November 27, 2007
Another blogger scandal gone bust
Posted by: Chris
The blogosphere is buzzing with yet another sex scandal involving yet another anti-gay Republican and yet another gay escort. Only this time, the "scandal" is missing pretty much every factual ingredient except the names of its alleged participants: Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott and "Benjamin Nichols," the "stage name" of a San Antonio-based escort.
But that didn't stop the gossip, which was started by the Big Head DC blog, run by Rob Capriccioso, from claiming he had emails confirming at least two meetings between Lott and Nichols. Big Head then quoted non-denial denials by Nichols and the Internet rumor mill was off and running.
Here are the actual facts we know via Gay News Watch:
The San Antonio-based gay escort alleged to have been linked to Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott has issued a statement categorically denying any contact between the two. Benjamin Nichols, the escort's working name, said, "I will continue to offer a great sense of confidentiality to the people I see. I have not, nor have I ever seen or had contact with Senator Trent Lott. It's as simple as that. It never happened."
Allegation on the connection was first made on a Washington, D.C.-based satirical blog, Big Head DC, which claimed Lott's relationship with Nichols led to the conservative Republican senator's sudden resignation yesterday. The blog claimed that emails had confirmed two meetings between Lott and the escort, and then quoted Nichols in confirmation.
"Trent is going through his fair share of scrutiny right now and I don’t want to add to it," the blog quotes Nichols as saying. "All I can say at this point is no comment. It's the professional thing for me to do."
Nichols claims in his statement that the quotes attributed to him by Big Head were fake. "There are falsely pieced-together quotes that serve no purpose other than to sensationalize a completely fabricated scoop," Nichols wrote.
Big Head later reported that Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who has offered $1 million for information about sex scandals that lead to the resignation of conservative politicians, had been investigating a Lott-Nichols connection.
Big Head DC was founded by Rob Capriccioso, who lost his freelance writing gig at Radar magazine last month after a post about a phone number belonging to ABC's Sam Donaldson winding up on records belonging to "the D.C. Madam," Deborah Jean Palfrey. Capriccioso failed to note Palfrey's claim that the single phone call had been a wrong number.
Lott is a longtime foe of gay rights legislation, receiving consistent zeroes on the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard. Lott compared being gay to being an alcoholic or kleptomaniac in an infamous 1998 interview on the "Armstrong Williams Show."
“You still love that person and you should not try to mistreat them or treat them as outcasts," Lott said then. "You should try to show them a way to deal with that problem just like alcohol … or sex addiction … or kleptomania.”
Lott later resigned his powerful post as Senate Majority Leader over comments at former Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Lott waxed nostalgic about Lott's segregationist run for president in 1948. After the fall from power, Lott worked his way back to a position of influence, serving as GOP whip until his surprise resignation yesterday.
Nichols has penned freelance articles for Seattle's alternative weekly The Stranger, which is edited by gay writer Dan Savage, author of the "Savage Love" advice column. After Denver escort Mike Jones "outed" his relationship with Colorado televangelist Ted Haggard, Nichols scolded Jones publicly for breaking the escort's vow of confidentiality.
"You were paid for sex, Mike," Nichols wrote in the Nov. 6, 2006, article. The most important rule you can follow when taking people's money in exchange for sex is that—no matter what—their lives stay their own and whatever passes between the two of you remains private. Period."
If this scandal follows the course of Larry Craig's, or even if any small part of it turns out to be true, including even that Trent Lott has had sex with men, then the media will treat Big Head DC as if he "broke the story" and "brought down a senator," even though all he did was repeat a rumor, something anyone with a keyboard can do.
So where's the disincentive for bloggers like Big Head, who has no doubt enjoyed a massive traffic bump that will convert some percentage into regular visitors? Simple answer: There's isn't any.
Blogger Rob Capriccioso has now responded to Nichols' claim that he fabricated the quotes in question. Capriccioso decided to publish his entire email exchange with Nichols, thereby violating his promise that they some of them were off the record. His decision to do so represents yet another example, as if we needed one, that bloggers are not necessarily journalists and follow their own whatever-feels-good, seat-of-the pants ethics code.
In this case, if Capriccioso wanted to refute Nichols' claim that the quotes were fabricated, he could simply have released the on-the-record emails, which he quoted from. Instead he released the entire alleged exchange, with no justification except that Nichols got on his bad side by claiming fabrication.
What we learn from the alleged email exchange -- "alleged" because there's no evidence of their legitimacy except Capriccioso's now-tarnished word -- is precious little. We do learn the incredibly non-credible source of the rumor that Capriccioso is spreading: a commenter to his blog, who claimed that Lott and Nichols vacationed at the same location two times. Nothing about the email exchange between Nichols and Capriciosso confirms those two alleged meetings, as Capriccioso claimed in his original bombshell post.
Yes Nichols has been somewhat cagey with his denials, using Lott's first name and words like "current affiliation," etc., but if that what passes as evidence these days then the blogosphere is treading into yet murkier waters, as if that were possible.
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