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Here's what's wrong with journalism in the Age of the Internet: Last week, reports surfaced that a 54-year-old masseuse claimed that Al Gore tried to rape her in a hotel room in Portland, Ore., nearly four years ago. Not last week, four years ago.
What is this woman's name? Well, she doesn't want that made public ... unless someone gives her a million bucks in cash. But she does want to say all sorts of slimy unattributed things about the former vice president, who has never before been linked to scandal.
And we let her do it.
How much credibility does she have? By conventional tests, zero. Did she run to the cops and the prosecutors immediately after the incident happened? Well, no. Apparently a few months later, she made a couple appointments to talk to them and never showed up.
Two and a half years later, she went back with a long statement that she admits her lawyer mostly wrote for her. You can easily find the whole 73-page epic on the Internet, if you look.
Among other things, it alleges that Al, who was on a tour to promote his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was lounging around drinking beer, swigging Grand Marnier and eating various kinds of chocolate. ("He's rotund, you know," she says.)
Suddenly, he lures her into his bedroom and puts on a song:
"'Dear Mr. President' by Pink. ... as soon as he had it playing, he immediately flipped me flat on my back and threw his whole body face down over atop me, pinning me down and outweighing me by quite a bit. 'Get off me, you big lummox!' I loudly protested to him ...
"We lay on our sides a couple feet apart, looking at each other as he played the song, him singing along as if he were revealing deep feelings like some bizarre karaoke and me stuck there."
Allegedly, they rolled around for the next few hours until she finally left, after telling him, "You're being a crazed sex poodle."
Well, if I were going to write imitation 1930s pulp fiction dialogue, I couldn't possibly do better. "Big lummox?" Not even Archie, Veronica and Jughead talked that way.
The police and the prosecutor's office correctly decided there was insufficient evidence to do anything. In fact, they didn't even feel the need to interview Al Gore. The local newspaper, the Portland Tribune, which apparently still has journalistic integrity, declined to run a story based on her anonymous allegations. There is a notation in the police files that the woman intended to pursue "civil remedies," which is often code for trying to get paid off not to go public.
Possibly, she felt that nobody would believe her. However, in the last month, Al and Tipper Gore announced they were separating, ending what had seemed to the world to be a storybook marriage. Suddenly, the media took off for a feeding frenzy on the man who previously had been thought to be the biggest straight-arrow bore on the planet. First the rumor was that he was having an affair with activist and blogger Laurie David, which all parties have said wasn't true.
Now he is supposed to have tried forcing an aging hotel masseuse to have sex with him. Here are a number of reasons every editor in the country should have been very dubious about this story:
Whether rotund or not, any man of Al Gore's folk hero and celebrity status should have no problem finding a willing partner. I've seen pretty girls all starry-eyed over him.
If Al Gore had wanted to pay for sex in an upscale hotel, he would have had no problem finding a discreet service that would provide a willing partner — possibly for less than the $540 fee he allegedly paid the masseuse.
The woman in question came to his hotel room at 10:30 at night. Are we to believe that she was really shocked that a client paying that fee at that hour wanted a "happy ending?" Do we believe that's the first time that happened to her?
If she was shocked, shocked, that he wanted sex, why didn't she leave immediately? Why didn't she go to hotel management immediately? Why is she suddenly now saying for the first time she has sweat pants with his DNA on them?
Now, I am not saying that nothing occurred between the anonymous woman and the former vice president. The point is, we don't know what, if anything happened, and to allow someone who has clearly mercenary motives to publish defamatory and detailed anonymous, fishy charges is not what professional journalism is all about.
This column is being written three days before you read it, and it is conceivable that evidence may surface that sheds new light on all this. But as I am writing this, it remains equally or even more possible that she could be in the pay of right-wing operatives or special interests seeking to discredit theories about climate change.
When I was being taught how to be a journalist, in the years immediately after Vietnam and Watergate, the rule was always "when in doubt, leave it out."
Now, the rule seems to be that if it makes you titter, put it in. So, with journalistic standards in the toilet, I have made a decision: If you allow me to stay anonymous and give me $1 million, I will tell you all about how Lindsay Lohan tried to force me to kiss her lovely breasts in 2006.
Or, if you like, I'll confess to having had sex with Tinky-Winky, the little purple Teletubby who Jerry Falwell said was gay. Hell, tell you what. For $2 million, you can even use my name.
Tea Party follies: Three weeks ago, I was walking around downtown Royal Oak and ran into petitioners trying to get signatures to put a "Tea Party" on the November ballot.
That intrigued me, since it has long been established that the "Tea Party" is something the Republicans cooked up and funded to get the ignorant riled up against the president and his programs.
The last thing the GOP wants is another party on the ballot to split the right-wing vote. Wendy Day, a homeschooler from Howell who is the non-movement's non-leader, made appropriately indignant noises about someone hijacking the franchise.
A conservative blogger named Chetly Zarko soon discovered evidence that it was a covert Democratic Party operation. The name "Tea Party, LLC," was registered in the name of a man named Mark Steffek, who seems to be a blue-collar worker from the Saginaw area.
An outfit called Progressive Campaigns, Inc., which often works for Democratic and liberal causes, is paying canvassers a buck a signature to collect names. Last week, I saw one signature collector outside the Southfield Library who recognized me; I believe I met him once when I spoke to a Green Party meeting years ago.
The Michigan Secretary of State's office tells me that if 38,013 valid signatures can be collected by July 15, they can get the Tea Party on the November ballot. Then, they can hold a convention, maybe in Mark Steffek's garage, and nominate candidates for office.
Naturally, the same Republicans who helped create the Tea Party movement are howling foul. And I thought, as I cheerfully signed one of the petitions ... ain't democracy grand?
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.