John Hinderaker, the man behind the rightwing blog Power Line, woke up to a nasty surprise on Sunday morning.
In the pages of the Las Vegas Sun, a man named Larry Pfeifer announced that he had successfully duped a conservative blogger into running a story that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s recent injuries to his eyes and face were the result of a dustup with his own family.
Hinderaker would have recognized Pfeifer’s name; he had published Pfeifer’s account on Power Line only a few weeks earlier.
Initially sporting the alias “Easton Elliott,” Pfeifer had approached Hinderaker claiming that he witnessed Reid’s brother, Larry, talk about pummeling a family member while sharing at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. (Eventually, Pfeifer told Hinderaker his real name.)
Hinderaker published the story on Power Line on April 3.
Hinderaker even brought “Easton Elliott” on as a guest when he filled in as host on Laura Ingraham’s show on April 9.
But on Sunday, Pfeifer told the Sun that it was all a ruse meant to reveal “the lack of credibility and journalistic standards among partisan media figures.”
There was fertile ground for such a scam. Many on the right have been skeptical of Reid’s “official” explanation: that he banged his face exercising after a resistance band malfunctioned causing him to fall into a cabinet. Internet detectives have been quick to note that while Reid initially claimed the elastic band had “broken,” he later said that it “slipped.”
On Sunday, Hinderaker acknowledged that Pfeifer “recanted” the entire story. (The headline of that Power Line post: “What Really Happened to Harry Reid? Part 5 [Updated].”)
TPM spoke to Hinderaker by phone on Monday about the episode. After initially saying he didn’t have time to talk, Hinderaker spelled out his theory on Reid’s injuries, a possible cover-up, and the media’s refusal to investigate the truth behind the Senate minority leader’s black eye.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
TPM: You write that you checked Pfeifer out “to the extent reasonably possible.” How did you vet him?
Hinderaker: Basically online. As I said in my post, I spent a lot of time with the guy on the telephone. And you know, he was consistent and seemingly sincere. I checked him out online, he didn’t come up in any negative way under either of those names — obviously, having two names is odd.
But as I wrote in the post, just Googling Easton Elliot and Lawrence Pfeifer turned up information that tended to confirm how he described himself.
The point I kept making over and over again, is that to really investigate this, you’ve gotta be on the ground and you’ve gotta be an investigator.
And you’ve called for an investigation of Reid’s injury, right?
And what kind of investigation? What would that look like? An actual police investigation? Could you describe that?
Well [laughs]. I can describe aspects of it, I suppose. I’m not an investigator. I don’t know all the techniques that could be available to investigative reporters, even. But, I mean, there are obvious omissions in we know in this incident.
There’s actually a lot of speculation on the right about Reid’s injury, treating it as an open question. What to you seems suspicious about this?
It seemed to me that, when information kind of slowly came out about the extent of his injuries, it was highly implausible that those injuries were caused by a breaking elastic exercise band.
You look at the guy and say, wait a minute, I don’t think that’s what happened [laughs]. And I’m not saying that as a medical expert. I’m just saying it as a matter of common sense.
If that injury was sustained because a piece of exercise equipment broke, that is a product liability issue. And a) one would think he would sue the manufacturer but b) certainly one would think he would warn others about what sort of equipment this is so they can avoid using it.
I’m speculating here, no question about it — I speculate that the reason for that change in story is that he wanted to get out of this box of a product liability problem.
Do you regret circulating Pfiefer’s story? Is this the best way to unravel this story if you want there to be an investigation?
Well, I don’t regret the approach. Obviously if I had known this guy was a liar I would not have given him the forum to tell a story.
I spent a lot of time talking to Easton-slash-Lawrence and I thought about questions like, “could he be somebody who’s being put up to it by the Reid camp?” And that seemed highly unlikely.
But this guy didn’t really have any corroboration for his story did he? I mean, he told you he did, but that was a lie.
Right exactly. [Laughs.]
So next time would you actually seek out the evidence?
I mean, obviously, once burned twice shy. Would I wonder if some crackpot is calling me on the phone? Absolutely, you bet I would.
Just to go back to corroboration for a moment, one of the things I said repeatedly is, “I don’t vouch for his story. I don’t know if it’s true.”
Yes, that’s true, but you were the conduit through which this story got on national radio.
That’s right. If I had reason to think it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t have given him the platform. That’s absolutely correct.
Why is this story significant to you?
One wonders, why did [Reid] lie about it?
But at this point, there’s no evidence that he lied about it.
No, no, no, I disagree with that. The evidence is number one, the nature of the injuries. Number two, is the change in the story.
Do you think that is evidence of a lie or evidence of a clarification? This changing from the exercise band “breaking” to “slipping”?
Well I don’t know for a fact that he’s lying, by the way. I never said that.
You’ve also published that he’s sustained this injury from a Mafia enforcer, is that correct?
Well I noted a fact that in Las Vegas that is a rumor that’s going around. And somebody should investigate and get to the bottom of it.