Hell of a Times
While McCain attended American Renaissance wearing his journalistic credentials, Coombs's wife, Marian Kester Coombs, told me she has gone to the conference to meet with old friends like Nick Griffin, leader of the whites-only British National Party (BNP). Indeed, she is more deeply embedded in the racist right than her husband is. A self-described former leftist who says she became "an extremist" after she "detoxed from the sixties," Marian Coombs portrays herself as a classic populist. "I would say in many ways I'm an unreconstructed Marxist," she told The Nation. "I basically am pro-working class and I think globalization and the policy of mass immigration is bad for the common man."
Asked whether her husband agrees with her politics, Marian Coombs said, "Pretty much," but claimed his personal views were not reflected in the pages of the Times. But she has contributed some thirty opinion pieces to the paper. In a November 2001 article she cited the BNP's Griffin, who was prosecuted twice in Britain for inciting racial hatred with his anti-Muslim rhetoric, as an expert on Muslim culture. Marian Coombs's byline has appeared in many of the far right's flagship publications, from Chronicles to Vdare to The Occidental Quarterly, which was edited by her friend Sam Francis until his death in 2005. And on American Renaissance's website, she posted this comment in 2001: "Whites do not like crowded societies, and Americans would not have to live in crowds if our government kept out Third-World invaders."
After ten years of publication, the Times's leadership searched for a defining theme to replace anticommunism at the cold war's end. A new demon loomed on the horizon. Against the recently inaugurated Clinton Administration the Times took up the crusade for "family values." The paper's "family values" columnist, Suzanne Fields, dubbed Clinton "The Playboy President." Pruden, in two of his columns, accused Clinton of "oral adultery."
But all along, on Pruden's watch, Coombs was developing a troubling reputation in the newsroom for boorish behavior and misogyny. One senior staffer recalled Coombs saying, "Women are naturally inferior to men" and that women "tend to be dumber, more emotional and less dependable than men." One female former Times staffer described Coombs as hostile toward female employees. "I'm anything but a feminist. If anything, I'm against them. But it was illuminating--his tactics toward women are to terrorize them and scream and intimidate. This guy was a sicko."
In 2004 Coombs was accused of sexual harassment. The accusation stemmed from a series of incidents involving then-Times marketing consultant Melissa Hopkins during the Republican National Convention. In a letter written by her lawyer, Lynne Bernabei, that was delivered to then-Times senior counsel Allen Farber and made available to The Nation, Hopkins alleged that over cocktails one night at the convention Coombs grew belligerent and called her work "lame," and then suggested she go to his room for a "nightcap." When Hopkins refused, she claimed, the harassment increased. According to the letter, the next evening, while sharing a cab back to their hotel, Coombs pulled her toward him and attempted to kiss her. "Ms. Hopkins, who as Mr. Coombs is aware, is married and the mother of three children," the letter states, "resisted and tried to pull away, but Mr. Coombs succeeded in forcibly kissing her."
In her letter Hopkins said she complained to Pruden and Times vice president and general manager Dick Amberg. Pruden promised he would investigate the incident, but nothing happened. Amberg told her she was being "overly sensitive." And Hopkins claimed that Coombs, meanwhile, initiated a sabotage campaign against her, removing videos she had shot at the convention from the Times website, and "directed reporters and editors not to communicate with her." (Amberg, in an interview with The Nation, claimed that his "sensitive" remark referred to her reaction to the removal of the video, and had nothing to do with sexual harassment.)
Three weeks after Hopkins formally complained to the Times's human resources department and a subsequent investigation by Farber, the paper's lawyer, went nowhere, she demanded a settlement, which Bernabei's letter made the case for. Instead, a year later, in October 2005, after the statute of limitations in which she could have filed a criminal complaint against Coombs expired, the Times terminated her contract without explanation. Archibald, a close friend of Hopkins, said, "Fran absolutely vilified Melissa [Hopkins]. She almost had a nervous breakdown."
"An allegation was made," Coombs explained to me. "It was independently investigated, numerous witnesses were called in. I had nothing to do with it, and an outside lawyer conducted an independent investigation and I was totally vindicated. She was told that and chose to pursue it no further." When confronted with specific allegations by Hopkins and questioned on whether the investigation was actually handled by an "outside lawyer" or by the Times's own counsel, Coombs objected: "This town is full of major players who know me and know this stuff is bullshit. If I had that kind of behavior I would not be in this job." He went on: "I'm what they call a Southern gentleman. A Southern gentleman does not take advantage of ladies."