Last week, in less than two hours, I was able to pick up all sorts of juicy rumors about Rep. Nikki Haley's sex life. Which convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that … I was at the State House.
To say that the State House is a hotbed for rumors of every sort imaginable is like saying that Mark Sanford has a slight problem keeping his mouth shut about his own personal life.
The lobby between the House and Senate is a particularly fertile incubator, because scores of lobbyists spend hours at a time standing around watching to see if anything happens that they need to know about (and usually it doesn't) and waiting for the opportunity to snag particular legislators. That leaves a lot of time to fill, and the human inclination to gossip and speculate and try to add up two and two takes over.
When I was a reporter, I used to keep a list of all the alleged liaisons, in case I ever needed to try to track them down; the list was the only way I could remember them all. Some were patently obvious, and proved out by eventual divorces and re-marriages. Some were laughably absurd.
I only tried to track down a few of them, generally those involving powerful elected officials having sex with state employees who worked for them.
But the Haley situation is far different than all those others: They were rumors, based on observations by third parties; anything remotely resembling "proof" was provided by people who would only provide it anonymously. Blogger Will Folks made a public allegation about something that, if true, he would certainly be in a position to know about.
I realize this was a more innocent time, but a useful comparison is what happened in 1996, after an alternative publication printed an article alleging that then-Gov. David Beasley was having an affair with his communications director. Every mainstream news organization spent months investigating, but no one ever found any evidence to back up the claim; in fact, my experience was that every allegation that contained potentially verifiable elements turned out to be demonstrably false. No one printed a word about the story until a year later, when Lexington Sheriff Jimmy Metts made the allegations himself, as part of his bid to unseat Mr. Beasley in a primary.
Now, I need to back up and say that I have no idea whether Rep. Haley had "inappropriate sexual contact" with Mr. Folks (that's the term he used in an interview with Charleston's Post and Courier). On the one hand, even before the love guv, I would not have dismissed it as impossible, because there are a lot of "inappropriate sexual relationships" at the State House; and normally, we wouldn't even be having this conversation, because of course you believe it when somebody admits to doing something inappropriate. But the roles are not reversed, and Ms. Haley's accuser is not a person I consider credible, so the simple fact that he claims something happened does not elevate it in my mind above the level of gossip.
Far more interesting than the question of "Did she, or didn't she?" is "Why did he?" The idea that Mr. Folks was trying to limit damage by getting the story out before it was reported elsewhere strains credulity. He was dealing with journalists, not people who market in innuendo, as he does. Even if a news organization had reported on the alleged relationship, it seems clear today that it would have been nothing more than rumor; it was only his "admission" that transformed it into news and gave it a patina of believability.
To read the complete column, visit www.thestate.com.