Who Framed John Fund?
So the right-wing journalist John Fund may not be a model citizen, but contrary to the implications of many left journalists and gossip columnists, he's likely not the kind of guy who pretends to want to marry women and then beats them up.
Sure, Sidney Blumenthal fingers Fund as the original source for the malicious rumor, published by Matt Drudge, alleging that Blumenthal had a history of spousal abuse. (Fund denies this.) And his record vis-à-vis the late Vince Foster and the entire nefarious "Arkansas Project" while working as a Wall Street Journal editorial writer brings him no honor, either as a journalist or a citizen. I'm sure a careful study of his work would fill a "how not to" book for journalism schools across the land.
Naturally, it was fun to imagine, after he got himself arrested last year, that Fund was really a monster who had walked out on a planned marriage with his girlfriend and then beat her up--the dastardly deeds of which he was publicly accused in 2001. Even better, to his ill-wishers, was the rumor that Fund had long ago had an affair with the woman's mother, and knocked up both of them.
Well, it's a fact of life in our scandal-besotted culture that it does not take much in the way of evidence to publish charges that can ruin a man's life. The charges against Fund appeared most prominently (and repeatedly) in Lloyd Grove's gossip column in the Washington Post and Richard Johnson's Page Six in the New York Post. They were trumpeted across the Internet on various leftist sites like American Politics Journal; by the controversialist John Connolly, who posted them on weaselsearch.com; and by Village Voice media reporter Cynthia Cotts, who reported on them twice and even escorted Fund's accuser to David Brock's Manhattan book party for Blinded by the Right, where Cotts introduced me to the woman in question, Morgan Francis Pillsbury.
Personally, I always thought the story was too good to be true. I discussed the accusations briefly, in this column and in my book What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News. In both places, I spoke of them as cautionary tales for conservative scandalmongers but added that I believed Fund's denials, absent any compelling evidence to the contrary. I knew Fund a bit from our time together at MSNBC, and as I said in both places, he always struck me as a perfect gentleman (for such a political scoundrel). And Pillsbury and her mother, as I also wrote at the time, both struck me as "a little bit nutty," to borrow Brock's nefarious phrase. But I admit I enjoyed it. Right-wing smear artists had abused the constitutional impeachment process and all but destroyed Bill Clinton's presidency for a lot less. Their scandal machine had now backfired on one of its own. I didn't want to play myself, but I didn't mind that others were eager and willing.
The details were pretty distasteful. Among Fund's crimes trumpeted by Cotts in the Voice, for instance, was poor housekeeping. His apartment, she reports, was full of "dirty dishes, unopened mail, and bottles of alcohol from hotel minibars"; the floor was "covered with piles of black socks and dirty underwear."
Pillsbury felt so betrayed by my calling her story into question earlier this year that she circulated an Internet attack against me for lacking the guts to call Fund to account. I wondered what the hell Fund had done to get involved with someone like this--and if he was completely innocent, why did he lose his high-profile gig at the Wall Street Journal editorial page and end up writing for its benighted little brother, opinionjournal.com?
Over the past few weeks, I've received a set of documents from a close friend of Fund's--now posted on the Internet--that demonstrate to almost any fair-minded person that Fund is probably the victim of a deeply disturbed person. In a signed affidavit, the woman in question--whose true age is 36, seven years older than was reported, and who was born Carolyn Anne Barteaux but carries a passport (a copy of which was provided to me by Fund) under the name Carolyn Anne Pillsbury and now goes by Morgan Francis Pillsbury--withdraws any accusations of physical abuse, accusations that resulted in Fund's arrest. She also denies in the affidavit that they had ever planned to marry.
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, she acknowledges that she has "trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy" and in a sworn deposition, she says she has a "borderline personality disorder. One of the symptoms of this condition is an inability to discriminate truth from fiction." In that same deposition, in response to the question, "What lies had you told in the past?" she answers, "Too many to name."
When I contacted Pillsbury by e-mail to ask her about these documents, she insisted that the two had planned to marry. She professed not to know that the assault charges against Fund had been dropped, claiming the DA has not been clear with her and that the case was "grossly mishandled." Regarding the signed affidavit, she now insists, "John battered me over and over, inflicting bruises and contusions. He then forced me to write and sign a paper denying this while he stood over me, fist at the ready." In her civil complaint against Fund, she charges him with "opprobrious, egregious, wanton, willful and oppressive" battery. (Fund has filed a counterclaim, and the two remain in litigation.)
I must admit, I did not find Pillsbury's story compelling when I first read the reports. Now, given her signed or sworn statements, I find it even less so, particularly after discussing the details with Fund, who admits to many gross misjudgments and mistakes with regard to his relationship with Pillsbury but continues to deny any abuse whatever. (I did not receive a response from Pillsbury's attorney.)
It's true, John Fund did live by the sword. But liberals and leftists must ask ourselves whether we really want to live by David Talbot's famous claim, made in the context of revealing a decades-old adulterous affair of Henry Hyde's, that "ugly times call for ugly tactics." When I asked Cotts by e-mail whether she had regrets about any of her coverage of the case, her only on-the-record reply was, "Eric, I have no comment for your article." Before I had even decided to write on this subject for certain, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel received an e-mail from someone claiming to be familiar with the case arguing that Fund was guilty of the physical abuse and suggesting, therefore, that the magazine should discourage me from writing this column. A few of my liberal media friends--no quotation marks necessary in this case--concurred.
Let the gossip columnists answer for themselves. But if we on the left do not stand up for inconvenient truths, really, what good are we? I don't mind the idea of a liberal Rush Limbaugh dishing it out on talk radio or cable TV the way we are always expected to take it. And I do admit to loving Media Whores Online, even though it leaps over the bounds of good taste with alarming frequency. But the smearing of Fund raises questions that define us morally and politically. It did not take a lot of investigation on my part to conclude that Pillsbury was not the kind of source one could legitimately use to hang a man in public. Why were so many so eager to use her that way? No principle was at stake. It was all about payback.
I would amend Talbot's claim to read, "Ugly tactics make for ugly people." As with fighting the Stalinists in the cold war, or terrorists in our own day, if our enemies succeed in making us more like them, they can claim a kind of victory. To my genuine regret, John Fund comes out the winner in this tawdry story, alas, in more ways than one.