It was another long night at Elaine’s for Col Allan, who—before the festivities staggered to an end at three o’clock in the morning—would ingest the better part of four bottles of Pinot Noir, while I, unwisely, did my best to keep up.
“If we were the only media organization in the United States, then I would think we would be a little more guarded,” the editor-in-chief of the New York Post told me with a smirk as he refilled my glass. We’re discussing the tabloid’s ruthless mockery of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. “However, given the vastness of the choices that people have, whether it’s the Internet or broadcast television or the cable networks, or the positions taken by the New York Times—”
But doesn’t the Times, I interrupted, conspicuously attempt to be fair and balanced?
Allan—whose outsize wire-rims might lend him a mildly ineffectual aspect if his lips didn’t curl into a default position of amused disgust—leaned into his argument as though uncorking a punch. “I can’t have a serious conversation with you if you tell me the Times plays these issues down the middle,” he says in a braying Aussie twang. “The point is that the New York Times would be extremely dangerous if it were the only choice that Americans had.”
The Obama coverage was not especially over the top in the Post context, but it did seem a vivid example of Allan’s particular gift as an editor. Both the Times and the News had given respectful coverage to the Illinois senator’s major foreign-policy address last month at a Washington think tank. But the Post’s story—headlined OBAMA: I’D INVADE ALLY, STUNNING PLAN TO FIGHT QAEDA IN PAKISTAN—asserted that “Obama’s foreign policy is shaping up to be a ‘talk to your enemies, invade your friends’ approach to American relations abroad,” joining an editorial (which Allan controls), “Obama Bombs”; an op-ed, “Barack’s Blunder”; and a column, “Bluster of Berserk Barack.” Allan had commissioned a photo-illustration depicting the senator poking his helmeted head out of a tank turret—like hapless Democrat Michael Dukakis in the famous 1988 campaign commercial—and featuring a crude map of Pakistan with a schoolboy scrawl: “OBAMA’S PLAN FOR INVADING PAKISTAN. 1. Someone Said the Bad Man iS playing hide-and-Seek there. 2. I want to take my SoldierS to capture him. They have rifles. 3. I don’t care if Mr. Mu Shu or whatever hiS name iS SayS I can’t. I’m the president. 4. I hope I win the game or else the Scary men will get the really big weapons.”
At our table near the back wall, Allan explained, “We treated his position with healthy disrespect, and we let the readers make up their minds.”
He smiled that sardonic smile, and drained the rest of his glass.
At the Post, the party is slightly out of control, which is part of the fun, both for readers and reporters. The paper is aggressive, uninhibited, unpredictable, prone to anger and sometimes juvenile comedy in equal measure. Heroic consumption of alcohol has long been a part of this equation, but even in this tradition Allan stands out. “Col is a very engaging man,” says his sometime dinner companion Graydon Carter. “And he can drink just about anybody I know, with the exception of Christopher Hitchens, under many tables. He’s got real Aussie blood in him.”
Allan sees himself and his News Corp. colleagues as outlaws. “We like being pirates,” Allan tells me. “We don’t like conforming. I don’t want to go to the fanciest cocktail parties. I don’t care for it. I’m not interested. There’s a broader culture within the company that encourages creativity, encourages freedom. And speaking particularly for the Post, I like the idea of a sword and a patch over the eye.”
Certainly, Allan’s vessel is crude, ribald, swashbuckling. His minions torment their victims for sport. They’re outsiders, outlaws. They don’t play by the Times’ rules, or anyone else’s. The pillars of the community are rum and the lash. It’s a hard life, but it has its pleasures.
The day after Elaine’s, my only punishment for my close encounter with Col was a wicked hangover. Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd wasn’t so lucky. Last month, the Aussie media and several American papers, notably the Daily News, made a frenzied meal out of the revelation that, during an official visit by the Labor Party leader to New York four years ago, the straitlaced Rudd let Allan lure him to the East Side gentlemen’s club Scores, where he got so blotto he allegedly manhandled the strippers, a revelation that has jeopardized Rudd’s well-paid plans to be elected Australia’s prime minister this fall.
