Alexandra Polier: “How I Got Smeared”

Alexandra PolierAlexandra Polier, the the woman fingered in the Kerry scandal that wasn’t a scandal (but instead was just a load of tripe), has written her own account of an extensive investigation into the rumor. Her story unfolds in “How I Got Smeared”:

Our conversation was unsettling, but it was hardly conclusive. I tried to understand the chronology of events, and then discovered that Drudge’s “exclusive” wasn’t even an exclusive. On February 6, six days before Drudge, an obscure political Website called Watchblog.com ran a commentary by someone calling himself Son of Liberty. “Rumor has it that John Kerry is going to be outed by Time magazine next week for having an affair with a 20-year-old woman who remains unknown,” Son had confidently predicted.

Watchblog was the creation of Cameron Barrett, who–as it happened–went on to work for the Clark campaign. I enlisted some reporting help from Robert Kolker, a more seasoned political journalist who works for this magazine. He reached Barrett by instant message.

Without even being asked, Barrett declared that Son’s story had nothing to do with himself, Lehane, or Clark. A day later, Son himself e-mailed, saying that he was willing to be unmasked as Stephen VanDyke, a 25-year-old computer programmer in Atlanta. Claiming to be inspired by James Thomson Callender, the original American muckraker who chronicled the scandals of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, VanDyke says now that he was merely trying to make a name for himself by posting the rumor. “What I tried to break,” he explains, “was that the rumor did exist. I didn’t know whether it was true or not.

I know now it’s not.

“It looks as though someone may have been just passing out disinformation,” he continued. “And I may have become part of that cycle.” Kolker asked him if he knew why I had been named. “She may have just been convenient,” VanDyke suggested. “Someone who ran off to, where did she go, Kenya? It made an excellent opportunity for someone to finger-point at her.”

It was becoming clearer: No single person had to have engineered this. First came a rumor about Kerry, then a small-time blogger wrote about it, and his posting was read by journalists.

I must say, I was duped: I was interviewed by Bob Kolker, yet she is the one writing the article. [correction] I would much rather have spoken directly to Polier to let her know that my intention was not malicious, but just informing. James Thomson Callender was actually the originator of the term “hammer of truth”, meaning the truth is not partisan. I felt it was my duty to inform of a rumor and I did it in a manner that examined political rumors, not in the context of scandalmongering. But I think there is a lot of unleashed rage — some of it deserved, and some of it vented at me — in this article that people will be buzzing about for a while.

For anyone who is interested in the way in which I had broken this, it is not summarized in that sentence. Please read my piece that I had written under the pseudonym SoL (Son of Liberty) entitled “Rumor: A Kerry Affair & Push Polling”, the second line of which acted as the leveller:

At present, this is nothing more than a rumor; and after such sordid tactics as the “push polling” that took place in South Carolina in the 2000 elections, can such rumors be credible during campaign cycles?

You can also read the other commentary articles that I wrote for WatchBlog covering the purported scandal: Rumor Machinations: Who gains from it? Woman Denies Rumors of Kerry Affair. If you compare Polier’s article and how I covered the alleged rumor, you will find some striking similarities in trying to discern truth from fiction, as well as investigating motive and who would best gain from it.

How I Got Smeared [New York Metro]
Rumor: A Kerry Affair & Push Polling [Watchblog]
Rumor Machinations: Who gains from it? [Watchblog]
Woman Denies Rumors of Kerry Affair [Watchblog]

Correction: Apparently I was made aware that Polier was writing the article (honestly, I probably wasn’t paying attention if that was said, but it was a recorded interview and I don’t doubt Bob’s word on the matter), I have of course posted a full retraction and apology on this at “Polier Article Correction: Yeah, I Make Mistakes”

2 Comments
  1. Stephen (or should I say “SoL”?)…

    I’ve been reading your blog since I was directed here earlier this year in search of T4DW, but I have stayed because of your political commentary. I email links to your detourned photos regularly.

    Having taught journalism in high school, I’m always interested in stories like this becuase it shows that the mistakes teens make (not disclosing the truth behind an interview) are so frequently made in the “real” media.

    So, I went back and read your original post. You are being slagged by Polier for no reason. I know this is the truth in politics, where soundbites replace stances, but how has it come to this point where remarks can be taken so out-of context and spun in any direction?

    Back when I was your age, I had an opportunity to intern in the NY State Assembly, and presumably, the chance to create a political career for myself. My father is active in state politics and I could have worked for a Republican (at the time I was registered “Conservative” as a poke at my dad- I told him it was the most radical party in the state), and I actually needed the money. However, I couldn’t find it inside myself to compromise my personal integrity enough to work for a party I didn’t believe in. Of course, had I gotten into the fold, as it were, I would have had to been able to engage in the tactics you describe, and to issue Polieresque statements. I am glad I chose not to.

    Continue Hammering, dude, and I shall continue reading and spreading your words…

  2. Steven,

    Sorry for you getting slammed. I was worried when I first told you about this rumor from a friend on Capital Hill that you would “Drudge-ify” it, but you didn’t. You both put it into context and related it to other rumors that hurt campaigns.

    I agree she is somewhat lashing out because she was the one in the middle of the storm. What kind of pisses me off about her ranting is that no major news outlet ran with this story. You simply pointed out that this rumor was running rampant on Capital Hill, which it was.

    I’d also like to point out that no name was attached to the rumor. As I heard it (and relayed to you), Kerry had had an affair with a young intern. Drudge was the one who added “she ran off to Africa to get away from the press.”

    –Jose