillian Miniter, Jennifer Creel, Elizabeth Harrison, and Rachel Hovnanian
L. to r.: DPC, Thorne Perkin, and Mark Gilbertson; Melissa Berkelhammer.
On the dance floor
Tinsley takes over with Derek Blasberg and Alvin Valley
Tinsley with Alvin Valley
Tinsley with Marshall Heyman


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April 10, 2006, Volume VI, Number 60
Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com