The disclosure was only the latest in a series of incidents that have threatened the Post’s pirate lifestyle. In April of last year, there was the astonishing revelation that spat-wearing, watch-fobbed “Page Six” reporter Jared Paul Stern had allegedly tried to shake down Los Angeles billionaire (and Bill Clinton crony) Ron Burkle, offering to keep negative items out of the column for a monthly payment of $10,000, after an initiation fee of $100,000. The scandal widened when Ian Spiegelman, who had been fired for threatening a source, alleged in an affidavit in support of a possible lawsuit by Stern that “Page Six” editor Richard Johnson had accepted $3,000 from a restaurateur to whom he’d given favorable coverage, that negative “Page Six” stories about the Clintons had been routinely killed, and (horror of horrors) that Allan himself had been a habitué of Scores.
Meanwhile, though the Post has managed to spend itself into a circulation stalemate with Mort Zuckerman’s marginally profitable Daily News, Murdoch is still waiting for Allan to stop bleeding tens of millions of dollars annually, much of the deficit the result of the Post’s 25-cent daily cover price, which is half that of the News. Much of the argument for the success of the Post has been that, while unprofitable, it’s nonetheless the “popular” paper, trouncing the News in circulation growth. When, in late April, the Post raised its price to the News’ 50 cents (and when the News countered by dropping its price to 25 cents) the growth disappeared overnight, showing the Post’s popularity to be more than a little overstated.
The backdrop to this procession of embarrassments was News Corp.’s pursuit and eventual capture of The Wall Street Journal, an enterprise that required Rupert Murdoch to present himself as a fair-minded steward of responsible journalism, not a rapacious tabloid mogul. Col Allan and the Post have seen themselves as something like Murdoch’s id incarnate. But in the past few months, Dr. Jekyll has been eager to keep Mr. Hyde under wraps. And the Post, of course, wouldn’t be the Post if it was forced to play by a more dignified set of rules.
I first met Allan in September 2003, the same month he was getting lap dances with a visiting Aussie parliamentarian, shortly after I left the Washington Post to start a gossip column at the News. We were at a party at Soho House, and even though I was working for the enemy, he called me “mate.” After that, he was always matey, but with a hint of aggression.
Two encounters stand out. Around 1 a.m. on a frigid winter night in 2004, as both of us were leaving “Page Six” editor Richard Johnson’s 50th-birthday party at the Chelsea nightclub Marquee, Allan offered me a lift in his chauffeured sedan—one of the perks of being editor-in-chief (along with a salary somewhat less than the News’s Martin Dunn’s $1.2 million a year). But instead of dropping me home, he ordered the driver to stop at his rented townhouse on West 71st Street and insisted I come in for a drink. While his wife and four children slept upstairs, Allan boozily steered me into his unheated dining room, uncorked a bottle of red wine, and, pouring glass after glass, harangued me about his intention to put the News out of business. “Dear boy, never get into a price war with Murdoch—it’ll end in tears.” Shivering, I could barely keep my eyes open. “Col,” I slurred, “can I go home now?” It was almost 3 a.m. when he finally relented and let me escape.
In March 2006, he was rounding out yet another long, vinous dinner at Elaine’s with his then-deputy, Fleet Street veteran Colin Myler, and their wives. He invited me to join them for postprandial drinks. In due course, Allan started cataloguing the shortcomings of the News, and I parried by questioning the Post’s decision to play inside, rather than on the cover, the story of a young woman who had been savagely raped, murdered, and wrapped in packing tape before being dumped on a roadside. The Post had it first, but when the News followed with a page-one splash, it took ownership of a story that dominated the local media for weeks. “With all due respect,” I said, “I think you underplayed it.”
Instantly, Allan and Myler exploded at me, shouting and cursing, their eyes glinting. If the Post’s top editor hadn’t been recovering from a recent appendectomy, I thought he might have lunged across the table. His deputy actually boxed my ear as he called me “cheeky” and bared his teeth, a facsimile of a smile. Sharon Allan and Carol Myler—who apparently had seen it all before—just laughed.
Allan has enjoyed his share of barroom brawls, even though “I don’t think he ever won one,” says his longtime friend and News Corp. colleague John Hartigan. Allan’s lack of pugilistic prowess earned him the nickname “Canvas Back.”
Allan’s flaming temper and scary management style long ago earned him another nickname, “Col Pot,” and he encourages similar pugnacity in his troops. After “Page Six” leg man Chris Wilson was ejected from a party during the 2004 Republican National Convention for spitting a mouthful of whiskey on my then-assistant, Hudson Morgan, the editor-in-chief good-naturedly demanded, “Why didn’t you punch him?”
