Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign spent the weeks after his campaign announcement in a panic about a potential Huffington Post story about swirling — and unsupported — rumors that the Texas governor candidate is gay.
The revelation, previously reported by Politico, but detailed to a far greater extent in a new ebook by Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root, includes a legal threat from the governor's campaign to the Huffington Post and revelations about the story the reporter, Jason Cherkis, was writing. Root reveals his conversations with Perry aide Ted Delisi about the story:
Ted said Huffington Post reporter Jason Cherkis had e-mailed the campaign a list of questions about alleged gay liaisons. He said the reporter was going to name names, but there were serious questions as to the veracity of the allegations. Ted said that if the guy did publish something, Perry would sue. He said Perry would be owning a big chunk of AOL, the publicly traded company that owns HuffPo, if this came out. Ted seemed kind of pissed off at the media in general, saying that standards had obviously declined if this is what passes for news these days. Ted was clear that he thought the story was complete hogwash.
Root details in his first person account of covering the doomed campaign how the rumors just wouldn't go away:
Today, Democratic strategist Sandie Haverlah told me she had talked to the HuffPo reporter working on the story, Jason Cherkis. He came through town a few weeks ago and is working on a hit piece with Glen Maxey, the gay former state rep from Austin. Maxey hates Perry with a passion and is trolling for gay dirt on him.
As Root explains, Cherkis dropped the story and Maxey self-published it in December in an ebook called Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry, which Maxey called "the story of my failed efforts to expose Rick Perry’s homosexual encounters in the national press.”
In fact, many media outlets looked into the claim, pushed by more than one Texas gadfly, including another figure, Robert Morrow who had made similarly unsupported lurid sexual claims about the Clintons.
Maxey repeated referenced his dealings with Cherkis in the book, calling him "The Journalist" and described him as chasing the story — which, had it been true, would have been a blockbuster — aggressively:
Cherkis — oops, I mean “The Journalist” — was apparently obsessed, just like Maxey, with outing the supposedly closeted governor. In one e-mail published in the book, The Journalist wrote to Maxey about how eaten up he was with it: “Look: half my day is spent thinking about this story. I woke up this morning—in fact every morning hoping you have sent me a late-night e-mail disclosing a [Joey] text. Pathetic? Just want this story done and published as bad as you do.”
In December, when Politico reported Cherkis's role, Arianna Huffington said Huffington Post spiked the story because there was “simply no there there,” not because of the legal threat.
Cherkis referred a question to Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, who didn't immediately respond a request for comment.