Genesis of A Rumor--There Was No Private Investigator Working for McFall ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Friday, October 9, 2009

Genesis of A Rumor--There Was No Private Investigator Working for McFall

Was There A Private Eye Working for Trudy McFall and looking to stir up dirt on Zina Pierre? In a word, the answer is "no". Actually the answer is even more resounding, but this is a family blog.

I will try to recount this interesting chapter in our city's recent political history with an eye toward telling a moral tale. I have tried to put this story together to the best of knowledge. Only the real players can possibly know whether I am accurate or off the mark, but I believe this story is as close to an accurate representation as is possible without writing a book.A few days after the September 15th primary, when all hell broke loose in Annapolis, rumors began to circulate about who knew what when and how etc. etc.....

On the following Monday, there was a previously-scheduled Democratic Unity Breakfast. A rumor apparently began there or shortly thereafter that a private investigator was working for defeated candidate Trudy McFall was making inquiries into the election and post-election issues coming to light. While this issue may have been discussed, the rumor that House Speaker Mike Busch said a private investigator was working for Trudy McFall was apparently false but it quickly spread to other ears around town. The McFall campaign denied such an accusation and wrote a denial to Busch but rumors persisted and calls and emails began coming in to me, some assuming that I either knew of or had gotten information from this supposed private investigator. Then the story transformed into one that explained although this person was an investigator, she was only making inquiries on her own and not on behalf of McFall. I believe that was basically what Busch said in the first place This was just more "fuzz" on the post-election radar screen that I found more amusing than anything else.

I am writing this piece to explain how rumors get spread and to perhaps explain some of the missing pieces of the aftermath of the primary election which continues to sting. This is an exercise perhaps in community healing, in journalistic experimentation and maybe in social psychology. Or perhaps I am just telling a story. You dear reader can decide.

I heard of this whole thing from different sources, but I also got an email from a "pseudo" email account that said:

"A few things happened at the Unity Breakfast today:

I-- Zina is still thinking about getting out.

She had a bunch of Prince Geroge's [sic] County people there, including the Chairman of the PG County Democratic party who announced Zina has the backing of the Prince Georges County Democratic Party. (WTF????) Congresswoman Donna Edwards and some high-paid politcal [sic]consultants were also there.
II-- It was publicly discussed that the information was obtained/released by a person who was hired by the McFall Campaign. Gil came to McFall's defense (she was conspicuously absent from the meeting) but all signs point to Trudy being involved.

III- the only mayoral candidates willing to "Unite" are Cohen and Renault as McFall, Shropshire, Taylor and Sears-Deppa did not show."
Okay. Here is what happened. There was no private investigator hired by the McFall campaign.  McFall was absent from the breakfast because she was on vacation.Therefore, she was unable to comment at the Unity breakfast. And by the way, the purported 50 or so attendees all agreed to not divulge the content of the meeting.

I got the following email from a person involved in local media about a week after the election:
"It’s pretty clear by now that an investigator working for McFall (or just a supporter) tipped off you and Ryan [Bagwell of Arundel Muckraker]."  That writer believed it was because The Capital didn’t endorse McFall. A few days later from the same person:

"I have it from someone who was tipped off to Pierre before it went public. He said she identified herself as an investigator by trade and that she was supporting Pierre. But neither of those things motivated her to disclose the background. She also said that it was given to the Sun and that Cordle had it."

Later that person corrected himself to say McFall of course rather than Pierre but he seemed to be in the know about what really happened. Then this came from a well-known and well-connected Republican leader to me:

Paul, this is what I have fm [sic]a source in the Fox Campaign:

someone  at an address
301-000-0000  (address and phone blanked out by CP)

Hmm?? From the Fox campaign? I asked Chris Fox and manager Devin Heritage who said they knew nothing about that. On September 21, an email from a Republican activist considered by many to be our local version of Anne Coulter, to a list of other local Republicans who constantly email each other back and forth, usually attacking anyone who is not to the right of Atilla The Hun:

"Paul Foer's sourcem,[sic]if [sic]I were a betting woman:

xxxxx xxxxxx"

The "source" shown above as xxxxx xxxxxx is a former state senator. Somehow she became the "source" who called me on Friday, Sept 18 to tell me of the public records web-site with information about Zina Pierre wich I then reported on within a couple of hours. Categorically false. I met State Senator xxxx xxxxxx once many years ago in her office. Once. Many years ago. And never since.

Another citizen activist in that email group, then wrote:

"I call her sore throat."

Sore throat? Yeah sure, like this person was a high-level official with access to a clandestine, illegal operation at the highest level of government. Very sensitive indeed. Geeze--all anybody did was tell me about a public web-site--which was already known to many others--many others, including the Baltimore Sun which was hot on the Pierre story even before my source called me.

The "Anne Coulter" person had this to say a bit later in the same email chain:

"You know, I thought about this today - Paul Foer has an interesting take on integrity.  He won't let people leave anonymous comments on his site, but he runs an article on a big controversial issue and allows the SOURCE to be 'anonymous.'

If Paul is to have any consistency and any honor, based on his past 'rules' for his blog, he will identtify [sic] the source.  At a minimum he should refuse to grant sources anonymity unless he lets commentors remain anonymous.  It's clear fom [sic] his blog he ha [sic] a low opinion of 'anonymous' people:"

And that's why I'm protecting the anonymity of this accusative and angry source because her identity is not important to this story. This person does not understand the difference between an anonymous commenter getting a free forum thanks to me to say whatever he or she pleases without any accountability and a legitimate source who makes him or herself known to me with the protection of anonymity. There is a world of difference between a whistle-blower trying to bring truth to light and a whiner merely trying to belittle or intimidate. Figure it out our local Ms. Coulter. I guess I just don't need your kind of "honor."

