By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; C01
The executive editor of the National Enquirer says that the Oregon masseuse who made a sexual assault allegation against Al Gore asked the tabloid for $1 million but that the Enquirer did not pay her or anyone else in reporting the story.
Barry Levine said in an interview Thursday that the woman offered to sell her account through her lawyer but that "no money exchanged hands" and the paper conducted only a brief interview with her.
Levine also acknowledged that the Enquirer did not call Gore's office for comment "for competitive reasons" out of concern that the former vice president would issue a statement and the paper would lose the exclusive in the two days before it reached newsstands. Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider confirmed that the paper made no such attempt but declined further comment.
The Enquirer obtained a Portland, Ore., police report in which the red-haired masseuse, whose name the tabloid withheld, told authorities that Gore had sexually assaulted her during a 2006 hotel massage. The woman initially declined to be interviewed by police but reconsidered and met with detectives early last year. The detectives concluded there was insufficient evidence to launch an investigation. The police never sought a statement from Gore or attempted to interview him about the claim.
An Enquirer reporter asked the woman why she didn't contact police on the night of the alleged incident, rather than waiting several weeks. "I was completely shaken and afraid I would lose my job," she responded. The woman, who told police that Gore had requested an abdominal massage, also said the Hotel Lucia asked her to provide services to a VIP guest registered as "Mr. Stone" and she was surprised to learn that it was Gore.
According to a source friendly with the Gores, Al Gore confirmed that he received a therapeutic massage in his hotel room that night, and likely from the therapist making the accusation. But, the source said, Gore remembers getting a massage without incident and the therapist leaving on good terms.
Gore's attorneys wrote to the Portland Tribune in 2007 and 2008 that the allegation was "completely false," and the paper decided against publishing a story, in part because the woman was reluctant to be identified. In a 2007 letter, Gore's lawyers wrote: "You. . . . are aware that everyone who knows Al and Tipper Gore well can and does attest to the integrity of their 37 year marriage and to his honorable character. Moreover, no allegations remotely resembling the ones made by this lawyer have been made against Mr. Gore by anyone else." Gore recently announced that he and his wife are splitting up.
Asked why the Enquirer published the piece despite the woman's two-year delay in agreeing to be interviewed by authorities, Levine said: "We felt, if this was in legitimate police documents, that was a story that should be brought to the surface. We felt this was a significant story involving a very powerful man." He said he had former police officers examine the reports to make sure they weren't a "forgery" and felt "vindicated" Thursday when Portland authorities confirmed the authenticity of the documents.
The Enquirer report was followed up by a number of news organizations, including the Associated Press, the Portland Oregonian, the New York Post and The Washington Post.
The Enquirer's story, which Levine says was approved for publication just before the paper's deadline Monday night, relied heavily on documents. The tabloid confirmed that Gore, who had just released the film "An Inconvenient Truth," was in Portland at the time of the alleged incident to give a speech on global warming. The paper obtained the $540 bill -- including a 20 percent gratuity -- that the masseuse submitted to the Hotel Lucia, which retained her, along with her subsequent e-mail correspondence with the hotel.
Levine said he did not know whether the breakup of the Gore marriage prompted the masseuse to go public but that "you have to give her the benefit of the doubt." He conceded, however, that "this could come down to a he said/she said."
Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.