There's a saying among journalists that if the headline of an article contains a question mark the answer is "no." For instance: "Was Harry Reid Roughed Up by the Mafia on New Year's Day?" or, "Did the Senate Minority Leader Get His Ass Kicked By His Drunk Brother Larry?"
For months, questions like these bounced around the right-wing conspiracy mill, as conservative bloggers pondered how the Democratic Senate Majority Leader wound up with severe facial injuries that nearly left him blind in one eye. The primary source of the rumors was attorney and writer John Hinderaker, who in a series of posts published on his Power Line blog, demanded to know "What Really Happened to Harry Reid?" To Hinderaker, it was apparently beyond the realm of possibility that the 75-year-old Senator and his staff were telling the embarrassing truth about how Reid broke his face: in a mishap with elastic exercise equipment.
Criticizing the press for having "studiously averted its eyes from Reid's condition," Hinderacker came up with his own theories about the source of Reid's injuries. "Some are speculating that [Reid] had a run-in with Las Vegas underworld characters," he told his readers in January, while admitting that "there is zero evidence for that." In a March 26 post, he doubled down: "It isn't hard to guess [Reid] ran afoul of mobsters," Hinderacker wrote, claiming that friend had recently visited Reid's home state and found that a "number of people" there assumed "that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid's relationship with organized crime."
That's about as far as Hinderacker's investigation went—that is, until a gentleman identifying himself as Easton Elliot called March 29 with an alternate story.
It turns out,Elliott was actually a fifty-year-old former event planner from Vegas named Larry Pfeifer. Pfeifer told Hinderaker he was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on New Year's Day when a bloodied, intoxicated man walked in, saying that he'd been in a fight with a family member and was worried the Secret Service was after him. Pfeifer told Hinderaker he later identified the man as Reid's brother Larry, after seeing a picture of in the paper of him in connection with a DUI charge, and decided to reach out to the media.
Hinderaker repeated Pfeifer's story on Power Line, and the rumor quickly made its way around right-wing media circles, popping up on Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh's radio show. No one, it seems, made any real attempt to verify the source.
Pfeifer finally came clean on Sunday, admitting to the Las Vegas Sun that the whole drunk brother story was a hoax—a lie, he said, aimed at exposing media stories as fabrications.
Curious to know more about this strange bit of political theater, I called up Pfiefer at his home in Las Vegas Monday. The former event planner told me he's never been much interested in politics—that he wove the tale about Reid and his brother in the spur of the moment, out of disgust over Hinderacker's muckraking.
I get the feeling he's still flying by the seat of the pants, turning his spontaneous prank into a crusade for journalistic accountability—that maybe its all part of one long con, the contours of which are not entirely clear yet, maybe not even to him.
VICE: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Larry Pfeifer: I had a company here in Vegas that did sponsorships and private events for a couple of hotels and I owned a restaurant. I had a gambling and prescription pill problem and five years ago I got sober. Now I'm a life coach for people in recovery.
What prompted you to reach out to this John Hinderaker character?
I was on the internet and Hinderaker's story popped up about the mafia. I wasn't looking for it. I'm not really politically inclined. I'm just interested in stuff about the mafia, just like I'm interested in stuff about cheerleaders and other things. The article said Harry Reid got beat up by the mafia.And I thought it was so preposterous. I thought it was a joke really. So I called the guy, originally to tell him off. Simultaneously, I was looking online and I saw this thing about Larry Reid, Harry Reid's brother. And so I made up the most outlandish story I could think of.
He said, 'That sounds so real. It's the most plausible explanation.'
You told him A.A. lets drunk people in on New Year's.
Yeah, which is a bunch of shit. You can call a million people that are in twelve-step [programs] and they will tell you [that] you don't let drunk or high people into a meeting where people share. It just doesn't happen. That should have been the guy's first red flag. Of course he never checked on that at all. He figured out my first name was really Larry, but I told him I gave the name Easton Elliot because I didn't want to be hurt by Harry Reid or the Democrats. I just made the whole thing up, it was total bullshit.
The next thing I know, Hinderaker is calling me up saying, "Hey, I can get this on Rush Limbaugh." And I'm thinking, I'm going to go on the Rush show, tomorrow or the next day, and say the story was a hoax and even if Rush cuts me off, I'll release something to the press to show how irresponsible the media is. So Hinderaker and I had a phone call with Rush,
How'd that go? Did they scrutinize your story at all?
Both of them asked the same three questions over and over again: "Can you tell us where the A.A. meeting was?" "Did the guy mention the name Harry?" "Could I corroborate my story in anyway?" I answered, "No. No. And No."
Rush was like, "I believe you, but I'm going to sit on this. I have a plan for this." And then he went on about how bad Harry Reid is, how he accused Mitt Romney of not paying taxes. I thought, 'what's society going to come to?' A day after the Rush thing, Hinderaker calls me and says, "Let's put the story up tomorrow." He sends me drafts of the piece and I agree to it and it comes out. Then Glenn Beck talked about the story on his show and on April 15, Rush took the bait.
But at this point you were trying to tell people it was all a lie?
I emailed Rush's show on the 15th and 16th saying, let me come on and tell the whole story. I started contacting CNN, other places, trying to get the whole story on, telling them it's a hoax. Nobody got back to me until last week, when I went to the Las Vegas Sun. It wasn't an easy sell. They vetted me. They looked at my id. They asked for references from friends.
Did you read Hinderaker's response to the Sun's article?
He admitted everything I said to him was a ruse. He only asked for someone to corroborate the story days after he ran it. I said, 'Yeah, I'll have somebody call you.' I might as well have told him Abe Lincoln was going to call.
Now that you've exposed your hoax, are you pleased with the outcome?
I hope more people say to themselves, I'm sick of getting reports from people who say they're journalists, using their power irresponsibly. People should boycott Power Line and Breitbart. And while they're at it, Rolling Stone. Look at what Hinderaker did. He exchanged his integrity for hate and money. He hated Reid and the Democrats and wanted money from advertisers and this Reid posts were popular. But one person can make a difference.
Weren't Reid and his family unwitting casualties in this stunt you pulled?
Yes. And I do regret that. But I thought about it later. Would Reid rather have a story out there about his brother beating him up or the mafia? I think the mafia is worse.
Do you support Reid politically?
I've never voted in my life?
What should the media focus on instead of Harry Reid's supposed smackdown?
Helping out homeless vets. