I Shot the Albatross

When I wrote a few months ago about a disclosure issue in The Guardian, I didn't expect that the complaint would still be rattling around on weblogs two months later.

Perhaps I would feel more strongly if I were quoted in the piece, but to me it's simply a bad judgment call that should have been made differently at the time. I don't want to hang it around the writer's neck like an albatross.

I am surprised that editors at The Guardian either don't feel like it was an error or won't admit it, but a lot of newspaper people turtle under public scrutiny.

Alexandra Polier, the woman smeared by a groundless rumor linking her romantically with John Kerry earlier this year, turned the tables on the people most responsible for dragging her name through the mud: She wrote an article for New York Magazine about how she pursued the journalists and Internet writers most involved in passing it along (including, oddly enough, longtime weblogger Cameron Barrett).

The best part of the piece is when Polier confronts Brian Flynn, a British tabloid reporter who fabricated a quote by her mother:

"Her mother Donna claims Kerry, 60 -- dubbed the new JFK -- once chased Alex to be on his campaign team and was "after her."

Flynn refused to meet Polier, hid from her phone calls, and wouldn't come to the door when she showed up at his apartment.

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."

This anecdote demonstrates two things: the delicate sensibilities of journalists under fire and my own capacity for error. Barrett credits the Drudge Retort with linking to the Kerry affair rumor and helping increase his traffic to 80,000 to 100,000 daily visitors during that smear's ugly trajectory.

I copublish that site. Polier could have showed up at my door with some unpleasant questions about baseless Internet rumormongers.

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