I would have preferred to ignore the latest Drudge sludge/National Enquirer/Rush Limbaugh slime, at least until someone had some idea what was actually going on. But since Dan Drezner had what I think was the extreme bad taste to report this third-hand sleaze and draw inferences from it, mentioning me by name, I suppose I can’t pretend I don’t know what’s going on.
Rumors are spreading about a relationship between John Kerry and a much younger woman. That’s the only thing I know for fact right now.
It is asserted that Chris Lehane, who used to work for Kerry and has been since working for Clark, was spreading those rumors, and that Clark himself made off-the-record comments to reporters about it, predicting that it would cause Kerry to implode. The woman reportedly was in her twenties and an employee of a news organization. That’s all I’ve been able to figure out so far about the rumor.
So what do I think?
1. If it’s true, it isn’t good.
2. It would be worse if the woman were a teenager than if she were a twentysomething.
3. It would be worse if the woman had worked for Kerry than if she worked for someone else.
4. It would be worse if it took place after he remarried.
5. If Lehane was pushing it, he’s a sleaze. But we mostly knew that already.
6. If Clark knew Lehane was pushing it and didn’t tell him to stop he should be ashamed of himself.
7. If Clark brought it up with reporters he should be ashamed of himself both ethically and operationally. Planting nasty personal stories about your rivals is discreditable, and speaking to reporters in groups off the record is not the way to plant a nasty personal story about a rival. You do it either one-on-one or — much better — through an intermediary, who speaks on “deep background” rather than OTR.
8. If Clark was asked about it by reporters and said, off the record, that he thought it was bad news for Kerry, then he needn’t be ashamed of himself on ethical grounds but he was a fool to trust the reporters not to blab.
9. The reporters involved are a disgrace to their profession. Off the record is off the record, except under very special circumstances: e.g., the source is lying, deliberately trying to pawn off a phony story. Since, if the reporters in question were telling the truth, they were acting unethically, why should be prefer believing that they’re telling the truth to believing that they’re lying about what Clark said, or at least exaggerating for effect? That assumes, of course, that Drudge is telling the truth about what the reporters told him.
10. One of Drezner’s commenters expresses delight that there are no Republicans involved. So what is Drudge, a Martian? Whoever planted this story with Drudge and the Enquirer was out to get both Kerry and Clark. The timing, just the day before Clark is to endorse Kerry, more or less clinches that.
11. So far only Drezner and some of the British papers, among the non-sleazaloid media, have picked this up. No self-respecting media outlet should be prepared to take this sort of unsourced second-hand sludge and run with it. We don’t even know the name of the woman he’s supposed to have been dating, making the story completely impossible to check.
Note that the GWB abortion story died the death without ever seeing respectable print, despite the fact that there were on-the-record witnesses willing to name names. The same is true about a very serious, recent, non-sexual report about GWB’s personal life, which I have heard from two good sources, which is credible on its face, and which, if true, directly bears on his fitness to be President.
Since I’m about as far from well-plugged-in to White House gossip as it’s possible to be without joining a Trappist monastery, I have no doubt that if I’ve heard it, every reporter in Washiongton has heard it. And, if so, I hope they’re trying to get it confirmed. But in the meantime, they are entirely right to keep their big traps shut until they have something worth going with.