A freelancer for the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column is under investigation by the FBI on suspicion of trying to extort money from billionaire Ron Burkle (pictured), who hopes to buy 12 Knight Ridder newspapers including the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. Jared Paul Stern is suspected of demanding $100,000 and a $10,000 stipend from Burkle in exchange for not writing “damaging, negative stories” about him, the Post said on its web site. The Post didn’t say what specifically Stern allegedly threatened to write about Burkle. No arrests have been made. The New York Sun reports that Stern has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine. Although Burkle is trying to buy the 12 Knight Ridder papers that are for sale, he rarely talks to the press himself and, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, had his employees last year buy stacks of copies of the Los Angeles Business Journal to prevent people from reading about his divorce. State Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, who has received contributions from Burkle, is pushing a bill through the legislature that would seal financial records in divorce cases, including Burkle’s. Critics have said the bill is unnecessary because it would only benefit Burkle but would make news reporting of all California divorce cases more difficult. Meanwhile, a gossip columnist in San Francisco, P.J. Corkery of the Examiner, reported March 8 that the United Arab Emirates was funding Burkle’s bid to buy the Knight Ridder papers. [AP version]

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