And the rage isn’t just for fun. In March 2003, when the News scooped the Post on the memoirs and identity of Trisha Meili, the so-called Central Park Jogger, who was savagely beaten and gang-raped in 1989 by young thugs, Allan fired off an ominous e-mail to Meili’s literary agent, Joni Evans, with whom he had been friendly. “After seeing today’s daily news I am contemplating two courses of action,” Allan wrote to Evans, “taking a blunt axe to the jogger—we know a lot about her,” he threatened, or “taking the view this book was never written—not a sentence, not a word shared with our 2.2 million readers. Which of these two options would you recommend?”
A shocked Evans promptly phoned the editor, who had wrongly assumed that she had leaked the “exclusive” to the News—which had discovered the audio version of the book prematurely on sale—and had it out with him in a profanity-laced screaming match. “It was one of the worst fights I ever had,” says Evans, adding that she and Allan later patched things up (although the Post did indeed boycott Meili’s best seller).
But Allan is also a comedian—part Stephen Colbert, part Benny Hill—a tabloid circusmaster of undeniable talent. When Paris Hilton was released from jail, he commissioned a photo-illustration of the oversexed celebutard being hoisted aloft in triumph by a crowd in Times Square, with the headline V-D DAY! PARIS LIBERATED, BIMBOS REJOICE. The front-page headline for Leona Helmsley’s bequest to her little white Maltese: RICH BITCH.
Allan’s best work, in fact, has often involved animal themes. AXIS OF WEASEL, a front page that convulsed even antiwar New York, followed on a photo of the French and German ministers of the U.N. with weasel heads superimposed.
Another classic was SURRENDER MONKEYS (about the dovish prescriptions of the Iraq Study Group, featuring Photoshopped images of co-chairmen James Baker and Lee Hamilton as hirsute apes). Concerning that much-discussed cover line, Allan explains, “We thought [the Iraq report] would be a whitewash, and it was. They urged, essentially, immediate withdrawal. It’s like that joke: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? Nobody knows—it’s never been tried! Frankly, I think appeasement at any level should be opposed.”
Dubbo, the sleepy agricultural town where Allan grew up in the fifties and sixties, about 250 miles northwest of Sydney in Australia’s Western Plains, was so remote that it barely received a signal from a distant black-and-white television station, forcing young Col—short for the never-used Colin—to amuse himself by reading. The oldest of four boys, sons of an electrical-supply-store owner, he devoured Hemingway, especially the Nick Adams stories, and was so riveted by William Manchester’s Death of a President that he read it eight times.
“I started reading newspapers as an early teenager, and I enjoyed them immensely,” Allan tells me at the Upper West Side restaurant Ouest, during another hangover-inducing interview in which we end up closing down a neighborhood bar near Allan’s house. “So I figured if they were so much fun to read, they must be a lot of fun to work on.”
Allan hopes the ‘Post’ never wins a Pulitzer. “Who’d want to win an award that’s dished out by the hard left?”
He flunked out of the Australian National University in Canberra, the capital city, where his discovery of girls and beer after a sheltered life among straitlaced Irish Presbyterians proved just too much of a distraction from his political-science classes. “I remember protesting against the Vietnam War, not because I believed in ending the war but because it was a way to meet chicks,” Allan recalls.
He found a job on a local newspaper named, bizarrely, the Daily Liberal, where he spent a couple of years covering cops and local politics before landing a cub reporter’s position at the Daily Mirror, Murdoch’s afternoon paper in Sydney.
The city in 1974 had 3 million people and was roiling with tabloid rivalries. Murdoch’s Mirror competed in the afternoon against the Fairfax-owned outlet, the Sun. “When I went to Sydney, everything changed for me,” Allan recalls. “My friends will tell you, I hate losing. I simply hate to lose. I’m not a good loser. So what happened was I got into this newspaper environment in a big city and I found a place for these instincts.”
In 1978, Allan was dispatched to New York for a three-year tour covering the United States for News Limited’s Aussie papers and, every so often, the London Sun, which once flew him out to a concert in Seattle to ask Brit pop star Cliff Richard if he was gay—a question that got Allan tossed out of the singer’s dressing room, and hurled against a wall, by two hulking bodyguards. Another time, he spent the night in jail after doorstepping the uncooperative suburban parents of Nancy Spungen, the murdered girlfriend of former Sex Pistol Sid Vicious.
In those days, the only way he could get a table at Elaine’s was when he showed up with New Zealander Neal Travis, who had recently left “Page Six” for the “Intelligencer” column (when this magazine was owned by Murdoch). Travis, who died of cancer in 2002, took the young Aussie under his wing, treating him to an upgrade of his rumpled wardrobe at his personal tailor and escorting him to Studio 54.
