Billionaire Ron Burkle, who in 2004 had his employees buy up every copy of a newspaper to prevent the public from reading an unflattering article about him, says in a Wall Street Journal commentary today that newsrooms need higher standards of accountability. Burkle, who has submitted what is believed to be the high bid for the San Jose Mercury News and 11 other Knight Ridder newspapers up for sale, says newsroom accountability should be at the level of accountability in corporate boardrooms.
Burkle’s piece concerned the alleged attempt by New York Post freelancer Jared Paul Stern to solicit a bribe from him in return for positive coverage in the paper’s society column. Though Burkle’s negotiations with Stern were recorded on videotape, police have yet to make any arrests. Stern claims he was set up by Burkle.
“I was asked repeatedly to pass on secrets about my friends to gain protection against negative stories about myself. I refused to play this game, so I was punished,” Burkle writes. “But this source game is not only played on Page Six. It is also played for high stakes on Wall Street and in Washington. We’ve all read how well-known and respected journalists have readily protected top-ranked officials leaking classified information. It makes one wonder: Where does the political reporter end and the political operative begin?”
The board of directors of Burkle’s Yucipa Companies, which is bidding for the Knight Ridder papers, includes former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The San Francisco Examiner’s P.J. Corkery reported March 8 that Burkle is getting money to acquire the KR papers from the United Arab Emirates.
UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee reports that a bill that is seen as a political favor for Burkle to seal records in his divorce and all others in the future has won approval in Assembly Judiciary Committee.