STATE SIDE:BY FOO YEE PING
IT'S A newspaper column that even VVIPs like Donald Trump would turn to. Once, the real estate magnate reportedly asked a staff to bring him a copy of the New York Post so that he could check out Page Six that day, as it had mentioned his daughter Ivanka.
That, by the way, is the name of a gossip column which is essential reading here, at least by those who care to admit it.
Page Six appears daily in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post, the fifth biggest newspaper in the United States with a circulation of 725,000.
Its name is a misnomer since its two-page spread no longer appears on page six itself, but in the pages further back.
But Page Six, which began in 1977, has become such a part of New York life. Among other things, it was featured in the TV serial Sex and the City where in one scene, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), the slutty PR lady, was upset over an item published in the gossip fodder.
The column offers scoops and the low-down on celebrities, supermodels, business moguls, socialites, the movers and the shakers.
It loves to use the word “canoodling” to describe amorous artistes.
Example: “Bad boy Josh Hartnett snuck away with his new gal Penelope Cruz for a spring fling vacation. The two were spotted canoodling at the Parrot Cay private island resort in the Caribbean's Turks and Caicos.”
Even the much more serious The New York Times acknowledges Page Six is a staple for juicy gossip.
Occasionally, it has a small section with the titillating title “Just Asking” which offers questions such as:
“Which multifaceted investment banker has been freaking friends out with his atrocious attire? The formerly fashion-forward mogul has recently been spotted by close pals wearing muumuus, kimonos and eyeliner.”
Page Six, apparently, was among the earlier gossip columns which gave endless coverage to celebutante Paris Hilton before she became famous for being famous.
(A recent request to interview one of Page Six's gossip columnists was turned down.)
“It's among the first things that I read, besides the horoscope page. I always get to the garbage section first,” quipped Ina Vistica, a freelancer who has lived in New York for 20 years.
Asked to recall some memorable stories that she read from Page Six, she replied: “You don't remember anything you read there. They are not meaningful things. It has absolutely zero meaning in people's lives.
“These are things I don't care about. It's frivolous, but it is a great diversion from the serious news. That is why it is so interesting. It takes readers away from their boring life; at least for most!”
Most newspapers here have their own gossip sites but their popularity and power does not match that of Page Six, which is an established brand name, so to speak.
“It's the original one. It was on the map first. The column has more insight on the celebrities: who's doing what, who was spotted where. These are all told in a you're-not-supposed-to-know tone. It is forbidden news, which makes the column so successful,” said Vistica.
Besides, she said, American culture is obsessed with celebrities.
Last month, Page Six became news itself when it published allegations made by Ian Spiegelman, a former reporter sacked by the Post three years ago.
Spiegelman's affidavit, among other things, stated that Post editor-in-chief Col Allan was a frequent patron of Scores, a strip club, and that a restaurateur had sent cash to Page Six editor Richard Johnson in 1997.
The statement from Spiegelman is part of a feud between Page Six and Jared Paul Stern, a former freelancer for the column who was suspended last year (but never charged) following accusations of him demanding money from a billionaire in exchange for favourable reporting.
Stern is mulling over legal action against the Post and so his lawyer obtained Spiegelman's statement.
In what was seen as a pre-emptive strike, Page Six published each and every accusation of Spiegelman's, plus the newspaper's own explanation or denial of the allegations.
Allan, for example, acknowledged that he had been to Scores, but that it was several years ago and that his conduct was beyond reproach.
“Spigelman's claims are a tissue of lies concocted by an embittered former employee I fired,” he was quoted as saying.
Johnson, on his part, did accept a US$1,000 (RM3,450) Christmas gift from the restaurateur. “After he informed me of his error in judgment, he was reprimanded, and policies were adopted that render such ethical lapses completely unacceptable,” Allan said.
Other media picked up the juice, never failing to note that Page Six had itself become gossip.
It's the stuff that tabloid heaven is made of.