He met Rupert Murdoch over drinks one night with Travis and another Australian (and prodigious consumer of alcohol), Steve Dunleavy, then a reporter for Murdoch’s Star magazine and already a figure in Manhattan’s tabloid demimonde. The bond was solidified over cocktails in London. “I didn’t throw up on his shirt,” says Allan, “so I figured everything went okay.”
Another beverage Allan has drunk deeply of is Murdoch’s Kool-Aid. “Rupert is a very fine journalist,” he tells me, as part of a long, not-inaccurate soliloquy on Murdoch’s many talents. “You can take any person on a newspaper—anyone—and he can do their job. He’s simply a gifted journalist.”
He went back to Australia in 1982. Ten years later, the 39-year-old Allan had risen to become editor-in-chief of Sydney’s also-ran tabloid, the Telegraph. By almost every measure, his reign was a triumph. Picking fights with high government officials and ordering up snappy headlines (A NATION OF BASTARDS he famously titled an otherwise humdrum story about the rise in children born out of wedlock), he turned the paper into Sydney’s must-read, spiking circulation to nearly double that of the Morning Herald. Allan once ordered the Telegraph’s New York correspondent to fly to Washington, obtain a sheep, and tie it to the White House gate to protest U.S. import quotas on Australian lamb. It was also at the Telegraph that he perfected his management techniques—which included an unnerving alpha-dog habit of urinating in his office washbasin during editorial meetings. Today, Allan insists the washbasin was behind a closet door.
In Sydney, he met Lachlan Murdoch, who, barely out of Princeton, had been appointed deputy CEO of News Limited, overseeing News Corp.’s Aussie properties. Many came to think of Allan as the Falstaff to Lachlan’s Prince Hal. In the fall of 2000, it was Lachlan who told him he and his father wanted him to return to New York to replace an unsuspecting Xana Antunes as the Post’s editor-in-chief.
“I needed to find someone who didn’t think I was crazy when I said I wanted to beat the News,” Lachlan Murdoch said in an e-mail. “Col was the only person who was as crazy as I was.”
A week after Antunes’s defenestration, a jet-lagged Allan arrived at the Post’s newsroom on the tenth floor of News Corp. headquarters at 1211 Sixth Avenue. Waiting in his office was a pedestal washbasin gift-wrapped in a red ribbon—less a welcome than a hazing. Allan soon repaid the favor by firing half a dozen senior editors—including the man suspected of giving the gift, managing editor Stuart Marques—along with legendary columnist Jack Newfield. The newsroom was shocked; some wept. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, a pal of Newfield’s, publicly wondered if the interloper was a racist—one of the fired editors was African-American (she also happened to be a single mother and dying of cancer)—and challenged him to a public debate. “He did not come in with a Valentine bow around him,” says Cindy Adams, who went to lunch at Michael’s with the new editor along with Ken Chandler and Howard Rubenstein. “Col started talking about how lonely he was, how he couldn’t wait till his wife and family came over, and how axing all those people was such a tough and painful thing for him to do. He showed a vulnerable side.”
Allan’s underlings would be surprised. Reporters and editors who’ve been summoned by Allan for a dressing-down in his corner office on the tenth floor speak of their stomachs flipping and their palms sweating. Allan explains, “Look, I’m a tabloid guy. I drive hard, maybe a little too hard sometimes, and I am occasionally unreasonable maybe. I don’t suffer fools easily, and I’m not fond of saying something twice. Confronted with something foolish, I’m blunt, but I rarely shriek.” Allan acknowledges that his wife, Sharon, “has told me to calm down a couple of times. Rupert told me to calm down once, I can’t remember why. But I care about the people that work for me.”
While Adams says “I genuinely love the guy,” the Post’s other gossip doyenne, Liz Smith, feels differently. Allan has curtailed the 84-year-old Smith’s column from six to three days a week, and the rumor—which Allan denies—is that he intends to replace her with Michael Riedel, the Post’s pugnacious Broadway columnist, who is one of Allan’s favorites. The move would have the added benefit of encouraging Riedel-hating Broadway producers to advertise their shows in the Post. “Col Allan is a tremendously loyal and caring boss to the Post employees he cares about,” Smith says tartly. Allan airily responds, “I have tremendous regard for Liz. She is a legend. But we must not be afraid of change.” Allan—who can’t vote—calls himself “a Giuliani conservative,” meaning hawkish on national-security issues but laissez-faire on social issues (pro-choice and pro–gun control, with the significant deviation that he’s against the death penalty). Never mind that shortly after Allan settled into his new job in the spring of 2001, he was awakened at 2 a.m. by a call to his unlisted home phone from an angry Giuliani—who, in the middle of his messy divorce, fussed at the editor about a headline concerning his children.
