Jerry's Stringer

Just how many items in Jerry Berger's column come from PR man Richard Callow?

Pressed for a response to Jones' allegation that he threatened Passanante if he didn't get Missouri Lawyers Weeklyto back off, Callow declines to comment. "I don't want to get involved, although I'd like to," he says. "I like Paul. I like Jerry. That's what I'll say for the record."

As for Berger's take on all this, he's on vacation and did not return phone calls.

Post-Dispatch editor Ellen Soeteber says she hasn't heard about any threats made against Passanante, though she says she was aware of the request for a clarification. She calls the lack of attribution in Berger's column a "bad mistake," but she's not buying the widespread theory among local cognoscenti that Callow ghostwrites much of Berger's column or that he could threaten anyone by using Berger's column as leverage.

"I think very highly of Jerry Berger," says Soeteber. "I've met Mr. Callow once, at a function. A lot of people give Jerry items, and I'm sure he's one, but there are a lot of other folks out there. He's far from the only one that gives Jerry information for the column. Jerry's very well wired."

Whatever else can be said about Berger's column, it can't be said that it lacks personality or verve. Often the term "fun read" has little to do with everyday journalism, and nowhere is that clearer than at the Post-Dispatch. Perhaps that's why Berger is so well read, because much of what surrounds him is so vapid.

Lately Berger has been repeatedly assailed for his dependence on Callow for many of his insider tidbits, especially now that Mayor Francis Slay has named Barbara Geisman deputy mayor for development. Geisman is Callow's POSSLQ in a Washington Avenue loft.

During the mayoral campaign in February, former Mayor Clarence Harmonblamed Callow for a string of anti-Harmon items in Berger's column, many of them only loosely based on actual happenings [Wilson, "Harmon Agonistes" RFT, Feb. 21]. That tale triggered numerous calls to Short Cuts claiming that Berger's thrice-weekly gossip column is used by Callow to target foes.

Speculation has swirled recently around former Mayor Vince Schoemehl, who was mentioned nine times in Berger's column from April 1-June 17, usually in a negative light. Word is that Schoemehl, a former 28th Ward alderman, has run afoul of Callow because Schoemehl didn't think Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th) should have testified against U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1st) in redistricting hearings. Callow is a Krewson backer, and it's widely believed that he wants her to run for aldermanic president next year. If she does, a possible opponent is Ald. Mike McMillan (D-19th), who represents the area containing Grand Center, for which Schoemehl is the new development czar. And so the court intrigue escalates.

In the past few months, heightened awareness of the Berger-Callow connection has produced a new catchphrase that describes Berger's column as an "ethics-free zone," meaning that the P-D gives Berger a pass around normal journalistic standards. "I strongly dispute that there is any such policy," says Soeteber. "That's not the case whatsoever. The same criteria for accuracy and fairness apply to Jerry's column."

Callow says he has heard Berger use the phrase "ethics-free zone" but also says, "I have no idea what it means, but I've heard Jerry say it before."

It is amazing -- or depressing -- that in a town this size, two men can wield such power and turn otherwise substantial personalities into scaredy-cats just with the threat of a mention here or an innuendo there. As one former target of their artwork says, "Richard Callow and his puppet Jerry Berger can be dangerous and harmful." Why people like this don't want to go on the record is simple. "It sounds cowardly, but I don't want to fuck with these guys anymore," a former victim says. "I can't win. They're sitting on a newspaper and barrels of ink."

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