A Northern Virginia woman who has served time in jail is making allegations against Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne after warning him that she would go to the press if he didn't pay her nearly $100,000.

"As God ismy witness, I'm gonna go public. . . . Now the only thing that's gonna keep me from going public is I want what was promised to me," Martha Jane Shelton said in a rambling message left on Dunne's voice mail on April 24, according to a transcript of the call. She added: "If you want to keep it out of the media, you know, just deliver on your promise. . . . If not, I'll see you in the news."

Asked in an interview about her demands for payment from Dunne, Shelton said: "I guess it could be construed as a threat. . . . I know it sounds like I'm trying to bully him or shake him down. But he made me promises."

She said those promises of cash -- which Dunne strongly denies making -- stem from her assistance on Vanity Fair articles a decade ago. In recent weeks, after Dunne ignored her demands, Shelton called attorneys for former representative Gary Condit and offered to assist in his $11 million defamation suit against Dunne over remarks related to the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Shelton also cooperated with a New York Post article last month and then called The Washington Post to publicize her allegations.

Dunne acknowledges that he has paid Shelton $1,600 over the years, which he characterized as helping out a friend. "There was always a hard luck story," he said in a statement, such as her getting fired or facing eviction. "On my word of honor, I never paid her for information and I never asked her to lie. I never got any great information from her."

Dunne, 78, is a novelist, Hollywood hobnobber and celebrity court chronicler who has covered the trials of O.J. Simpson, William Kennedy Smith, Claus von Bulow and the Menendez brothers.

Shelton, 40, says she carried out a threat to call Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter and angrily told him of her allegations. But Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak, noting that the magazine supports Dunne completely, says Shelton never reached Carter and ranted at an assistant.

Shelton sent a reporter copies of America Online e-mail messages she says were from Dunne, who insists they are bogus.

On March 23, Dunne purportedly wrote: "You really need to be careful about giving up any information about the deal you and I had. I know you feel that I have turned my back on you in terms of financial help. I know I made promises that I did not keep. . . . You will get the money I promised, however my dear you need to keep up appearances. No one must know what you and I discuss."

According to e-mails provided by Dunne's attorney, Laura Handman, the two did exchange notes about an hour earlier. Shelton wrote that she was "getting ready to go public with my real story. . . . I know in your book, I always have been and always will be a loser. At this point I don't care. I am crazy, I know that. Please don't take any of this personally."

In a short return note, Dunne wrote that "in my book, you have never been a loser," adding: "I think you have every right to go public." Some of Dunne's words in that note were included in the disputed e-mail provided by Shelton, along with more incriminating language that Dunne contends was fabricated.

"I did not reply to the sleazy e-mail and never asked her to get any information about Gary Condit," Dunne said, adding: "On my word of honor as a lapsed Roman Catholic, I did not write these e-mails. Is this not a form of forgery? I am horrified that I have been put in this terrible position." Shelton's voice mail messages are contained in what Dunne's lawyers describe as a transcript of her calls.

Shelton -- who says Dunne has paid her $6,100 but does not have copies of the checks -- wants Condit's lawyers to authenticate the e-mails by obtaining a laptop she previously owned. Lin Wood, Condit's chief attorney, says he is investigating Shelton's claims.

"Whether her accusations are credible and will be relevant to the lawsuit by Congressman Condit remains to be seen," Wood says. He says he is "proceeding cautiously," both because of "some limited information I have about Ms. Shelton and her background" and because "I would not want to do to Dominick Dunne what he did to Gary Condit" by repeating uncorroborated accusations.

But Handman expresses confidence that the case will be thrown out "when the court looks at what Mr. Dunne did to follow up on information at a time when Ms. Levy's remains had not been found, when her murder was -- and still is -- unsolved."

On one point, there is no dispute: Shelton has been in and out of court over the years. She served time in jail -- more than a year, she says -- for passing bad checks in the late '80s and early '90s.

Last year, according to court documents, an arrest warrant was ordered for Shelton, but never served, in a Bucks County, Pa., case charging her with harassment. A police officer's affidavit in the case says Shelton engaged in "stalking/harassing activity" by sending e-mail messages under two other identities -- in one instance charging that a man who was the target of her ire "had sexual relations with her under-aged sister." Shelton disputes some of the details but concedes she sent the man an e-mail saying "I was going to have my sister's big black boyfriend beat his [butt]."

Asked about two other Virginia cases involving charges of assault or harassment, Shelton says that "I cuss people out." In one case involving a former office colleague, "we were fighting over a guy that worked at the same company. . . . I pled guilty to that because I actually did threaten her over the phone."

