Morals of a Muckraker

Moldea and Larry Flynt in '99. When Flynt asked him to dig into politicos' sex lives, Moldea wrote:
Moldea and Larry Flynt in '99. When Flynt asked him to dig into politicos' sex lives, Moldea wrote: "I will receive more bad press than I have ever received before." (By Liz Flynt)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dan Moldea has been beaten up by thugs, trashed in the press, accused of chilling free speech and threatened with prosecution.

And yet after an improbable, colorful career in journalism, he remains a historical footnote for one cameo role: as a sex investigator for Larry Flynt a decade ago.

So when Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, recently asked him to resume his digging into the extramarital exploits of politicians, Moldea had misgivings.

"Please understand that if we work together again . . . I am going to be tracked and harassed," he wrote in a June 9 memo to Flynt. "I'm going to be judged harshly by my friends and colleagues for reentering this world with you in what will be viewed as the mother lode of checkbook journalism. In addition, I will receive more bad press than I have ever received before."

Once again, Moldea is chasing tips from people hoping to score a million-dollar reward proffered by Flynt in a full-page Washington Post ad. Once again, Moldea is justifying his role as holding accountable those who preach moral values but act differently in their private lives.

One month after rekindling their partnership, Moldea learned that Sen. David Vitter's number had been found in the phone records of the escort service run by the alleged D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. This was no coincidence, as Moldea had just agreed to write a book with Palfrey. He promptly leaked the Vitter calls to Time. And when the Louisiana Republican preempted the magazine by apologizing for having sinned, Moldea made sure Flynt got credit by leaking word of his role to ABC News.

"I don't want to look like I'm boasting about this," says Moldea. "I just think it's in bad taste, which is an ironic term to use." He refused to be photographed for this article.

"I'm not doing these things for money. I'm not doing these things because I'm going to get great publicity. I'm doing these things on principle, out of conscience."

Palfrey, who is under indictment on prostitution-related charges, considers him an ideal partner. "I didn't want a writer of sensational Hollywood works," she says. "I really need a hard-core investigative journalist here. I thought, this is the man to do it. He's a good and decent man, and very upfront and straightforward."

Moldea has hit plenty of bumps on the career road. "He's had some down times," says author Laurence Leamer, a longtime friend. "So many projects he's worked on haven't worked out. Nothing stops the guy."

A balding, bespectacled man with large, meaty hands, Moldea, 57, is rumpled but supremely organized. During a chat at Morty's deli on Wisconsin Avenue -- where he also joins a weekly poker game and threw a dinner for Palfrey -- he offers transcripts, clippings, an affidavit and other material, all neatly arranged in file folders.

The Akron, Ohio, native has led a Zelig-like existence, popping up on the periphery of history as he careened from writing about Jimmy Hoffa to Robert Kennedy, from O.J. Simpson to Vince Foster to Ken Starr.

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