Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In Defense of Extortion: Harry Silverglate of The Phoenix offers a grotesque defense of Page Six extortionist Jared Paul Stern, chastising the New York Times and others for interpreting his demand for cash to stop printing lies about supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and insisting: “The real story here is the collaboration of the businessman, his private henchmen, and their federal prosecutor and FBI allies to try to set up a sleazy but not criminal gossip columnist for a federal bust.”

Silverglade’s defense of Stern runs as follows: “Stern makes reasonably clear that he is not seeking to extort Burkle: ‘It is not a stickup,’ Stern assures the mogul at one point. Stern’s attempt to become a media consultant to Burkle is suggested when he offers to ‘help you when it is needed.’ When Burkle, obviously at the suggestion of the feds monitoring the conversation, tries to get Stern to adopt the description of ‘protection’ for the service Stern is offering, Stern demurs, saying that he is offering ‘help’ and not protection. ‘Protection,’ Stern admonished Burkle, ‘adds overtones.’”

This is either naïve or disingenuous or both. Far from exonerating Stern, that seems to me to make the case that not only was he engaged in extortion, but he new damn well what he was doing and was sophisticated enough about his criminality to couch it in indirect terms. Can’t you just picture the Sopranos character standing in front of the terrified shopkeeper, slapping a baseball bat into his palm and saying: “Don’t think of it as protection, this of it as a service we are providing.”

But Silverglate really goes off the rails when he suggests that when Stern offered “advice” about how Burkle could keep his name out of the paper’s columns, “What we’re seeing is the kind of pitch that PR men and women make every day in the Big Apple and elsewhere.”

Yeah, except PR people are not the ones threatening to print lies. The difference is not one of degree. It’s the difference between hiring a bodyguard and paying off a crook. And if Slverglate doesn’t know the difference, he’s as morally compromised as the dirtbag he’s trying to defend.

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