ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Well, as we have heard, Senator Craig claims that he was relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman. Today, in fact, that newspaper published a story about his sexuality. The Idaho Statesman reports that it has confronted Craig with allegations of homosexuality, allegations that he has consistently denied.
Dan Popkey wrote that story. He's politics and government columnist for the paper, and he joins us now from Boise.
Obviously, you've been investigating Senator Craig for some months. Why were you doing that?
Mr. DAN POPKEY (Politics and Government Columnist, Idaho Statesman): Well, the original story that began, I guess, this was Mike Rogers, the gay activist blogger, who reported that he had three men who described having sex with Senator Craig. We, unlike a number of national media outlets and a number of Idaho outlets, did not run that story because we weren't comfortable with Rogers' sourcing. We tried to talk to the people that he talked to and didn't get anywhere.
In May, however, I did interview one of Rogers' sources, the one he called his best source. And that's the gentleman that we described in the story, a 40-year-old Washington area professional who has close ties to Republican officialdom. And he described, credibly, we thought, an encounter in the Union Station restroom. That they…
SIEGEL: And you describe that account - you described what you heard from him to Senator Craig?
Mr. POPKEY: We did. And we played an altered audiotape. I mean altered in a sense the man's voice was disguised because of our promise of anonymity. And the senator said that is false. I never have engaged in homosexual conduct with that man or any other man and nor have I - and we asked the questions about this because of our reporting said there were others who claimed that he had hit on them, that he had cruised them in public places.
SIEGEL: And he denied all of these instances?
Mr. POPKEY: He denied all of them. And we, after hearing his denials, decided not to do a story. We didn't think that the claim of this one man who, while credible, was enough to overcome the credible denial of the senator. So we didn't do the story.
SIEGEL: So prior to that, prior to this story of the guilty plea at the airport in Minnesota, the judgment of the Statesman was that you didn't have enough to go with it.
Mr. POPKEY: That's correct. And so to say that we were relentlessly harassing him, I think we were being fair and thorough. And we were erring on the side of caution and we gave the tie to the senator, if you will, if you can even call it a tie. I mean, he's a senior senator. He's an eminently respected man. And we weren't ready to publish the claim of a man who was anonymous, that he had sex with him. So we were cautious.
SIEGEL: Now, tell me about the discussion at your newspaper as to the, well, as to the ethics, the advisability of pursuing a story that was essentially about, possibly - if it were verified - outing a United States senator. Is that news -is it newsworthy that somebody might have or has claimed to had sex with people of the same sex?
Mr. POPKEY: Yeah. It was newsworthy for several reasons in Idaho. And remember, we're writing for an Idaho audience, and we here are not accustomed to all of this national attention. Pretty extraordinary day. But the Idaho audience, the voters who have returned him to Congress every year since 1980, voted for him because he was conservative, family values, member of Congress, a guy who voted against gay rights, a guy who had, you know, very strong conservative record. And if he was, if there's some chance that he was leading a double life, and apparently, as we said today, not describing what happened in the Minnesota restroom to anyone - his wife included - then we needed to let people know that that was out there.
SIEGEL: Dan, one last and then brief question for you.
Mr. POPKEY: Yeah. I'm sorry.
SIEGEL: You cover politics in Idaho. Given - Senator Craig sounds feisty and ready to give this a good fight. Given what you published today, is his career finished in Idaho politics?
Mr. POPKEY: Well, I think, first, there is very little likelihood that he will seek reelection. He said he's going to make up his mind. He's been saying since mid-September. I talked to him the day after the guilty plea. He said he would, in mid-September, let us know what he's going to do.
I just can't believe he's going to put himself through what he and his family would have to go through if he were to do this again. And that the question, the other question is will he resign. And there are already some of the right wing leaders here in Idaho, the religious right leaders, saying he needs to resign. I guess I understand a lot of conservative talk show folks have been saying the same thing. I don't know if he can survive that. I really don't know.
SIEGEL: Dan Popkey, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. POPKEY: Thank you, Robert.
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