Jeb, Harris and Henderson?

Sally Slate's Reprehensible Sources, July 9, 2001, Online Journal

We've all heard The Rumors, haven't we? First, about Florida's dear Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris, state campaign manager for Jeb's big bro, George, who practically stood on her head to hand the Sunshine State's electoral votes to her candidate. Of course, the media miscreants immediately pooh-poohed that rumor. Jake Tapper in his book, "Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency," even went so far as to claim that the rumor was started by a dastardly Democrat in Al Gore's camp. Well, has Ms. Sally got news for Mr. Tapper.

Someone totally unconnected to and a long way from either camp originally raised the question. You might say, someone thinking aloud during a conversation with someone else who was in a position to investigate the matter. The answer that came back was that Jeb wasn't the brother. Ms. Sally will leave the rest to your imagination. Then came "The Rumor," as the Tallahassee Democrat so cutely called it, about an alleged affair between Jeb and Cynthia Henderson, secretary of the Department of Management Services. In lamenting that "The Rumor" wouldn't die, the Democrat's Bill Coterell on May 10 wrote:

"Gossip about the supposed Clintonesque dalliance of two high-ranking public officials has spread to the Internet, where lurid speculation abounds. The Capitol press corps is waiting with bait-like breath for the July issue of Vanity Fair, which supposedly has the goods on 'em." Now if this isn't lurid reporting, what is? Talk about "lurid speculation on the Internet." Bad, bad Internet. Poor Jeb. His wife got caught smuggling. His underage son got caught in a compromising position with an underage girl in his SUV in a mall parking lot. His older son, George P., some years ago broke into an ex-girl friend's house in the middle of the night, tearing up the lawn and shrubbery with his vehicle in the process. And now this . . .

Not to worry, Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times rushed to Jebbie's rescue. Ms. Morgan, you see, "did a little research" (I'll get to that in a moment) into who started "The Rumor" about Jeb and Ms. Henderson. Then Ms. Morgan handed her findings—contained in a folder, no less—to the governor while with him on a flight from South Florida back to Tallahassee, providing him with the fodder to publicly deny "The Rumor." About Ms. Morgan's "little research," it was little, indeed. She wrote in her column of May 19 that her research "began with an e-mail from a lawyer who is suing the state. Take a look at, he suggested. Search for Henderson and you'll find an interesting item." And so she did and found "a nasty little notice suggesting that Bush and Henderson were having an affair." That, along with calls to the site's owner, David Lytell, and his partner, Robert Fertik, was the extent of Ms. Morgan's research. Since they had gotten the proximity of Ms. Henderson's office to the governor's wrong, surely the rest was wrong, too. Thusly, Ms. Morgan claimed she had her smoking gun: was the originator of "The Rumor."

The end of Ms. Morgan's shoddy handiwork? By no means. Online Journalism Review columnist Terry Anzur in an article "about how the Internet has changed the rules for journalism and political discourse. And it's not pretty," now takes Ms. Morgan's effort to dispel "The Rumor" as gospel: "Reporter Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times traced the Jeb Bush rumors to, a site operated by Clinton-Gore partisans who believe the Bush brothers stole the White House. Morgan had no trouble debunking the site's allegations that Cynthia Henderson had an office in the governor's suite and that Jeb Bush's wife, Colomba, had moved out of the governor's mansion. The reporter had seen Mrs. Bush in the family quarters and knew that Henderson's office was six miles away from the Capitol. But truth is not the point here."

But truth is precisely the point that so many press card-carrying media mavens prefer to ignore. Here is the skinny, gentle readers. Our dear editor says she knew about "The Rumor" a month before a word was published about it. She decided against publishing it, not because she is a goody two shoes or wasn't put off by another hypocrisy of the "family values" Bushes. She chose not to publish because her sources could not go public and she could not find any sources who could or would go public. And what did her sources in the state capital tell her?

1) That the Department of Education, the Florida State University English Department, the Department of Environmental Regulation, the Department of Management Services and a hairdresser's salon all were abuzz with the tale that Jeb's wife, Columba, caught him in the sack with Ms. Henderson. 2) That Columba had left town. 3) That a lobbyist claimed Jeb had been involved with three women, besides his wife, this year, and one of those women, the lobbyist alleged, is Ms. Henderson. 4) That the multiple women rumor also was making the rounds of the FSU English Department. 5) That the local media and Vanity Fair knew all about it and were sitting on it.

Just vicious gossip started by disgruntled Democrats? That is what the print media mavens would have us believe. The TV network news presenters never touched the story and for reasons unknown—intimidation?—Vanity Fair never published the story. Ms. Sally can't help but ask if there is smoke, is there fire? Bear in mind what I said about only hairdressers knowing for sure. Ironically, Al Martin was the first to break the story, , but that little fact was completely ignored by those eager to give Jeb a free pass, just as they gave his brother a free pass. Besides, trashing the Internet when it's in their best interests to do so is more fun. And who better to trash than Al Martin, i.e., unless they choose to ignore him.

Why are Republicans exempt from the scrutiny Bill Clinton was subjected to for eight years and still is being subjected to? There is a lot more to Ms. Henderson's checkered job performance and Jeb's protection of her, rather than firing her, but I shall leave that for another time. Ms. Sally says it is time for Democrats to stop letting the other side set the agenda for them. Carpe diem and let the chips fall where they may. Until next time . . .

Sally Slate welcomes mail from her readers, especially mail containing factual items and tidbits from sources who can't go public. You may email her at .