How one paper tried, and failed, to confirm Al Gore sex allegations

A Portland paper did everything possible -- even posting Craigslist ads -- to verify the charges. And it couldn't

Topics: Al Gore,

How one paper tried, and failed, to confirm Al Gore sex allegationsFormer US Vice President Al Gore waits to speak at a presentation on melting ice and snow at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen December 14, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (DENMARK - Tags: ENVIRONMENT)(Credit: © Bob Strong / Reuters)

Three years ago, a reporter at the Portland Tribune got a tip that led his newspaper to a potentially huge story: A massage therapist had accused Vice President Al Gore of sexually assaulting her in late 2006 inside his room at Portland’s Hotel Lucia.

But the Tribune never wrote a word about the incident.

The story of how the paper quietly but intensely explored the charges offers a timely cautionary tale, now that the explosive allegations against Gore have become widely known, thanks to their publication in this week’s National Enquirer.

Using a combination of sources and shoe leather, the Tribune spent a year tracking down the alleged victim, reaching out to associates of hers and of Gore, and learning about their habits and their accounts of the evening in question. The paper went so far as to take out ads on Craigslist searching for more potential victims in other cities that Gore had visited. But in the end, the Tribune could not put together a story that met its standards of journalistic responsibility.

“The truth is we very much wanted to report the story on Al Gore,” said Mark Garber, 54, executive editor of the Tribune, a 60,000-circulation free weekly that also publishes news every day online. “We worked on it for a year so that we could report the story. There’s nothing we would have liked more.”

On Thursday, after fielding a stream of angry e-mails from conservatives accusing him of both liberal bias and a mammoth cover-up (ironic, he said, because “in Portland we more often get accused of being the more conservative paper in town”), Garber outlined for Salon the timeline of events that led his publication to pursue, and then ultimately set aside, the story of the Gore accusations.

The alleged incident at the heart of all this occurred on October 24, 2006. That’s when, according to the most recent account from the alleged victim, Gore summoned her to his hotel room and then tried to intimidate her into having sex with him, drinking in front of her and trapping her in an “inescapable embrace,” fondling her, and causing her to fear she was about to be raped by a “crazed sex poodle.”

In early 2007, the Tribune found out about the allegations “through a confidential source,” said Garber, who was an editor on the investigative project that ensued.



The tip didn’t come from the alleged victim herself. “It was a source in the community,” Garber said. “It was not an anonymous call, and it wasn’t a letter that came out of nowhere or an e-mail with a fake address or anything. It was a source in the community who knew enough that we took it seriously enough to pursue.”

The journalist who received this tip was Nick Budnick, who at the time was the Tribune’s police reporter. (Budnick, who now writes for Oregon’s Bend Bulletin, declined to speak for this story, referring all questions to his former boss, Garber.)

According to Garber, after getting the initial tip, Budnick quickly turned up two reports — one filed with the Portland police in December of 2006, close to two months after the alleged incident, and one that had been filed with the Oregon State Police. The reports, Garber said, “contained a lawyer’s vague allegations concerning an unnamed victim who refused to speak to the police.”

By early 2007, when the Tribune was first learning about all this, the allegations were months old. In the intervening period, the woman who made them had set up and then missed several appointments to speak with police about what happened to her. Because of this, the paper decided the story wasn’t breaking news. Instead, Garber said, “we decided at that time it was our journalistic responsibility to sort out whether there was any truth to the allegation before we went out and reported it.”

The first thing they needed to do was find Gore’s accuser.

“We sought her out, not the other way around,” Garber said. “We did quite a bit of work to figure out who this woman was. We eventually did locate her. She was a licensed massage technician.”

The woman declined to speak to the paper and, Garber said, “feigned ignorance of the police report.” That stalled things somewhat until, many months later, in 2008, the woman got back in touch with the paper.

“She contacted us, but she wouldn’t talk with us about her specific allegations,” Garber said. Still, she agreed to meet with the reporter on the story, Budnick, and eventually began talking to him.

“We interviewed the alleged victim repeatedly and extensively,” Garber said.

She never asked for money (and the paper wouldn’t have offered money for her story in any case, according to Garber), but she did have certain requirements. “She was making demands about how the story could be told, what information we could include, what we could not include,” he said.

At the same time, the Tribune had been learning all it could about the woman, Gore, and the evening in question. It interviewed employees of the Hotel Lucia; other licensed massage technicians in the Portland area, some who knew the woman; sexual assault experts, who told the paper it was not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to delay reporting attacks to police; friends and acquaintances of the woman; and friends and acquaintances of Gore.

The paper discovered that, among those who knew the woman, “there were a variety of points of view” about her character — not uncommon for anyone. It also discovered that Gore often liked to have massages while on the road — potentially important — and so it placed ads on Craigslist in cities that Gore had recently visited, looking for massage therapists who might have had a bad experience with a prominent person. (The Tribune did not name Gore specifically in the ads.)

“That didn’t bear any fruit,” Garber said.

The paper also contacted Gore. “His responses all came through his lawyers,” Garber said. “They categorically deny that anything happened — said that the story’s completely false.”

Because the woman had once told police that she was dropping her efforts toward criminal charges in order to pursue a civil suit, the Tribune searched for evidence of such a suit and, finding none, asked Gore’s people if there had been an out-of-court settlement in the matter. Gore’s lawyers said no, contending there hadn’t even been an incident that could potentially produce a civil claim.

Eventually, the alleged victim’s conversations with Budnick became difficult.

“She was only willing to go forward if she could have a certain amount of control,” Garber said. Some of information she didn’t want in the story, Garber felt, couldn’t be left out because it was essential to “a full and fair telling.”

And there was another problem. “There were things that we discovered throughout our investigation that raised serious questions in our mind,” Garber said. He wouldn’t specify what, exactly, those things were.

“In the end, we chose not to publish the story,” Garber said. “Our journalistic drive was to do something, but when you looked at all the evidence it was not responsible to move forward. If something else had developed, we would have taken another look at it.”

This week, after his paper found out about the alleged victim’s new account of the incident — an account that was provided at her request to Portland police in January of 2009 and then updated at her request in June of this year — the Tribune tried to get back in touch with the woman by stopping by her Portland home. She wasn’t there.

Eli Sanders is an associate editor at The Stranger and a Salon contributor.

Eli Sanders is an associate editor for The Stranger.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>