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Arnold Steinberg, the Republican strategist, sees Burkle’s political fund-raising for Democrats in a less humanitarian light. “He’s been in an environment where he’s surrounded by a lot of Democrats,” says Steinberg, “so he has to cover his bases.” The strategist argues that if Burkle were truly concerned about issues, he would have contributed to more issue-oriented candidates, who are often underdogs. Instead, Steinberg says, Burkle usually puts money on the safe bet. “He always goes with the front-runner,” says the Republican. “Even Hillary was the front-runner when she started.”
BURKLE’S RELATIONSHIP with Clinton wasn’t always a hot item in the national media, but things drastically changed in 2006, when Burkle claimed that Jared Paul Stern, a reporter for the New York Post, attempted to shake him down. Stern wrote for the Post’s notorious gossip column, Page Six, which had been calling Clinton “President Horndog” and often cited Burkle as a partner in crime. “It was their way to get to Clinton,” says Burkle about the Post, “and I just happened to be there.”
Burkle insists that Page Six had it all wrong. He says he always took extra precautions in his private life whenever he was around Clinton and even told his girlfriends to sleep at a hotel when the former president was a guest at Green Acres so nothing would seem untoward.
He met with Stern to discuss toning down the “horrible shit” that was written about him and Clinton, he says. But, Burkle claims, the reporter repeatedly asked for money to fund his clothing line, Skull & Bones. The billionaire then contacted law-enforcement authorities, and the FBI investigated the blackmail charges. Stern, though, was never arrested for any crime. Burkle explains that away during our interview by saying reporters are held to a different standard under the law.
When asked about Burkle’s version of events, Stern writes in an e-mail to the Weekly: “[Burkle] arranged the first meeting in July ’05 using the clothing company as a lure, and that’s well documented. So it’s a little disingenuous of him to claim otherwise now — but then telling the truth was never his strong suit. Reporters obviously do not have different standards for what is considered a crime — criminal activity is very rigidly defined by the law and no one is above it, though people like Burkle seem to think they are. He’s simply trying to mask the fact that he knowingly made false accusations. As for the rest of his ridiculous comments, as the saying goes, he can tell it to the judge. I look forward to the day when this clown has to explain himself in court and risk committing perjury if he continues to lie.”
During the meetings between Burkle and Stern, the billionaire came off as someone not entirely comfortable with himself, according to the former New York Post reporter. “He likes to play up his regular-guy roots,” Stern says, “but he’s a big name dropper. He tries to impress and intimidate you with it. He seemed very insecure.” Stern adds, “He always wears jeans and a polo shirt, but he’s not the first billionaire to play down his wealth by wearing blue jeans.”
Stern was run out of New York City after a series of scathing articles about him ran in the Daily News— the archrival of the New York Post. Stern claims Burkle was the source of the information that destroyed his career and forced him to move out of pricey Manhattan — he now lives in the Catskills, where his wife initially took a job at a salad-dressing factory to support them.
“We had to liquidate our retirement accounts,” says Stern, “and we’re far from recovered. It was devastating. It was [a] nightmare. And it’s still not over.”
Stern is suing Burkle and the Clintons, among others, for defamation and additional damages, and says he was merely a “pawn” in a larger game of Burkle’s to force Rupert Murdoch to rein in the coverage about Burkle, the Clintons and their crowd by his New York Postreporters. (Murdoch owns the newspaper.)
Burkle openly admits he’s hardly above trying to manipulate the media. He says Stern is wrong about the details of their dustup, and that if he really wanted to get to Murdoch, he would merely have called him up — billionaire to billionaire — and “cut a deal.” In fact, Burkle says, “Murdoch wishes he made a deal.”
In the end, negative coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by the New York Post only grew more intense. Over Memorial Day weekend, the newspaper’s front page ridiculed Clinton’s remarks about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy for two days in a row, with blaring headlines like “SHE SAID WHAT?” and unflattering pictures of the New York senator with her mouth hanging open.