On Fox TV and at the New York Post, a peculiar detail is the subject of endless fascination: Did Eliot Spitzer, ex-governor of New York and newly minted CNN show host, really insist on wearing knee-high black socks during his encounters with high-priced escorts? A far more important question is this: Where did the story come from and why?
The answer to that question is important because it reveals much about political bloodsport in this country and how the media are routinely manipulated by clever political operatives who are paid to attack their enemies by "leaking" damaging rumors in ways that quickly enter the mainstream media as fact.
The tale of the Luv Gov's black socks was originally penned by Roger Stone, the
amanuensis of the dark side and perhaps the Republican Party's best-dressed and most ruthless dirty trickster. He first introduced the hosiery motif in a letter he claims his lawyer -- Paul Rolf Jensen -- sent to the FBI, as a story heard, second-hand, from an off-work call girl at an "adult-themed club." (Don't you just love the detail?)
Problem #1: The FBI never received the letter from Stone. Problem #2: Stone's letter -- dated prior to Spitzer's downfall -- only surfaced after Spitzer's downfall, leading some to wonder (because of problem #1 and because the address and the name of the agent/addressee were blacked out) if his letter had been back-dated to make it look as though he had sent it before the scandal. Problem #3: Mainstream media outlets all over the world -- including the NY Times and the Miami Herald -- give credence to the black socks story, even though it was based on a rumor or hallucination originated by Stone.
Stone had a motive to plant the story because he had been paid to embarrass the governor. First, former NY State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno hired Stone for $20,000/month to take on Spitzer. With Stone's help, Bruno turned everyone's attention away from his own corruption -- using state aircraft and vehicles to go on personal fund-raising trips -- and toward an attack on Spitzer for "spying" on Bruno. (The "spying" consisted of releasing public records of Bruno's state-paid travel.)
In his enthusiasm to take on the Sheriff of Wall Street, Stone left an obscene message, which is included in my new film, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, on the voicemail of Spitzer's father. "The voice does sound eerily like me," a smiling Stone told me in an on-camera interview.
But, even though the call originated from his phone number, Stone denies it actually was him, claiming a "rogue unit" of the NY State Police "under Spitzer's control" had pasted together recordings of his voice. (I recall wondering what tapes might have been used to put together phrases like "your phony, psycho, piece-of-shit son.")
When Bruno was forced to fire Stone over the incident, Stone found other sponsors to pay him to stay on the Spitzer attack detail. According to Stone, his paymasters were "wealthy Republicans." Fortune
's Peter Elkind, who contributed critical reporting to the film and is the author of the book Client 9
, found evidence that Stone had bragged to a South Florida blogger that the "wealthy Republicans" -- called "The Group" -- were organized around a coordinating operative, Republican lobbyist Wayne Berman, and financiers including former AIG Chairman Hank Greenberg and Home Depot financier Ken Langone -- all major-league Spitzer haters. (Stone denies this.)
Mysteriously, before anyone could even imagine Spitzer's spectacular fall, Stone was predicting it in cryptic emails and telegrams. "Eliot's going down," he told Rich Baum, the secretary to then Gov. Spitzer, in an email
. While there is no doubt that Spitzer provided the weapon and the ammunition for his own political demise, did Stone play the role of the hit man?
Stone's career as a dirty trickster goes back to 1972, when he leaked a phony story
about the Socialist ties of a Republican congressman named Pete McCloskey on behalf of Stone's hero, Richard Nixon. As shown in Client 9
, Stone has a tattoo of Nixon's face burned into the top of his back. He may have been involved in the Miami "Brooks Brothers Riot" of 2000, or he may have just taken credit for stalling the ballot counting in the Florida recount. He was involved in Indian gaming, and worked as an adviser to Donald Trump and on the election campaigns of Al Sharpton -- yes, Al Sharpton -- and Thomas Kean. He was fired from Bob Dole's presidential campaign when it was revealed that Stone and his wife had solicited sex from other swinging couples in a classified ad: "Hot, athletic, fit couple seeks similar couples or exceptional, muscular well-hung single men. . . . Prefer military, bodybuilders, jocks. No smokers or fats please."
Since then, Stone has been unapologetically outrageous. After all, who could attack an admitted swinger -- "I'm a libertarian and a libertine," says Stone -- for indiscretions? "I believe in the 'gonzo' brand of politics," Stone told me, "because politics is like entertainment. You have to get people's attention."
Given his own sexual history, you might expect Stone to take up the cause of Spitzer. "Hookers hooray!" But Stone claims to be incensed at Spitzer because of his hypocrisy. Well, Stone's absolutely right about that. For a former attorney general who has prosecuted escort services, Spitzer's hooker habit was deeply hypocritical. But what would have been better - someone who was consistently sleazy? (Apparently that is Stone's view. He has a grudging affection for Bill Clinton because the former president's taste for oral sex from an intern in the Oval Office showed consistently lecherous behavior).
