On the evening of Thursday, February 12, as John Kerry had just chalked up his twelfth state-primary win in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, I was at a dinner party in Nairobi, hosted by my friend Matthew Rosenberg, an Associated Press reporter based in East Africa. The male guests were discussing a recent poker game, while the women sat around trading recipes to give to their cooks. It promised to be your typical Nairobi night.
Five months earlier, I had quit my job at the AP in New York and moved to Kenya with my fiancé, Yaron Schwartzman, who’d grown up there. He had been offered a film-production job, and I wanted to try some foreign corresponding. That night the group included aid workers, diplomats, photographers, and the feisty AP bureau chief, Susan Linnee.
As we started dinner, I was dimly aware of Susan’s cell phone’s ringing. I didn’t know her well but was excited to talk to her in case a job in the bureau came up. She went outside to answer it, then came back and beckoned me to join her in the garden. “The New York office wants to talk to you,” she said, and then she dialed the number and passed me the phone.
“Hello, Alex,” said the familiar voice of my old boss, Tom Kent, one of AP’s deputy managing editors. He sounded brusque. “I hate to tell you this, but you’re on the Drudge Report,” he said, and then proceeded to read me Matt Drudge’s latest “world exclusive.”
“A frantic behind-the-scenes drama is unfolding around Sen. John Kerry and his quest to lockup the Democratic nomination for President, the drudge report can reveal.
“Intrigue surrounds a woman who recently fled the country, reportedly at the prodding of Kerry, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.
“A serious investigation of the woman and the nature of her relationship with Sen. John Kerry has been underway at TIME magazine, ABC NEWS, the WASHINGTON POST, THE HILL and the ASSOCIATED PRESS, where the woman in question once worked.
“A close friend of the woman first approached a reporter late last year claiming fantastic stories—stories that now threaten to turn the race for the presidency on its head!
“In an off-the-record conversation with a dozen reporters earlier this week General Wesley Clark plainly stated: ‘Kerry will implode over an intern issue.’ [Three reporters in attendance confirm Clark made the startling comments.]
“The Kerry commotion is why Howard Dean has turned increasingly aggressive against Kerry in recent days, and is the key reason why Dean reversed his decision to drop out of the race after Wisconsin, top campaign sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.”
I wasn’t named, but Kent explained everyone knew whom Drudge was talking about. I was stunned into silence. “You have to make a statement, Alex,” Kent was saying. “I have no comment,” I managed to say as tears began to well. He sounded desperate to keep me on the line. “I’m not going to talk to the media,” I said. I was too overwhelmed and confused to know what had happened. I had never had an affair with John Kerry. Who was trying to make me the next Monica Lewinsky?
I met John Kerry for the first time in January 2001, in Davos, Switzerland. I was living in Manhattan, stopgapping at a public-relations firm and wondering if my application to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was going to be accepted. At heart, I was a politics junkie. I would scour The Economist, cutting out articles for my “current affairs” scrapbook. As an undergrad at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, I had double-majored in philosophy and international relations. I’d also spent several months distributing emergency supplies in Kosovo and a year working as a researcher in the British House of Commons. (In an ironic nod to Monica Lewinsky, my boss, Nick Harvey, a Liberal M.P., cheerfully referred to me as “the American intern.”) I recall one Wednesday afternoon stumbling across Tony Blair and a minister chatting quietly down an obscure corridor. “Hello,” Blair said, smiling. It was more exciting than meeting Brad Pitt.
To me, politicians were the ultimate celebrities, so in January 2001, when I cadged a ticket to the World Economic Forum in Davos, I was intrigued by the proximity to the powerful. The first person I saw was South African president Thabo Mbeki, and then, across from him, Mexican president Vicente Fox. Although it presents itself as a serious policy machine, Davos’s real point is, of course, networking, so I got up the courage to introduce myself. “Hello, I’m Alex Polier,” I said. “Hello, Alex,” Fox replied. But I was uncertain what to say next, and fortunately for both of us, one of his aides whisked him away.
The third day of the conference was my birthday. It was also the evening of the Davos gala, the big social event of the weekend. It was surreal. I hung at the bar next to Naomi Campbell and drank champagne with eBay chairman Pierre Omidyar as a dozen synchronized swimmers glittered in the pool behind us. I was wandering around the main complex when I spotted Kerry at the bar. It was not long after President George W. Bush’s inauguration, and I, like many other Americans, was distressed by the outcome of the election. I had just read an article about potential Democratic candidates for 2004 that concluded that Kerry stood a chance of beating Bush. Having already practiced on Vicente Fox, I walked over and introduced myself.
“Hello, I’m Alexandra Polier. I’m one of your constituents.” I’d grown up outside Boston, and he looked pleased to hear a familiar accent. “What are you doing here?” he asked cheerily, and ordered me a drink. We moved swiftly through American foreign policy to his political ambitions. “I think you’re going to be the next president of the United States,” I said with a confidence that probably seemed very forward. “Oh, you do, do you?” he replied, looking slightly amused. He asked if I had any desire to work on a political campaign, so I ran through my résumé. He seemed impressed, and after sharing Davos gossip for fifteen minutes, he shook my hand and said, “Get in touch with my office. Maybe there’s something you can do for the campaign.”