Legendary New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy spoke to The New Yorker about the storm surrounding Page Six. The Talk of The Town caught him on Friday afternoon, before evidence developed that there may be less to the alleged extortion attempt and more to West Coast billionaire and Democratic Party contributor Ron Burkle's motives for setting up the videotaped sting.
...the Post columnist was in his usual spot at Langan’s, an Irish joint on West Forty-seventh Street… a regular hangout for people who work at the Post, which is situated in a skyscraper across the street.
“Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” Dunleavy whispered, shaking his gray pompadour from side to side. When he first saw the story, at 6 A.M., he was standing on the doorstep of his house, out in Lido Beach, Long Island, and he thought it was a gag: somebody at the News, perhaps his old friend Martin Dunn, the editor, had mocked up a fake copy of the paper and sent it to him as a joke. “I said to myself, ‘I bet I’m in here somewhere, on page 5, falling-down drunk,’ ” Dunleavy said. But, as he read on, he realized that it was for real.
“It’s the most incredible thing,” Dunleavy, who began his career in journalism in Sydney in 1952, said. “Thirty or forty years ago, maybe there was stuff like this going on. Somebody would say, ‘Put this story in and I’ll do something nice for you.’ And somebody would end up with a fur coat. But nothing as straightforward as this. What was the guy thinking?”
...Although Dunleavy didn’t know Stern very well—the gossip columnist preferred movie premières and fancy restaurants to Irish taverns—he had always admired Stern’s English-style suits. “I asked him where he got his suits, and he told me he got them at outlets in Vermont,” Dunleavy recalled. “Looking back, perhaps I should have thought twice about somebody on a Post reporter’s salary wearing such expensive clothes,” he went on. “He was always very polite, very pleasant. I swear: he never showed any signs of chicanery to me. The only thing I can say is that he went fucking nuts. He must have had some sort of mental breakdown.”
Dunleavy paused and shook his head again. “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” he repeated. “I bleed for the paper, I really do.” With that, Dunleavy took a drink, a long one. “On the other hand,” he said, perking up a bit, “to some degree it legitimizes me. After reading that story, I think I come across a bit more positively. I’ve got into fights, and that sort of thing, but nobody has ever accused me of anything like this, of corruption or extortion.” He went on, “I mean, I get every fourth drink bought for me. But you’d get that at any Irish bar, even if your name was Paul Spratt.”