By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; 8:49 AM
The executive editor of the National Enquirer says the Oregon masseuse who made a sexual 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 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."The Rendell rumor
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell flatly denies chatter that is now making its way into print:
"Rendell says there is no truth to gossip that he is involved in an extramarital affair with a state employee.
"In an advance copy of a Philadelphia Magazine article, the governor and Kirstin Snow, the former beauty queen who works for him, say in separate interviews that they are not romantically involved. The article circulated throughout the state Capitol on Wednesday and generated a noticeable buzz. 'Do I have some flaws? Absolutely!' Rendell tells the magazine, which will hit newsstands on Friday. 'For all of the rumors, has any woman ever said that I have had sex with her? Other than my wife?'
"The story in the July issue of Philadelphia Magazine, 'The Governor, the Blonde and the Rumor Mill,' offers no concrete evidence, and the author, Robert Huber, notes that no one was willing to go on the record with their suspicions."Military and the media
One journalistic question to emerge from Rolling Stone's takedown of Stanley McChrystal is whether a military beat reporter could have -- or would have -- done it. Michael Hastings was on a one-time assignment; he didn't need to deal with the general and his people again. This, by the way, is no different than the tension faced by every city hall and statehouse reporter versus someone coming in for a one-shot piece.
Hastings himself addressed the question in a 2008 GQ piece, talking about being embedded as a presidential campaign reporter:
"The dance with staffers is a perilous one. You're probably not going to get much, if any, one-on-one time with the candidate, which means your sources of information are the people who work for him. So you pretend to be friendly and nonthreatening, and over time you 'build trust,' which everybody involved knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editor calls for it, you're supposed to [expletive] them over."
Pretend? Not a pretty picture.
NYU journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen pivots toward Politico's coverage of the McChrystal affair:
"In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:
"McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal's remarks.
"Now this seemed to several observers -- and I was one -- a reveal. Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to 'burn bridges' with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down. . . .
"And then, the next day. . . . the reveal disappears. The Politico erased it, as if the thing had never happened. Down the memory hole, like in Orwell's 1984."
Deputy Managing Editor Tim Grieve responds that the explanation is kinda boring:
"As we often do on big, breaking stories, we wrote through and reposted our main McChrystal piece many times Tuesday and Wednesday -- adding new facts and shedding less relevant ones along the way. At around 5:45 Tuesday evening, I re-worked the piece to add new comments from President Obama and otherwise reflect the latest news. Together with the other adds that had come in during the day, my inserts made the story very long and unwieldy, so I quickly deleted or substantially reworked more than a dozen paragraphs that struck me as either tangential or out-of-date. The 'offending' paragraph about beat reporters vs. freelancers was one of them."
But the larger issue is still bouncing around the blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan questions the military-journalistic complex:
"McChrystal and his flunkies still [felt] the need to bad-mouth and mock those who lost the argument. This is news, no? It's important news. It reflects on the character and integrity of the man tasked to lead America's longest ever war. So why, one wonders, have we not heard a peep of this from all the official MSM Pentagon reporters and analysts with their deep sources and long experience?"
Slate's Jack Shafer offers advice in the art of news management:
"Having agreed to a profile, McChrystal should have prepared a well-grooved story for Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. Had Hastings refused that story, McChrystal should have excused him from the session, explaining that he had a war to prosecute. . . .
"The month-long exposure turned Hastings into a fly on the wall, and, as everybody knows, flies spread disease. Almost anybody can moderate his behavior for a day or two, especially if he's being watched. But nobody can do it for a month with visits to three continents. Familiarity breeds candor, and candor, once released, can't be recalled. . . .
"A popular theory endorsed by Politico -- before the site tossed it down the memory hole -- is that Hastings was inherently dangerous because he's a freelance reporter. According to this theory, freelancers happily burn their subjects because they're not likely to return to them, whereas beat reporters must rely on maintaining good day-to-day relations with them. I don't buy this. Feature writers and beat reporters are equally capable of taking a dive for their subjects. I don't know of any beat reporter who wouldn't have gotten a promotion for catching McChrystal and his staff shooting off their mouths, and I don't know any newspaper that would have hesitated to publish the story."
I second that sentiment. The story was just too good. But stop advising subjects not to cooperate with us ink-stained wretches, willya, Jack?
