Sex, Lies And Audiotape

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund eagerly denounced Clinton in editorials, signed columns and frequent television appearances. Now Fund is embroiled in a bizarre scandal of his own.

Yesterday the New York Post's Page Six column published a seamy account of the forty-something Fund's strange and stormy romance with twenty-something Morgan Pillsbury, quoting from a transcript of a tape-recorded 1999 phone conversation in which the sometime lovers discussed an abortion she underwent after becoming pregnant by him. Pillsbury is the daughter of former California Libertarian Party official Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, with whom Fund also had an intimate affair two decades ago.

The Page Six splash -- much of which we independently confirmed yesterday in interviews with Fund, Pillsbury and her mother -- follows two recent items by MSNBC.com gossip Jeannette Walls, who claimed last week that Fund and Pillsbury are getting married, only to report yesterday that the wedding is off. Walls linked on the Web to the abortion phone call on the weaselsearch.com Web site. We confirmed yesterday that Pillsbury recorded the call without Fund's knowledge, then delivered the tape last summer to New York scandal-monger John Connally, who posted it on weaselsearch, along with the transcript, with Pillsbury's permission, Connally says. "This whole thing is like a high-class Jerry Springer episode," he gleefully told us.

Pillsbury told us yesterday that she and Fund started dating in mid-1998 and broke up after the abortion, only to resume a relationship in recent months. Pillsbury added the astonishing information that for the past two months, she and Fund have been living together in his Jersey City, N.J., apartment. She claimed that two weeks ago, Fund asked for her hand in marriage, and she accepted; her mother provided us with a copy of an invitation to a March 3 wedding in Santa Barbara, Calif. In recent days, Fund has repeatedly denied any wedding plans.

But Pillsbury-Foster also forwarded us an e-mail bearing Fund's AOL address -- though Fund disclaims authorship: "Between bouts of hysterical fear I realize that Morgan is probably the only women [sic] who would ever be ble [sic] to put up with me and also make me happy. She is beautiful, witty and kind. . . . I hope you are willing to sponsor the wedding. And I am truly, truly sorry for all of the pain I have caused. John."

Responding to all of the above yesterday, Fund told us: "Many fabricated e-mails about arranging weddings and other false rumors about me are being circulated. All this is a cautionary tale for everyone in Washington about the ways in which the Internet can be misused."

THIS JUST IN . . .

* In yesterday's pretzel news, President Bush jokingly complained that photo editors had made the scrapes on his face -- which he acquired when he fainted after choking on a pretzel -- look nastier than they actually were. "I'm just telling you, all the editors doctored up the cut and everything like that to make it look worse than it did," Bush teased as he posed in the Oval Office with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

* In the real-life war movie "Black Hawk Down," Hollywood heartthrob Josh Hartnett and his fellow actors discharge, oh, maybe half a million rounds. So we were impressed at Tuesday's Washington premiere party when Hartnett told us: "I'm really not a gun person."

* Per doctor's orders, jazz pianist Billy Taylor will be in a New York hospital room Sunday during his 80th-birthday celebration at the Kennedy Center, where has served as jazz adviser since 1994. "It's been very hard for his physicians to figure out what is wrong with him and he's just been feeling weak," Taylor's agent, Lynda Bramble, told us yesterday. "He's very frustrated at not being able to attend." But National Public Radio, which is recording the concert for later broadcast, is hoping to pipe a live feed of the concert to Taylor's hospital room, and his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson, will attend in his stead.

* Tonight Hollywood activist Amy Madigan and actor-husband Ed Harris emcee the National Abortion Rights Action League's Roe v. Wade anniversary dinner at Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel. Madigan told us she worries about President Bush's anti-abortion position, but she had nothing but praise for Bush's "pro-choice" wife. "I think this is fantastic," she said. "I think Laura Bush is a very smart lady."

"Thank you James Earl Ray for Keeping the Dream Alive."

-- The mistaken inscription on a plaque meant to honor actor James Earl Jones during official Martin Luther King holiday celebrations in Lauderhill, Fla. James Earl Ray, now dead, assassinated King in 1968. Reuters reports that the plaque, made by Texas-based Merit Industries, will be corrected in time for Jones's visit Saturday.

With Barbara E. Martinez