We agreed to meet at Coffee Shop in Union Square. When she walked in, the first thing she said was, “You look nothing like Monica. You’re much prettier!” I mentioned how I’d been hurt by her story. She looked stricken. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just didn’t think of you as a person. I thought of you as this Google creation, this Lara Croft character.”
In the end, I liked her; she’d had the courage to meet me—more than I can say for The Sun’s Brian Flynn, who had first named me. Afraid I would lose my temper, I asked my editor to call him first.
“I was calling to ask you who your source was for your story which named Alex Polier as the intern in the Kerry story,” she said.
“Ah, many people have asked me; it was a fantastic source,” he said. “I broke that story to the world, you know,” he added proudly. “But your source was wrong,” she pointed out. He paused, startled. “You’ve just ambushed me,” he cried. “You’ve ambushed me!”
“I think you should speak to Alex,” she said and passed me the phone.
“Hello,” he said, sounding nervous.
“I’d like to talk to you. I’m writing a piece and have some questions.”
“It’s not a good time right now,” he said. “Let’s meet up next week.”
“Why did you quote my mother when she wasn’t even home?” I persisted.
“I really can’t talk about this right now, Alex,” he said.
When I finally tracked him down the following week, he was brusque and told me to go through The Sun’s PR office. I asked him about my mother again, but he kept saying, “Sorry, Alex, proper channels.” Reached in London, Lorna Carmichael, The Sun’s PR manager, refused to comment. I went to Flynn’s apartment, and spoke to his wife through the intercom. “Go away and leave us alone!” she cried. “He’s not going to come down or speak to you.”
My final call, inevitably, had to be to Matt Drudge, who said he couldn’t talk for long as his father had just arrived for the weekend. In fact, we spoke for nearly 40 minutes. “In retrospect, I should have had a sentence saying, ‘There is no evidence to tie Alex to John Kerry.’ I should have put that,” he told me. Then he added, “If Clark had not gone out there and said, ‘Kerry is going to bomb,’ I never, ever, would have gone anywhere near this.” Once he’d posted his initial story, he was then encouraged and gratified by the prompt coverage in the UK press. “When the London Times made it a banner headline, like we’re going to war, I realized this must be true. Murdoch is going all the way with this! For me to do media coverage was one thing, for them to jump from media coverage to say this is actually an affair between her and him and all the rest was something else!”
And so my education had taken me pretty much as far as it could. I started out as an ambitious young woman inspired by politics and the media. I’ve ended up disenchanted with both. If I had been an ambitious young man, this story would not have happened. I’m never going to know exactly what happened, but that matters less to me now. I lost a good friend and learned a few lessons. I am struck by the pitiful state of political reporting, which is dominated by the unholy alliance of opposition research and its latest tool, the Internet. Even the Wall Street Journal’s Website ran Drudge’s story, with only a brief disclaimer that his stories weren’t always accurate.
It was important for me to set the record straight. I don’t mean to dredge up old news by writing this, and I’m not trying to create any now, though I’m not unaware of the irony that I am adding to the ink spilled on this story. I don’t intend to discuss it again in public either. But for me, this painful experience will be hard to forget. It may be only a minor footnote to the campaign, but it has changed my life completely.