But, he said, after Mr. Johnson emerged from a daily 11 a.m. editorial meeting, he told Mr. Stern that he had been ordered to kill the story.
“So, basically, what we ended up doing is reconfiguring the story and working with Hillary Clinton’s people on this, and the story we ended up printing was that Ed Klein had done a sloppy hatchet job,” Mr. Stern said.
“This book was attacked by critics as reckless and having unsubstantiated claims,” said Mr. Rubenstein. “Richard Johnson did not want to carry something that was unsubstantiated and could very well be considered libelous. He constantly edits and rewrites people’s copy. He did what was appropriate. Johnson wanted to do something that was appropriate.”
If that’s true, said Mr. Stern, it would be a reversal of a common practice at the column.
“That happened frequently on all kinds of topics,” Mr. Stern claimed. “You know, tell-all books are a big Page Six staple, and we try to get them in advance, and we try to run down all the juicy stuff.
And the item did attract a lot of attention, because it appeared in the paper just as Manhattan media circles had started to detect a détente in the relations between the New York Post and Mrs. Clinton’s then-hot 2006 Senate campaign.
“The Page Six trashing of Ed Klein’s wretched little piece of sewage was a very interesting article,” Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton aide and author, told The Observer shortly after that item was published. “We won’t know for a while whether or not it was assigned, but it appears that [Page Six] sought the story.”
It was remarkable to liberal media watchdogs precisely because it seemed to be such a sea change.
The liberal journalist Michael Tomasky had, during Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, tallied 212 “negative” stories about Mrs. Clinton in the Post, against a mere seven “positive” stories and 17 that he judged “neutral.”
But during the first few years of Mrs. Clinton’s Senate career, that seemed to change.
“I don’t exactly know what happened with the Clintons,” said Mr. Spiegelman. “It was way before Rupert ever had a fund-raiser with the Clintons. One day, the Clintons are our friends now.”
“[Bill] Clinton definitely was out and about, and it didn’t get reported in Page Six,” said former Page Six reporter Fernando Gil of the column’s treatment of the Clintons in the years following Mrs. Clinton’s successful Senate campaign. “You can probably draw your own conclusions.”
It was shortly before Mr. Gil arrived at Page Six, in early 2003, that Rupert Murdoch gave Bill Clinton a tour of the New York Post’s newsroom.
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