The Corner

A Frayed Knot on the Bondage Story

The facts as they stand don’t make the RNC — or at least their accountants — look very good. But this Daily Caller story has bugged me from the word “bondage.”

The original piece bafflingly buries the sexed-up lede in the sixth paragraph, beneath some fairly ho-hum reporting about Michael Steele “once . . . rais[ing] the possibility of using party money to buy a private jet for his travel.” So to the DC editors, the story is not that the chairman of the Republican party expensed a lesbian sex show, it is that he thought about doing something else that might be seen as wasteful and abusive of his office.

Moreover, the strip club bit was originally misreported:

Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,620.71 spent [update: the amount is actually $1,946.25] at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex. [emphasis added]

Now, I’m not in DC editorial meetings, but the fact that the RNC’s reimbursement for a visit to a lesbian bondage club — the kind of tidbit on which the HuffPos and DCs of the world build entire business models — was treated as a throwaway line with some spotty fact-checking tells me that either they didn’t do their homework, they’re unsure of their sources, or both.

That’s certainly the RNC’s line, as Kathryn notes. But in a defense published a few hours after the original story, DC editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson says, “We did not claim that Michael Steele personally visited Voyeur West Hollywood.” Go back and read the excerpted paragraph. Steele is elided in the second sentence, but there is simply no way it could be referring to anyone else. And Carlson’s claim that, “The story we ran today is accurate, as the RNC knows” belies the follow-up DC later posted revealing that there is no evidence Steele attended or even knew about this menagerie, and revealing the actual bondage fetishist in question to be California publicist Erik Brown.

But even if DC goofed up the reporting, the question remains whether the RNC is really stupid enough to have knowingly reimbursed a hired gun for two Gs he dropped at a go-go? I have to believe, for my own sanity, that they are not.

The reimbursement form from the visit lists the only expense as “meals.” The RNC likely as not took Brown’s receipt and his word and considered the matter closed. Now, it might be objectionable in this economy for the RNC to spend $1,946.25 on a single dinner meeting, but it wouldn’t be all that unusual — and certainly not scandalous. Of course, anyone familiar with West Hollywood could probably guess that a place called “Voyeur” located within its limits is probably not a charming little bistro. But — and this is just a hunch — I doubt any of the RNC functionaries in charge of rubber-stamping these expense reports are familiar with the establishment.

Of course, even if Steele didn’t know, and even if the reimbursement really was just a mistake by some bookkeeper who couldn’t be bothered to run a quick Google search, it doesn’t make this not a big deal. I’m just saying, maybe we should put away the handcuffs, for now.

UPDATE: California GOPer and gubernatorial hopeful Chuck Devore is distancing himself from Brown, who has done direct mailing for the candidate. Devore told ABC News:

“I buy letterhead and envelopes from the guy. I pay him for printing signs and stuff like that. . .It is not like he is my social calendar adviser.”

Daniel FosterDaniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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