Shelton first became a source for Dunne after striking up a telephone friendship with Lyle Menendez, one of the brothers accused of killing his parents. In April 1994, Dunne quoted Shelton in Vanity Fair as saying that the jailed Menendez had told her he had "snowed half the country" in winning a mistrial. The Menendez brothers were ultimately convicted.

Shelton now says she concocted that story at Dunne's request and that he promised her a $100,000 reward. After years of friendship, she says, Dunne again sought her help when Condit sued him over statements tying the congressman to the 2001 death of Levy, a former congressional intern.

A federal judge in April refused to dismiss the case. The suit cites comments by Dunne on radio and television shows, such as "Larry King Live," that Condit rode with the Hell's Angels and that a Condit friend might have taken Levy away on a motorcycle. Dunne -- who cautioned he could not vouch for the accuracy of the stories -- also reported hearing that Condit had complained at sex parties at Middle East embassies that Levy was a "clinger" who threatened to go public with information about him.

Shelton says she does not know Condit, but that when she mentioned she had dabbled in the world of S&M sex, Dunne asked her to make up some items that would tie the former congressman to that scene.

She acknowledges that she has long had financial problems in trying to support her son and two disabled relatives. "I know I come off sounding like a horrible person," Shelton says. "Really, I'm not. I've had a troubled past."

High-Flying Journalism

Are any media types crazy enough to chase a story by jumping out of a plane?

Brit Hume fits the description. The Fox News anchor did a parachute jump yesterday, shortly before George H.W. Bush did so too, and then interviewed the just-turned-80 former president.

"We reporters are supposed to be up for stuff, aren't we?" Hume, 60, said before taking the plunge. "It's kind of an adventure." He said he determined after Bush invited him that "the level of peril in this was not overwhelming."

On the Political Front

So: Why would Kerry's camp want it out that McCain was spurning him, other than to show he's trying to be bipartisan? Here are how three papers handled the follow-up to Ron Fournier's AP scoop:

New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/12/politics/campaign/12MCCA.html: "John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has repeatedly and personally asked Senator John McCain, the independent-minded Arizona Republican, to consider being his running mate, but Mr. McCain has refused, people who have spoken to both men said Friday."

Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-mccain12jun12,1,5574103.story?coll=la-home-headlines: "John F. Kerry had more than half a dozen conversations with Sen. John McCain about the prospect of him joining the Democratic presidential ticket, but the Arizona Republican repeatedly told his longtime friend that he was not interested, according to an associate close to McCain."

Aha, that one's a pure McCain leak.

Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34742-2004Jun11.html: "Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry has discussed the vice presidency with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on several occasions, the most recent in the past two weeks, informed sources said yesterday. But the conversations have gone nowhere because McCain believes such a bipartisan ticket would not work and could weaken the presidency, they said."

An unusual coalition of Bush-bashers is surfacing, says the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-diplo13jun13,1,1142936.story?coll=la-home-headlines:

"A group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, several appointed to key positions by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plans to issue a joint statement this week arguing that President George W. Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.

"The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, will explicitly condemn Bush's foreign policy, according to several of those who signed the document. . . . Those signing the document, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, include 20 former U.S. ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, to countries including Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.

"Others are senior State Department officials from the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations and former military leaders, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush's father. Hoar is a prominent critic of the war in Iraq."

The New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2004/06/13/politics/campaign/13TRAIL.html?hp offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the Real Kerry: "He is a relentless polisher, going over and over even well-worn sections of his stump speech until moments before delivery.

"He is a diligent greeter, never speeding through a hotel kitchen without handshakes. He is chronically and unapologetically late -- for campaign events, for meetings, even for church. . . .

"At 60, Mr. Kerry is an avid and able athlete, though he sometimes seems physically awkward, with custom-made clothes hanging off his lanky frame as he pumps a fist at rallies. A former prosecutor, he employs a Socratic style in policy talks with aides and advisers, though he rarely goes beyond chitchat in conversations that could be caught on camera.

"His formal statements are filled with multisyllabic upper-crust phrasing -- his campaign had an intern whose main responsibility was to look up all the unfamiliar words Mr. Kerry uttered -- but one on one, he calls strangers 'man' or 'brother.' He is careful to use people's names -- he has interrupted himself more than once to introduce sign-language interpretations -- yet he rarely remembers them."

And don't miss this NYT scoop | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/13/politics/13george.html on Bush seeking political aid from the Vatican.

The Halliburton issue refuses to die, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

"A Democratic watchdog in Congress has raised new concerns of possible involvement by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney in the choice of his former employer, Halliburton Co., to repair Iraq's oil fields after the war.

