|Miami Herald, May 3, 1987.|
Spend any amount of time in any newsroom in Florida, and sooner or later you'll hear this phrase: "Every story has a Miami connection."
That was certainly the case on the first Sunday in May 1987 when the Miami Herald broke the story of presidential candidate Gary Hart's affair with a Miami model named Donna Rice.
In tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, veteran political reporter Matt Bai looks back at the scandal in a piece titled "How Gary Hart's Downfall Changed American Politics Forever."
Bai told me in an email this morning that after first writing about Hart in 2003, "His story ... haunted me for years after. I began to connect it in my mind to what was happening in our campaigns. And I decided to revisit it."
Bai definitively reveals for the first time that it was a friend of Rice's, fellow model Dana Weems, who dropped a dime on Rice with a call to Herald political reporter Tom Fiedler.
From Bai's piece:
It was around 8 p.m. on Monday, April 27, 1987, when the phone rang on Tom Fiedler’s desk at the Miami Herald. A woman he did not know was on the line.At the time Rice suspected it was Weems who made the call to the Herald, but Weems denied it.
“You know, you said in the paper that there were rumors that Gary Hart is a womanizer,” she told him. “Those aren’t rumors.” And then a question: “How much do you guys pay for pictures?”
Dana Weems wasn’t especially hard to find, it turned out. A clothing designer who did some costume work on movies in the early 1990s, she sold funky raincoats and gowns on a website called Raincoatsetc.com, based in Hollywood, Fla. When she answered the phone after a couple of rings, I told her I was writing about Gary Hart and the events of 1987.
“Oh, my God,” she said. There followed a long pause.
“Did you make that call to The Herald?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” Weems said with a sigh. “That was me.”
In his piece, Bai also paints a picture of reporters and editors at the Herald who clearly thought the Hart scandal was Watergate Redux:
Eight days later, The Herald published a front-page reconstruction of the events leading up to and including that Saturday night. Written by McGee, Fiedler and Savage, the 7,000-plus-word article — Moby-Dick-like proportions by the standards of daily journalism — is remarkable reading. First, it’s striking how much The Herald’s account of its investigation consciously imitates, in its clinical voice and staccato cadence, Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men.” (“McGee rushed toward a pay telephone a block away to call editors in Miami. It was 9:33 p.m.”) Clearly, the reporters and editors at The Herald thought themselves to be reconstructing a scandal of similar proportions, the kind of thing that would lead to Pulitzers and movie deals. The solemn tone of the piece suggests that Fiedler and his colleagues imagined themselves to be the only ones standing between America and another menacing, immoral president; reading it, you might think Hart had been caught bludgeoning a beautiful young woman to death, rather than taking her to dinner. [Emphasis mine.]
Donna Rice. (1984)
(Click to enlarge)
You can read Bai's complete New York Times piece by clicking here.
Matt Bai is the national political columnist for Yahoo News and the author of the book “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” due out Sept. 30.
Bai is also scheduled to appear at the Miami International Book Fair in November.
New York Times Magazine, May 3, 1987: Gary Hart, the Elusive Front-Runner
Miami Herald, May 3, 1987: Miami woman linked to Hart candidate denies any impropriety
Washington Post, May 4, 1987: Newspaper Stakeout Infuriates Hart
Miami Herald, May 10, 1987: The Gary Hart story: How it happened
NPR: Don't always believe what you remember