Shiny Sheet Sellout

Socialites say they've been buying their way into Palm Beach's newspaper.

I asked Reingold about the reporters' allegations. "If it did happen, it's nothing that I would discuss," the publisher told me on the phone. "I guess you can understand that any alleged personnel issue is private. We fully stand behind the integrity of our staff, including our society editor, Shannon Donnelly."

One thing about Donnelly that isn't in dispute is that she's one of the island's great characters. Donnelly didn't respond to my detailed messages for comment, but I spoke to several Palm Beachers who described her as a hard-boiled woman with voracious appetites and a keen sense of her own power.

Donnelly often sits at the head table at parties and balls, an odd place for a lowly reporter. Donald Trump usually makes a point to talk her up when he sees her. Leamer writes in the book that Wayne Newton once sang in her honor at the Cancer Ball, one of the "major events of the season."

She had two bridal showers when she married her second husband, one with her friends at the newspaper and another with wealthy socialites, many of whom belong to Trump's extravagant Mar-a-Lago Club . The wedding has a piece of lore on the island; Donnelly allegedly received expensive gifts from Tiffany's and Neiman Marcus, some of which she is said to have sold on eBay.

That may be a Donnelly myth, but it goes around quite a bit.

Her husband lives in her hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, leaving her to roam Palm Beach, where her behavior borders on the bawdy. One source told of how, at a high-society party, the full-figured editor rubbed her breasts on the back of one wealthy husband and told him he'd just received a "Shannogram." Another recounted the time Donnelly announced at a newspaper staff meeting that she was heading to Las Vegas for a weekend.

"Are you going to see any shows?" someone asked.

"No, I'm not going to see any shows," she answered. "I'm going to see the casinos and maybe the ceiling."

At the newspaper, Donnelly laughingly calls herself "The Queen," adorning her desk area with tiaras. She even went so far as to get a vanity plate on her Mercedes Benz at one time with the word Kween on it, according to a source.

It may have been mostly in jest, but there's no mistaking the fact that Donnelly is royalty at the newspaper. The question is whether she's really committing journalistic transgressions that would land most reporters in serious hot water, if not fired.

Several sources told me that Donnelly accepted gifts from sources, but in the society editor's favor, it's all words. There is no smoking gun, no proof of chronic payola. For instance, a story surfaced that wealthy Palm Beach socialite Donna Shalek, who has often appeared in the Daily News, either gave Donnelly $1,000 as a gift or as a loan that was never paid back.

When I contacted Shalek, she told me she thought the world of Donnelly. When I asked her about the thousand dollars, she seemed taken aback. "I don't remember it," Shalek said. "I'm an 82-year-old woman, and I'm not with it much anymore." Then she abruptly ended the call.

Those who know Shalek, however, say she's as sharp as a tack.

"You don't get smoke without fire," says one well-connected Palm Beach source. "This is a topic that has been smoldering for many, many years. It's what happens when you fly too close to the sun. What story is that? Icarus? She isn't paid well, and she's on a beat where all the people are millionaires. It takes a person of great integrity to resist the trappings of that."

Another source, a millionaire socialite who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Donnelly has received a wealth of gifts, including expensive trips. She says she has seen examples of it, but again, there's no proof.

That source said Donnelly is introduced at prominent parties as "the queen" and the "power of Palm Beach." And she says that the people who don't play the game don't get into the Shiny Sheet — or, if they do, it's in black and white rather than color.

"I've been there, and I've listened to it," says the source. "She sits at the head table. She shouldn't be sitting at the head table. People buy her gifts like crazy. It is incredible what goes on with this girl.

"She's a trip," the source says. "It's all the self-appointed elite. A lot of people pay her no mind at all. Real bluebloods don't get involved in the Shannon thing. It's hilarious. I use it for entertainment. I might sound pissed off, but I'm not. I'm just waiting for the next laugh. It's the middle of a zoo."

Reingold, the Daily News publisher, says she's confident that her society editor — who also happens to be a very close and longtime friend — isn't on the take. I asked her why so many people would say Donnelly accepts gifts if she doesn't.

"There are just lots of whisper and smear campaigns here," the publisher answered. "It's a small island, as you know. People are always jockeying for position."

Good thing for the Shiny Sheet. All that jockeying helps keep the paper — and Shannon Donnelly — in business.

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