Opening the Black Book
Now that we have some more scandals to deal with — the resurgence of the black book caper here in Frederick and the unfounded rumors, fresh out of the infamous Drudge Report, on John Kerry, I feel a need to confess.
In the 70s and 80s, I was among a small band of Washington reporters, known informally as the “posse.” I worked for a tabloid, the New York Daily News, and my job was to track down all of the rumors about presidents, congressmen and senators having sex with women other than their wives.
It was not a sport just for the tabloids, though. In those days before the infamous Matt Drudge made muckraking a bad word by printing every rumor he could find — true or not — even distinguished newspapers delved into the private lives of the pols. My fellow posse members were from papers like the Washington Post and New York Times.
We exposed such powerhouses as Rep. Wilbur Mills, (D., Ark.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, whose girl friend, stripper Fanne Foxe, known affectionately as the Argentine Firecracker, jumped into the Tidal Basin. Representative Mills at first denied that any such thing had happened but a nighttime TV reporter taped it. Mr. Mills quit.
And then there was the arrogant chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Wayne Hays (D., Ohio), who hired a secretary who couldn’t type and didn’t want to learn, Elizabeth Ray. Mr. Hays was a frequent visitor to Ms. Ray’s Arlington apartment. His career ended, too.
I have long since retired from such journalistic endeavors. Probing the sex lives of politicians is hardly an activity for a serious journalist, I concluded, even though my colleagues at the National Press Club bar were much more interested in what I was writing than what they were writing.
When I moved to this quiet hamlet a year ago, I was amazed at how the sex lives of local bigwigs enchanted the citizenry. The News-Post spent thousands of dollars trying to obtain the names of clients of a prominent Frederick madam, Angelika Potter, who seems to have run at least three brothels in town in the 90s. The News-Post won the First Amendment case but has not released any names. The general manager is studying what the right course of action might be.
Well, I have long since given up tracking down the sexual failings of our leaders. However, if I were still in the sleuthing business I would be spending days and nights poring over those lists and making a bunch of phone calls and house calls, as I did in the Watergate years and after. (By the way, there was absolutely no illicit sex in the Nixon Administration, as far as I could discern. Not even rumors.)
I know serious journalists fret over what legitimate reason there is to publish any names. The explanation of the Washington Post and New York Times, back in the days of the Mills and Hays incidents, was that the public, we taxpayers, had the right to know how our legislators were spending our money. In the Hays’ case, the argument was made that Mr. Hays was illegally spending money on Ms. Ray for services not rendered, (at least not at the office.)
Neither Mr. Mills nor Mr. Hays nor Ms. Ray nor Ms. Fox were ever convicted of anything, though.
Was there any fraud in Frederick in connection with Angelika’s activities? Did Angelika get special handling, so to speak, from city officials in the good old boy days before women took charge of the city? It’s hard to tell without exploring the names and the circumstances of the services.
As for John Kerry, it is unconscionable that the papers would ever bring up what seems to be a 100 percent wrong story, leaked to the press by another Democratic contender, Wes Clark, who has since endorsed Mr. Kerry.
Let’s give the Post and Times credit this time. It wasn’t until that big gossip, Drudge, and his cohorts in the scandalous British press, printed the rumor that the great American newspapers printed anything. And that was a denial from Senator Kerry and the woman in question, an Associated Press reporter, that they had ever had any relationship. Whether they knew each other was not spelled out in their denials.
Next, I suppose, someone will do an anatomy-of-a-rumor piece laying out all the allegations and how they found their way into print.
The Times printed just such a story back in the 80s when aides to President Bush’s dad, then-Vice President Bush, spread the word that Georgians were saying Jimmy Carter had an affair with an Atlanta businesswoman. It turned out to be untrue and The Times reporter did a story revealing that the rumor had come from the Bush camp. I received the same information from a Bush operative but didn’t run anything because it did not check out.
Maybe I should have gotten the story out by declaring it a rumor, as The Times did. Printing that rumor apparently did not violate The Times motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Some of us felt the motto should be rewritten to say, “All the News That Fits the Print.”
Then, there was the rumor about our current President Bush’s dad, when Dad was running for president. The widespread rumor was that dear old Dad had an affair with one of the women on his staff who always managed to work for him wherever he went. I spent weeks on that one and discovered that a lot of Bush aides could not stand that imperious woman and probably spread the rumor themselves. In any event I ran nothing. No story — at least by my standards. But Newsweek ran the rumors past George W, who denied for the record that his Dad was an adulterer.
So, you guessed it, Newsweek ran the denial and, of course, had to explain what the charge was. The Post printed a front page story called “Anatomy of a Rumor,” outlining every unsubstantiated charge that had been made. I, as an ethical tabloid reporter, finally had to print something when the Bush camp announced that the whole thing was a dirty trick fomented by Bush’s GOP opponent at the time, Bob Dole.
The black book may not implicate presidents, senators or congressmen. So far, only a lowly ex-alderman, Blaine Young, has admitted to any business dealings with Angelika. But he says he only used the services of Miss Potter’s girls as entertainers at a party. Definitely not for sex. Mr. Young was a bachelor at the time.
But writing about such dalliances is somebody else’s job these days.
Yet, since I am in a confessing mood today, I must admit I would not mind reading a story about those on the list. I know it is irresponsible of me, even sinful, to lust after that kind of journalism.
Which raises another question I have had since arriving here. Does Frederick have more sinners per square mile than other cities? There are so many churches in this town of spires — and many are not so far from Angelika’s uninspired buildings.
Before I repent, I would like to read just one story delving into the people on the list — those who were regularly making the trek to see Angelika, Sherry and the girls. And I have a few questions. Did Angelika have Sunday hours? Could you drop in after church? Or, was the idea to run over on Saturday night and atone for your sins in church the next morning?
There are all sorts of sociological and theological implications. The kind of thing serious journalists examine all the time.
Anyhow, the black book is a heck of a yarn. And aren’t we reporters just storytellers? I wonder if today’s ambitious Frederick reporters are going to tell us the ultimate bedtime story.
Contact Joe Volz at firstname.lastname@example.org