"In a letter sent yesterday to Mr. Cheney, Rep. Henry Waxman of California said senior Pentagon officials disclosed in briefings with his staff last week that the vice president's top aide, Lewis Libby, participated in high-level discussions on the impending Halliburton contract in late October 2002."

The headlines from Friday's National Review Online:

"Conservatives can still learn from his example."

"He made us face up to present dangers."

"He was the father of the new space age."

"We are living in his world."

"He made principles easily accessible."

"He linked economic growth with strength overseas."

"We owe Nancy."

"He changed our aspirations."

"Celebrate his life and legacy."

"His leadership of the coalition."

"The man attracted women!"

"He knew who he was and what the world could be."

"Humor glowed from his soul."

"He would have been the right man at any time."

"He illuminated what was good about America."

"He made conservatism into a potent political force."

"He led an intellectual revolution, too."

"He lived a full, great life."

What, no piece on how Reagan walked on water?

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. | http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/living/columnists/leonard_pitts/8894694.htm?ERIGHTS=5811319993208656697miami::kurtzh@washpost.com&KRD_RM=7owtonquqtrtrrwpnwnnnnnnnn | Howard | N&is_rd=Y offers an African-American perspective on "the fulsome media tributes that have attended the former president's death. Not just fulsome, but uncritical, bereft of balance, lacking perspective. If all you knew of Ronald Reagan is what you saw on newscasts or read in the initial coverage from USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Miami Herald, you'd think him a cross between Wilford Brimley and John Rambo, a twinkle-eyed grandfather with a fondness for jelly beans who single-handedly saved America, kicked the Commies in the butt, and maybe even found a cure for the common cold while he was at it. . . .

"Some of us also knew another Reagan, and he is conspicuous by his absence from much of this week's coverage.

"Some of us remember his cuts in federal lunch programs for poor children and his claim that ketchup is a vegetable.

"Some of us remember his revival of the old canard that Martin Luther King was a communist.

"Some of us remember Americans dying by the thousands from AIDS while their president breathed not a word.

"Some of us remember finding homeless people sleeping under freeways.

"And some of us were there when the cities imploded, rent by a cheap and insanely addictive new drug called crack. . . . We looked to the White House for help and received in response a ruinous 'war on drugs' and this advice from the first lady: 'Just say no.' . . .

"The media have sold us a fraudulent version of history. Everybody loved Ronald Reagan, it says.

"Beg pardon, but 'everybody' did not."

Salon's Eric Boehlert | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/06/11/media/index.html deconstructs the Teflon:

"David Gergen, Reagan's first communications director, is quoted by Mark Hertsgaard in his 1989 book, 'On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency,' as conceding, 'A lot of the Teflon came from the press. They didn't want to go after him that toughly.' Gergen added, 'There is no question in my mind there was more willingness to give Reagan the benefit of the doubt than there was [for Presidents] Carter or Ford.' And as Hertsgaard says now, 'The taming of the media during the Reagan years was mostly self-inflicted.'

"Michael Deaver, Reagan's renowned image-maker, wrote in his memoirs that until the Iran-Contra scandal broke in November 1986, Reagan 'enjoyed the most generous treatment by the press of any President in the postwar era. He knew it, and liked the distinction.'

"In June 1986, Reagan gave one his more rambling and confusing performances at a press conference, after which aides were forced to 'clarify' his comments on everything from the future of the Challenger space-shuttle program to the status of the SALT II treaty. Yet a White House aide marveled to the Los Angeles Times about 'how easy the press was on him,' saying that reporters treated Reagan 'almost reverentially.' The aide added: 'He's gone from the Teflon President to the boomerang President. Nobody wants to throw anything at him, because it comes back and hurts them.'"

Finally, TV Guide | http://www.tvguide.com/news/thebiz/ looks at shilling by the morning shows:

"In the days leading up to the May 6 finale of Friends, it seemed like Matt Lauer or Katie Couric were presenting one tribute after another to the departing sitcom. But Today doesn't have a lock on prime-time plug-ola.

"TV Guide monitored the morning shows during the May sweeps period (April 29 to May 26), and our Shill-O-Meter found that Today carried 117 minutes and 23 seconds worth of content about NBC shows.

"CBS's The Early Show -- which extensively featured Survivor: All-Stars -- wasn't far behind at 107 minutes and five seconds. And Early is on two hours a day, as opposed to three hours for Today.

"ABC's Good Morning America, with only The Bachelor to flog, was a distant third at 35 minutes and 56 seconds."

What restraint.