The fallout is yet to come, says John Guardiano at Frum Forum:
"Journalists and bloggers routinely complain about how difficult it is to cover the Pentagon and the U.S. military, and with good reason: The veil of secrecy that surrounds most military offices -- even ones that have no business being shrouded in confidentiality -- allows the Pentagon to be more secretive than perhaps any other American institution.
"Well, the media's job is about to get significantly more difficult. That's because military leaders have learned that there is no upside to talking freely and openly with the press. There is only a downside. Witness, for instance, what happened to General McChrystal and his aides: They were canned!
"So what the media will get now are more artificial and scripted press events and less candor and realism from our military leaders. They'll get more well-coached military personnel who have been trained to say only bland and non-controversial things which offend and excite no one."
A footnote from Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "Now it can be told. The story about him voting for Obama is not contrived. He is a political liberal. He is a social liberal. He banned Fox News from the television sets in his headquarters. Yes, really. This puts to rest another false rumor: that McChrystal deliberately precipitated his firing because he wants to run for president."
I hadn't even heard that rumor!
Nobody ever accused David Petraeus of not knowing how to work the press, as Ellen Knickmeyer observes at the Daily Beast:
"For reporters like me who know him, it is impossible to imagine the ever-cordial and proper Petraeus allowing himself and his team to booze it up and spout off about his civilian bosses with an unknown-to-him reporter present, as McChrystal did with volcanic career-ending consequences.
"He may not be gregarious but Petraeus wields a bony and ascetic charm which he combines with practical intelligence. And, unlike McChrystal, Petraeus has an unfailing grasp on his own spin--gifting reporters and analysts with bits of information that further his military points of view, and dashing off flatteringly fast responses to their emails.
"Proffering often behind-the-scenes access, he has built an army of loyal followers among officers, politicians, analysts and journalists, disciples who have become known as COINdinistas for their ardent support of COIN, the de rigueur doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of Petraeus himself."
Flatteringly fast -- I like that.Monochromatic landscape
Rachel Sklar offers a striking cable critique:
"CNN just announced two new hosts for the 8 p.m. prime time hour recently vacated by Campbell Brown: Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker. Last week, MSNBC announced that the new host for its 10 p.m. prime time show would be network staple Lawrence O'Donnell. What do these three people have in common (and thankfully for O'Donnell and Parker, it's not being caught with your socks down with a prostitute)? Pretty obvious: They're white.
"They're white like Chris Matthews is white, like Bill O'Reilly is white and Keith Olbermann is white, like Wolf Blitzer is white and Megyn Kelly is white and John King is white and Ed Schultz, Greta Van Susteren, Jake Tapper, Joe Scarborough, Bob Schieffer, David Gregory, Chris Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and Dylan Ratigan are white, not unlike the lion's share of their guests.
"Flip through the channels and there is no denying it: The world of cable news -- and their network chat-show brethren -- is very, very white."
Dave Weigel is learning his own hard lessons about media management:
"I'm a member of an off-the-record list-serv called 'Journolist,' founded by my colleague Ezra Klein. Last Monday, I was deluged with angry e-mail after posting a story about Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) that was linked by the Drudge Report with a headline intimating that I defended his roughing-up of a young man with a camera; after this, the Washington Examiner posted a gossip item about my dancing at a friend's wedding. Unwisely, I lashed out to Journolist, which I've come to view as a place to talk bluntly to friends.
"Below the fold are quotes from me e-mailing the list that day -- quotes that I'm told a gossip Web site will post today. I apologize for much of what I wrote, and apologize to readers.
" -- 'This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.'
"I apologize to Matt Drudge for this -- I was incredibly frustrated with the amount of hate mail I was getting and lashed out. If he wants to link to this post with some headline accusing me of wishing death on him, I suppose he can do so. But I don't wish that. I was tired, angry, and hyperbolic, and I'm sorry. . . .
" -- 'I'd politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.'
"I stand by that reaction but apologize for belittling Byron York."
Whatever happened to just muttering under your breath?Your U.S.-Russian summit coverage
Dmitry Medvedev, amazingly, has a Twitter account: "Haven't had a burger in a while. Lunch with Obama at Ray's Hell Burger."
What, he wasn't important enough for Five Guys?
Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, 'Reliable Sources.' Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to the report on Gore.