On the other hand, the sexual hypocrisy of "family-values Republicans," as evidenced by Newt Gingrich, David Vitter (who ordered prostitutes during congressional roll call votes), John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Bob Livingston, etc., doesn't interest Stone for a simple reason: He is a paid political assassin who targets Democrats.
So, once Spitzer had fallen from grace -- and his high office -- Stone set about trying to permanently hobble the Sheriff's public profile by humiliating him with details suggesting that his exchanges with prostitutes were uptight, perverse, and downright ridiculous. For a long time, those tale tales were not refuted. That's the beauty of stories about sex. They are just as embarrassing to deny as they are to confirm. As Lyndon Johnson once told an aide who objected when Johnson -- without any proof -- claimed that his opponent had sex with animals, "Let him deny it!"
Readers are drawn to private details about their public figures. Even as we attempt to hold politicians to impossibly high personal standards -- "they should set an example" -- we are "shocked" and titillated when they are just as venal as most of us are. Roger Stone is a master at navigating this territory. He suspected that the mainstream media would be uncritical of the black socks story because it was such a delicious detail. And he was right: newspapers and TV networks not only went for the socks story, they continue to print and broadcast it to this very day. And Roger, knowing how the game works, cites
every article as "confirmation" of the "facts" he has made up.
His latest confection is Kristen Davis, a convicted madam who spent four months in Rikers Island for running a prostitution ring. From his New York apartment, Stone is masterminding her campaign for governor of New York on a pot and prostitution platform. Now, I'm all for that platform. But Stone's real reason for backing her (my unproven hunch is that the money for her campaign may be coming from Stone's "wealthy Republicans") is likely that he can get her to make fallacious claims about Spitzer.
For example, Davis says Spitzer was abusive to her escorts and used her service "dozens, maybe hundreds of times." Hmmm. Colorful detail. However, the NY District Attorney's office -- who confiscated all of Davis's records and prosecuted and convicted the experienced madam -- says that there is absolutely no evidence that Spitzer ever used Davis's escorts. If, as Davis says, Spitzer had used her service "hundreds of times," he would have had to have himself cloned. Spitzer staffers did joke that Spitzer's temper tantrums marked the appearance of his "evil twin Irwin." Maybe Irwin wore the black socks in the family.
But importantly for Stone, Davis continues to "confirm" the black socks story. According to her, Spitzer was determined to keep them on for every one of his dates. Sound credible? "No, no, don't touch my knee-high black socks. They are precious to me!" Not a chance. But the story is so much salacious fun that papers print it anyway. There are 37,500 Google hits for "black socks eliot spitzer." And outlets like the NY Post
and Fox News -- ideologically hostile to Spitzer -- treat the story as Holy Writ.
Even better for Stone, he has introduced a phrase from the Kristin Davis promotional materials -- "best known as the woman who provided escorts for New York Attorney General and Governor, Eliot Spitzer" -- into the mainstream media. Virtually every time her candidacy is mentioned, the Spitzer detail has become her essential modifier and is accepted as fact
even though there is absolutely no proof that what she says is true.
Now Stone has upped the ante. He urged Kristen Davis to out another prostitute, Irma Nici, who claims
to have had sex with Spitzer. Proof? Stone's claims
that she has taken a lie detector test! Was it administered by Stone? By Kristin Davis? By Donald Trump? Over drinks one evening, Stone did promote Nici to me some months ago (he's a very entertaining drinking companion), but never supplied her for an interview. My producer also contacted Ms. Davis, but once she heard that I would be cross-checking her story, she declined to participate.
Fox wasn't so abstemious. Just a few days ago, on Fox's show "Follow the Money," the host, rock-jawed former trader Eric Bolling, invited Stone, Ms. Davis, and Curtis Sliwa on an objective "panel" to bash Spitzer on the day his new CNN show appeared. I sensed a set-up and declined to participate, but Peter Elkind gamely agreed, only to be left in the green room because of "technical difficulties," according to Fox. That meant that there was no one to offer a few facts that might contradict Stone's pulp fiction. Leave it to Roger, though. Since I wasn't there, he attacked me anyway, dipping his pen into the old Nazi inkpot, comparing me to "Leni Riefenstahl."
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"I don't think that this election should be about affairs, or girlfriends or love children or divorces, I think the voters want a higher-toned debate," said Stone, barely able to contain himself from laughing out loud.
As for the black socks tale, is it true or is it a big lie? Well, I wasn't there in the room. But it is almost certainly a lie. How do I know? Because I spoke to the john and the escort in question (not Ashley DuPre -- who only saw Spitzer once -- but his favorite escort, a woman who chose to be called "Angelina"), who both denied it independently.
"He wore low-cut socks," said Angelina, "and he took them off." And how did I convince myself that Angelina was a trustworthy source? By working with Peter Elkind to cross-check her recollections against FBI records, the governor's schedule, and the bookers of the Emperors Club VIP.
Every time we see an outrageous sexual claim printed about a politician, it's worth considering something Franklin Roosevelt once said: "In politics, nothing happens by accident."
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