“How did you get this number?” Allan asked.
“I’m the fucking mayor of New York,” Giuliani replied. “I have everybody’s number.”
At Elaine’s, Allan tells me gleefully that for the next day’s paper, he has commissioned another daffy illustration—this one of Hillary Clinton in a nurse’s outfit (for a story on the Democratic front-runner’s photo op on a nursing shift at a Las Vegas hospital). Since Rupert Murdoch pledged $500,000 to Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative and hosted a fund-raiser last year for Senator Clinton’s reelection campaign, the Post sometimes is cheeky, but never nasty, with its Hillary coverage—in sharp contrast to its harsh treatment of Obama and John Edwards. “We play it straight,” Allan claims. “Hillary has been an excellent senator for the people of New York, and we have been unafraid to say so.”
The biggest gaffe of Allan’s reign came in July 2004, when he splashed a front-page headline announcing Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt as Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry’s running mate. A close Allan confidant told me that Murdoch himself had supplied the tip, a supposition that was widely rumored at the time, but if that’s the case, Allan has fallen on his sword. “Listen, I’m like any other journalist. I got told something by one source that I trusted,” Allan says. “Rupert wanted to know what happened,” Allan reports. “I said, ‘I screwed up.’ He said, ‘Well, I suppose you had a 50 percent chance of getting it right!’ ”
At the bar once again, Allan is talking about his news judgment. “Sales to me are like ratings to television executives,” he explains. “And I happen to believe that the market is right. If they’re not selling, they don’t like us; if we’re selling, they do. I respect the judgment of the audience. They’re smarter than most people in our business give them credit for.
“I’ll get fired not because Rupert doesn’t like the stories I put in the paper. I’ll get fired because we don’t sell newspapers. And that judgment is made not by Rupert, but by the market, and by the audience. And I think that’s pretty democratic. I like that deal.”
“There is a certain braggart swagger” to Allan, says Cindy Adams, “and for there to be this chink in his armor, it hurt him deeply.”
The Post hasn’t won a Pulitzer Prize since 1931 (which was well before Murdoch), a fact that pleases Allan. “Hopefully never!” he exclaims defiantly. “Who would want to win an award that is dished out by the hard left of American journalism? Who’d want that?”
The News won its tenth Pulitzer for last year’s series of editorials on the health consequences of the World Trade Center attacks. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Allan demands in a conspiratorial whisper, draining and refilling his glass of Pinot (and topping off mine). “It’s actually fucking sad. I don’t mind if they won a Pulitzer Prize, but it was so flawed, it’s amazing to me.”
Zuckerman’s Daily News is Allan’s white whale, and he’s put a number of irons in it, but the eventual victor is still unclear.
Under Allan’s watch, propelled by its 25-cent price but also by Allan’s snappier packaging, the Post had achieved parity with the News and even a slight edge. Thinking it was safe to stanch its losses (at one point at least $30 million per year) and move the battle to a new phase, the Post on April 30 raised its newsstand price in Manhattan to match the News’s 50 cents. But Zuckerman’s paper was tipped off by distributors to the Post’s pricing plan and slashed its price to a quarter on the same day that the Post was doubling its own. It was, for the Post, a fiasco, both in terms of PR and in terms of dollars. News Corp. execs had calculated it would cost the Post as much as 10 percent of its circulation (to around 650,000 daily), putting the News comfortably back on top (at over 700,000). But the 50-cent price would also have added around $15 million to the Post’s coffers, and the paper would still have been more than 200,000 copies ahead of where it was when it last charged 50 cents back in 2000. But Murdoch hadn’t figured on Zuckerman’s lowering his own newspaper’s price and spending as much as a million dollars to advertise the ploy—an unprecedented display of bravado for the real-estate magnate. A News Corp. exec claims Zuckerman’s ambush was a miscalculation. “Which scenario would you rather have if you were at the News—one where both papers are charging 50 cents or one where you’re charging 50 cents and the Post is charging a quarter?” the exec asks. “They got a short-term win, but long-term, I think it was crazy.” Still, for a man like Allan, who hates to lose, especially to the News, it must have stung.
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.