Don't hold your breath for the New York Times editorial lambasting the paparazzi for their treatment of Deneeta Pope, now known to history by the reductive phrase "Paul Ryan's Black Ex-Girlfriend."
Pope's misfortune can be traced back to a 2005 interview Ryan gave to Milwaukee Magazine, in which the pasty-faced congressman briefly discussed race with reporter Erik Gunn. Relevant passage:
Ryan also courts African-American voters. In 2003, he and Janna joined the nonpartisan Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Led by Congressman John Lewis, who 40 years ago headed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the pilgrimage takes lawmakers to Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to remind them of that era's struggles.
Two years later, Ryan passes Lewis after a committee meeting and nods toward the Georgia Democrat. "He's a hero," Ryan says without hesitation. Later, he elaborates: "I have a sister-in-law who's African American. My college sweetheart was black. I just experienced some ugly comments, some racist views from people who I thought were friends of mine." Jack Kemp – notable for trying to broaden the Republican Party's appeal to blacks – "taught me a lot, too," Ryan continues. Despite all that, when he joined the Civil Rights pilgrimage, "I didn't know anything about that. I just learned so much about the Civil Rights movement and the absolute bravery it took. And I'm a big, big fan of Martin Luther King."
The factoid about the ex-girlfriend got tweeted a few weeks by CNN's Peter Hamby. There is no evidence that news consumers were curious about or interested in this story from the Republican vice-presidential candidate's distant past. Nor is it clear where the news value rests here. Does Ryan have a Klansman past like the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd? Does he have a long history of insulting other ethnicities, like Vice President Joe Biden?
In any event the story prompted intense investigations by at least half a dozen reporters. The tabloids, to their credit, made clear that their interest was simply in a Badger State Mandingo. In coverage strongly implying that Ryan had made the black girlfriend story up (both Gunn and Ryan's office confirmed the details), the Daily Mail's Belinda Robinson trekked around the Midwest in search of evidence. After more than a week, and with the assistance of journalists Toby Harnden and Emily Anne Epstein, Robinson finally located Pope, who made gracious comments about Ryan, identified herself as a Democrat, and showed no interest in speaking with press beyond that. If she'd been willing to cough up some details about Ryan's politics, dark corners of his personality, or even his sexual practices, there might have been something interesting here. But she didn't. In the journalistic craft, this is known as a lead that didn't pan out.
The higher-minded media, meanwhile, were searching for the deeper meaning of the story. "[N]ews that Paul Ryan says he had a black girlfriend really is non-story," NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates announced, before devoting 700 words and two quoted sources to the non-story. TheRoot.com political correspondent Keli Goff also asked whether the story mattered, concluding that it did not because you can still date a black woman and also "promote policies that would harm African Americans." Goff did not say what these policies might be, although Ryan has a more than ten-year congressional voting record to draw on. She did bamboozle fair-minded readers with the following verbal evacuation:
[T]hose who hold stereotypes about a particular group of people are unlikely to have those stereotypes altered merely by encountering someone who defies that stereotype. Instead, they are likely to view the individual defying said stereotype as an exception. In other words, it is possible to have a black friend, Asian friend, Hispanic friend or Muslim friend or wife and still exhibit prejudice toward that group. The friend or wife is simply viewed as the exception who is not like the others.
For the record: No, I am not calling Ryan a racist.
Maybe we should be grateful that nobody has cited Ryan's eventual marriage to a Caucasian woman to refute the scientific theory that once you go black you don't go back.
In any event, the inquisition against Pope was just getting started. TMZ has been especially intrigued by this story. In an article headlined "Black Ex-Girlfriend Wants NOTHING To Do with Campaign," the gossip site bellyached that Ryan has no interest in talking to TMZ. (I can't imagine why.) As it happened, neither did Pope. "I'm not interested in talking," she told the site. "I don't know why everyone is calling. I'm newly married and would just like to be left alone."
Good luck with that one. Yesterday TMZ finally hit paydirt:
Deneeta D. Pope—who made headlines recently as Ryan's African-American GF in college—was indicted by a Grand Jury in November 1999 for allegedly swindling her former employer—Ernst & Young—out of $77,000.
Pope pled guilty in 2001 to stealing a lesser amount, but admitted she inflated expense reports, fabricated receipts and turned in phony invoices. She then used a wire transfer to move the money from a bank in Delaware to a different account in Chicago.
Pope created the scam by claiming she attended an educational course for work. Turns out … the course didn't even exist.
Pope served 5 months in Federal Prison.
FYI—Ryan dated Pope approximately 10 years before she was indicted. They met at Miami University of Ohio in the early 90's.
I love that sweating, strenuous "FYI," as if it's just a minor, didja-know detail that the entire story has nothing to do with Paul Ryan, holds no possible interest to anybody in the year 2012, and lacks the slightest morsel of news value even by the forgiving standards of celebrity-misbehavior journalism. (That is supposed to be TMZ's business model, right? Have I missed something? Is K-Stew's post-Pattinson sulk not generating enough news?)
The woman has paid her debt to society. The story has nothing to do with Ryan. Even the Ryan quote that inspired TMZ's lynch mob is more than five years old. Pope has asked repeatedly to be left alone. I wouldn't expect TMZ to grant that request, but they should be criticized by those who pretend to hold a higher standard.
The establishment media, which have never been shy about calling out obsessives like Jerome Corsi, Dinesh D'Souza and Joe Arpaio when they sniff around the cold tracks of President Obama's old associates, should condemn TMZ for its harassment of Pope.