“The Rumor” *** Updated x3 ***
Friday, Oct 20, 2006
[Updated, bumped to the top and comments opened.]
[This story was originally published Thursday.]
I heard “The Rumor” early yesterday. The calls and e-mails started slow but quickly picked up throughout the day.
“The Rumor” had it that a certain Illinois Republican congressman was about to be busted for having sexual relations with an underage female page.
I contacted a friend of mine in DC who’s pretty high up the US House food chain (Republican side) and asked what he knew about the congressman and a page.
My friend said that all he had heard was that a page whom the congressman had previously sponsored may have had a problem or an issue with Rep. Kolbe, who is under fire for taking a camping trip with some pages.
Since then, “The Rumor” has exploded far and wide among political blogs, many of them Democratic-leaning publications that would love to defeat the 6-term GOP incumbent.
Around noon today, I called the congressman’s campaign office because I was tired of waiting and, frankly, didn’t want to spend the rest of the day monitoring Google News for updates.
His spokesman told me that he had received a call from the Chicago Tribune on Sunday asking about The Rumor. The New York Times called sometime later. According to the spokesman, the NY Times reporter admitted that he had had no luck proving the claims and came to the conclusion that it was false.
The press calls intensified in the last 24 hours and the spokesman claimed none of the reporters had any solid evidence. They just claimed they had some congressional sources who claimed it was true, the spokesman said.
I asked the spokesman if he had talked to Congressman Weller (I decided to go ahead and mention his name here to avoid tarring any other members of the delegation) about this and he said he had.
Weller, he said, flatly denied any such thing had ever happened, couldn’t understand why the rumors were flying around and insisted that nothing would ever come of it.
The spokesman called back a half hour later or so and said the office now believes that the rumor began when reports surfaced that “one of our pages or interns was hit on by another congressman,” and then morphed from there.
So, the rumors that Weller is holed up somewhere and is “about to resign any minute” don’t appear to be true. The rumors that he is being pressed to resign by House GOP leadership also don’t appear to be true. The page rumor itself seems unsubstantiated at best and malicious at worst. There was even a rumor posted on some blogs that Weller had pulled his campaign website offline this week. Not true.
Now, I can’t guarantee you one way or another if The Rumor is true or not, of course, but I do have more than just serious doubts about it. What I am sure of is that some high-up Democrats have been pushing the heck out of this story and they ought to stop it or produce some real evidence. It may have begun as a well-meaning leak, but it certainly isn’t that now.
Weller’s spokesman, Steve Shearer, described the rumor as a “political nuclear bomb” that opponents could throw and then “retreat into anonymity” without providing any real evidence.
The Democrats, Shearer said, may be hoping to use The Rumor to “put a race into play for no money at all.” He could very well be right.
No reader comments on this one. If something else happens, I’ll open up a thread. And if Weller is lying, we’ll all go nuclear on him together. I just don’t think that’s the case.
*** UPDATE *** The story has now crossed over to the mainstream media with this buried mention in Friday’s Sun-Times:
Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), hit with rumors that he was somehow involved in the page scandal, issued a statement Thursday saying he was not a factor — but a former page or intern he sponsored was subject to some questionable behavior by another lawmaker.
*** UPDATE 2 *** The ArchPundit, who helped break the story on the Web, has now walked it all the way back.
What Do Blagojevich, Davlin, and Weller Have In Common
Larry is a good guy and he did the right thing. Carl Nyberg, who comments quite often here and has his own blog, got a lot of exposure with his Weller diary at Daily Kos (over 300 comments at last count). So far, he has yet to issue a retraction or an apology or even an update.
I wouldn’t count on “Wonkette,” who probably did more to push this story than anyone else - even though there was not a shred of real evidence - to follow ArchPundit’s suit.
Meanwhile, the Kankakee Daily Journal also got into the act today.
This is exactly what I figured had happened not long after I heard the rumor and talked to my DC guy (see above).
Rumors have a tendency to morph. “Page. Weller. Ethics Committee. Testimony,” becomes, “Hey, didja hear that Weller was doing a page?” As Larry noted in his retraction, we saw the same exact thing happen with those idiotic but universal Blagojevich rumors and the Springfield cocaine rumors.
People hear rumors from vastly different and usually reliable sources and assume it must be true. Every reporter in town is chasing the rumor so we figure there’s something there. And everybody is repeating the same name over and over again (or names, in the case of the coke goofiness), so my goodness it’s gotta be right. Plus, people who despise the target of the rumors want to believe it’s true and gin it up even further.
It’s another lesson for all of us.
Comments are now open on this topic. But use some common sense or I’ll close the comments right away and permanently ban you.
*** UPDATE 3 *** Nyberg has now published a retraction.