Allan’s other nemeses, Ian Spiegelman and Jared Paul Stern, were prototypical creatures of the take-no-prisoners, favor-trading, freebie-taking culture that Allan allowed to flourish at the Post. Spiegelman in particular cultivated an outsider’s anger and bragged about using “Page Six” to settle scores. After I published in my Daily News column an account of an instance in which Spiegelman had threatened an enemy, Allan fired him.
The bad blood has not dissipated, to say the least. After Stern threatened to sue the Post, Spiegelman (who has also worked on New York’s “Intelligencer” section) submitted an affidavit in support of the suit alleging all manner of Post perfidies. Predictably, Allan called Spiegelman’s claims “a tissue of lies concocted by an embittered former employee I fired” in an item “Page Six” itself preemptively published about the affidavit. But, surprisingly, the editor was forced to admit that Richard Johnson had indeed taken a $1,000 “Christmas gift” from a restaurateur in 1997, and that Allan had indeed been a customer at Scores, but “my conduct was beyond reproach.” As for the cash-stuffed envelope, the 53-year-old Johnson, who’s been in charge of “Page Six” for 20 of its 31 years, “was severely reprimanded and warned, and safeguards have been put in place so it doesn’t happen again,” says a top News Corp. exec. “It was a lapse of judgment, but the decision was made that one lapse shouldn’t ruin what otherwise has been a very good career.” Johnson has suffered his own annus horribilus since the initial scandal broke on the eve of his third wedding, getting arrested, and spending a night in the Tombs, on suspicion of drunk driving in June of last year. His wife, Sessa von Richthofen, a distant relative of the Red Baron, has told friends she wants her husband to give up the stress of the daily column to write fiction or edit a magazine, even though that would likely mean a steep decline in his reported $300,000-plus annual income. “I don’t care, I can live with Richard in a shack in Virginia,” says Von Richthofen, the mother of their baby daughter, “and Richard can write novels.”
Johnson might have been in the doghouse, but Allan was on the hot seat. Rupert Murdoch wasn’t happy. The seamy disclosures couldn’t have come at a worse time. He had just proffered his bid to buy Dow Jones & Co.—and add The Wall Street Journal to his $70 billion global media empire, which includes 20th Century Fox movie studies, Fox Television and the Fox News Channel, DirectTV satellite television, and HarperCollins publishers. Hoping to tie the Journal to the soon-to-launch Fox business channel, Murdoch had been trying to convince the Bancroft family, which controlled the voting stock in Dow Jones, that he could be a champion of responsible, high-quality journalism. The “Page Six” scandal was wildly off-message. “Rupert was fully briefed on the matter and was really concerned about it—he took it very seriously,” says a top News Corp. exec. With atypical understatement, Allan says, “Rupert had some questions for me.”
Cindy Adams tells me, “There is a certain braggart swagger to the way Col talks and walks, and for there to be this chink in his armor, it hurt him deeply.” A close confidant of Allan’s says, “He’s very tough, but I know his wife, Sharon, has been shattered by it. And he had to talk his children through it, and it’s been very rough for him and his family.”
Allan is publicly stoic. “It was kind of disappointing,” he tells me blandly. Allan has taken steps to end a culture of freebie-taking that has long been tolerated—and, according to Spiegelman, even encouraged—in the Post’s newsroom, but stoutly defends Johnson, whose acceptance of cash from a restaurateur would be a firing offense at almost any other American newspaper. “I happen to be a big fan of Richard’s,” he says. “He does a very difficult job very well. He made an error, and he admitted to it, and I think it took some courage to do that.” Johnson declined to comment except to say, “I would walk through a wall for this man.”
Spiegelman, meanwhile, has been favoring Allan with a running commentary on the situation. “I know where you’re at right now, you fat sluggish waste of perfectly good carbon,” Spiegelman e-mailed to Allan recently. “You’re stuffing your goddamned face, belching and farting, and thinking that you’ve handily side-stepped this episode … Col, you’re tired. You’ve quit. Don’t you think it’s about time you get the fuck out of my country, you hump?” Spiegelman signed off: “Hugs and death, Ian.”
At the neighborhood bar, Allan is pissed, in every sense of that word. As we sit on stools at a high table for two, I am struggling not to rest my head on the table.
“The Daily News launched this unbelievable attack,” he tells me after ordering more Pinot Noir. “I can understand them attacking us, but what I couldn’t abide is the hypocrisy. It was outrageous. It kind of pissed me off. They had an editor named Michael Cooke who took a free trip to a castle in England and then he proceeded to plagiarize himself because he was too freaking lazy. And he was the ethical leader of those folks, mate.” (Cooke, now editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun Times, retorts, “That’s surprising. I’ve only met Col Allan once. He seemed like a charming man. But then again, he was sober.”)
Allan goes on: “If Richard Johnson goes to L.A., I pay his airfare and I pay his hotel. Ask your former friends at the Daily News how they pay their expenses. These fuckers—it’s outrageous! The problem is, nobody cares, because the News has become irrelevant.
“I don’t take freebies,” Allan insists, noting correctly, with angry vehemence, that the News can hardly claim ethical purity on the issue. “This guy Ian Spiegelman claimed I was ‘said’ to have ‘taken favors’ [at Scores]. ‘Said’ by whom? It’s a fucking lie. It makes me angry.” The editor adds, “I took my family to the Bahamas for a holiday, and it cost me $23,000. What’s free?” The bartender announces last call, and Allan shakes his head. “I actually know what a glass house looks like.”
He’s still barking as I get in a cab.