Anatomy of a Rumor

Posted June 1, 2004 at 6:58pm

Editors at New York magazine say their phones were ringing off the hook Tuesday with inquiries from news organizations all over the world. Some just wanted a phone number for new freelancer Alexandra Polier, who published a detailed account — worth

“considerably more” than the $10,000 previously reported, said a source at New York — about how the “painful” rumors earlier this year about her alleged affair with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) “changed my life completely.”

[IMGCAP(1)] In addition to categorically denying the charge, Polier dissects the allegation, which — surprise, surprise — made its debut in the Drudge Report on a Thursday (and the following day in the British tabloid The Sun). What ensued, she wrote in the New York magazine piece, was a weekend “like a horror movie.”

Even though she lives in Nairobi with her film producer fiancé Yaron Schwartzman, Polier was hounded by reporters and producers from all over the world. Local fixers hired by the nets approached her with the come-on, “Tell me it’s true and we’re on the next plane to Nairobi!” The next month, she writes, “was the worst of my life.”

Polier recalls attending an ex-pat heavyweight dinner party on a Thursday evening in Nairobi when the phone call came from Kerry finance director Peter Maroney, her former boyfriend, saying, “Al, there’s a rumor going around the office that you slept with my boss.”

That never happened, Polier says. As she tells it in her article, she merely approached Kerry in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2001 to ask about working on his campaign.

The rumor, she concludes, was engineered by “no single person” but by a myriad of forces. She fingers the Bush campaign, overzealous bloggers and Chris Lehane, a former Kerry campaign aide who left to go work for retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s presidential campaign. She recounted an e-mail by Craig Crawford, a political columnist at Congressional Quarterly, that became widely circulated: “Drudge item on Kerry intern issue is something Chris Lehane has shopped around for a long time.”

“I started out as an ambitious young woman inspired by politics and the media,” she writes. “I’ve ended up disenchanted with both.”

Yet, perhaps she’s ended up shrewder — and obviously richer — for it all. Sources tell HOH that before sealing the story deal with New York magazine, Polier made a round of calls to those national reporters who had hounded her ruthlessly with questions about the nature of her relationship with Kerry but who never printed or aired anything. (Even Kerry’s hometown paper, the Boston Globe, avoided the rumor, although the paper did make fleeting references to “rumors linking” the Senator to a young woman.)

Polier left a voice message several weeks ago for one well-known national print scribe asking him why he never wrote anything. “Because there wasn’t a story,” he recalls telling Polier when he returned her call.

He was left scratching his head about why Polier called him and others.

A source in Nairobi — a journalist and an acquaintance of Polier — tells HOH that the aspiring journalist was worried about what effect the New York magazine piece would have on her career. She asked a former editor at The Associated Press, where she had interned, whether the piece would hurt her career. “Hell yeah,” the Nairobi source says the AP editor told Polier.

Our Nairobi source says Polier already seems to have suffered from the Kerry controversy. She got a job doing public relations for a non-governmental organization that does work in Somalia. “But when the NGO found out that she was the Alex Polier from the news,” the source says, “they decided not to let her travel to Mogadishu as planned. They said she was a kidnap risk.”

But Boston Globe political editor John Yemma suggests that the New York magazine piece will be good for Polier — and perhaps even better for John Kerry.

“It may be in some readers’ minds or political junkies’ minds that they still don’t know the full story,” Yemma says. “But it seems to me she has given the fullest story yet.”

He added, “I don’t think it’ll hurt [Kerry], because these rumors exist forever. They’re cycled and recycled. It may well be that it helps the Senator’s campaign” for president.

Boehner vs. McDermott, Round 63. A longstanding feud between Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) just got nastier.

Boehner, on his official campaign Web site, is now using McDermott’s picture to raise money. The site features a rather ghoulish photo of McDermott with giant black letters saying: “CLICK HERE TO DONATE.”

Accompanying the solicitation is an indictment of McDermott for alleged offenses ranging from his pre-war visit to Iraq and his omission of the words “under God” while leading the House in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Boehner and McDermott have been locked in a bitter feud ever since the 1997 leak of a taped telephone conversation during an ethics investigation of former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) The two lawmakers currently are awaiting a ruling from a federal judge over whether Boehner’s lawsuit against McDermott can go forward.

The headline on Boehner’s campaign Web site blares: “LIES AND LEAKS,” “RECKLESS WORDS,” and “CARELESS ACTIONS.”

Underneath it, it says, “Washington State’s Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott has outraged and embarrassed America so many times, it’s tough to pick his most offensive example.” Boehner goes on to give a sampling of what he finds egregious. His office declined to comment further.

McDermott’s office declined to comment on the latest escalation. But one source in the McDermott camp familiar with the legal case told HOH that Boehner “is continuing to pursue the lawsuit for political purposes.” And the source insisted that McDermott’s accepting the illegally intercepted tape was “entirely within his First Amendment rights.”

Mulch Madness. Wanda Baucus, wife of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) goes to court today for her unfortunate mulch incident at Johnson’s Garden Center two months ago in Northwest Washington.

The hearing is set for this morning in the chambers of D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman, who had granted Baucus a three-week continuation “to investigate the altercation and to visit family in Chicago.”

According to the arrest warrant, Baucus “struck Tierney Augusta Barron in the face and upper body” in the parking lot outside Johnson’s after the Big Mulch purchase. Baucus is expected to enter a plea today.