It occurred to me, once I got a hold of this private investigator, (thanks to the Republican leader's email) that she has the same first name and a very similar last name to that of the former state senator. Could this have been the subject of a gross mix-up, a case of mistaken identity? (hint--hint a gros mix-up? A GROS mix up) This PI is an Annapolis resident, works mainly in Prince Georges County, pays little attention to city politics but did briefly meet McFall when she knocked on her door. She insists she had absolutely no involvement with either candidate, was not employed by either candidate and was not doing any work on behalf of any candidate. She did identify herself as a concerned, lifelong Democrat but she was not working for anyone. Maybe she did ask some questions. Maybe, but so what? Perhaps I should have pursued it, but by this time both the private investigator and Dennis Conti of the McFall campaign denied that the McFall campaign was involved. We had a nice conversation and I left it at that.

I did however speak with House Speaker Mike Busch who completely corroborated the story that this same local woman who happened to be a PI was asking questions about Pierre, but solely on her own behalf. Busch never said that a private investigator was working on behalf of McFall. Busch said that the investigator knew the Baltimore Sun and others were looking into Pierre's background. She came to Busch's office hours before this story got dumped into my lap mid-Friday afternoon just after the election. The Sun released its story later that afternoon based on a couple days of investigating, according to Sun reporter Nicole Fuller.In other words, it was widely known and bubbling to the surface already.

Yet some want to speculate as to who was my source. I will say it again--it does not matter. Very shortly after Pierre won the primary, all kinds of people became aware of her background and I was late on the scene. It did not come about through my investigating but through that of others, but once again--we are talking about a public web-site that had the information. The only real story here is that everybody missed it because we were either lazy, incompetent or wrote off Pierre. Is it possible that others knew of Pierre's background before the primary? Yes it is--and probable too. Did those people choose to wait and release this information until after the primary? Possibly--and probably and apparently too. Does this mean there was a conspiracy? Possibly, but not likely. I don't believe either Busch or Cohen or any candidate did such a thing. I believe that there might have been some "renegades" or operatives associated with one of the campaigns that might have done it. It might very well have been a particularly notorious Democratic operative who is widely known to engage in smear campaigns against other Democrats. I would not put anything past that figure. Were they Republicans or Democrats who got the story out? Who knows? My source told me it was all coming from the Democrats. But I do not know who was the source for my source, nor do I care.

It does not take a private investigator to look at public records. It might take a private investigator to find out what did you know and when did you know it (or a good reporter), but even if we could find that out now, would it really matter? I don't know. I would not put it past some to try to spread a rumor about McFall hiring a PI just to discredit McFall.

This all takes me back to my initial thoughts. The real story is not about intrigue. The real story is that Zina Pierre is responsible for who she is and what she did. She was responsible for not coming out in public months ago. She was responsible for dropping out of the race. She was responsible for getting back in. She was responsible for hiring a new spokesperson who did no speaking, returned no calls, answered no e-mails. She was responsible for holding a press conference five days later where she again dropped out. She was responsible for not taking any questions and allowing all kinds of rumors to fly around for days. And while she said she took "total. total, total responsibility" for her actions, she then tried to blame all her troubles on "the media" and brush them off as being way less serious than they really were.

There was no state senator involved. There was no hired PI working for McFall and House Speaker Mike Busch did not point a finger at McFall so as to eliminate her from being considered as the appointee or for any other reason. There was no secret leak "Sore Throat" or otherwise. "The media" and "Bloggers" were not out to get Pierre. The Capital and bloggers did not sit on the story until after the primary but got on it when it was known to them. Was this Private Eye thing all just another example of a smear against McFall? Who knows what other rumors flew around and need to be dispelled?

 There is a lot we can all learn from this recent example of the adult version of the old game of "telephone" or "I've got a secret". There is also a big lesson to be learned about crisis management and crisis communications. One would have thought that a former White House operative and political consultant would have learned those lessons a long time ago. When officials and public figures are silent and inaccessible for five days--rumors fly. It's easy to blame the media or blame the messenger but what about when we are all little messengers spreading stories in a contagion? Who then gets the blame?

(This article took CP many, many hours to write and corroborate. Your financial contribution to CP is most welcome. )

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Stanford Erickson said...

Thank you for clarifying who "sore throat" isn't. I also appreciate that you protect your source and not tell use who she is.

Paul you did a good great service in providing us information on Rev. Pierre. Those who need to be criticized are those who should have veted her background earlier and Rev. Pierre herself for not being sufficiently aware that she needed to first put her own house in order before rearranging the furniture in other people's house.

I often have thought that her speeding ticket was emblematic of her life so far. She knows where she wants to be, wants to get there fast, and doesn't mind breaking a few laws in the process.

She is bright, articulate and has a good heart. But first she must be a good steward and then she can be an elder. That's what the good book says, the one she and I both believe in.

Paul Foer said...

Thank you for the comments. Despite what my most vociferous and usually anonymous detractors say, I try to be as fair as I can as often as I can. Good analogue about the speeding ticket--and to take your analogue further, though you know I am a non-believer, there may come a time when nobody can fail to appear...

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