Federal investigators quiz gossip columnist

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The Independent US

The New York Post's widely read Page Six gossip column is the subject of a federal investigation following allegations that one of its regular contributors attempted to extort money from a wealthy Los Angeles supermarket magnate in exchange for more favourable coverage.

The contributor, Jared Paul Stern, has been suspended and faces dismissal, according to the newspaper, following the presentation of damning evidence - in email and on videotape - that he may have demanded $100,000 (£55,000) plus a monthly stipend of $10,000 in what was in effect hush money from the billionaire magnate and Demo-crat fundraiser Ron Burkle.

The big question now is whether the rot goes further. Investigators who spoke to the Post's upmarket rival, The New York Times, say the videotape of Mr Stern also implicates other celebrities who may have been involved in a financial quid pro quo to keep undesirable stories - true or not - out of the Post's gossip column.

One of those named as having paid money to influence the Post's coverage is Harvey Weinstein, the larger-than-life independent film producer. Mr Weinstein denied any impropriety when challenged by The New York Times.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns the Post, says it is taking the investigation "very seriously", although it regards Mr Stern's behaviour as an aberration, not an indication of wider problems. It will be up to federal investigators to determine whether Mr Stern's words are subject to misinterpretation, whether he was exaggerating or lying, or whether there is indeed a wider scandal involved.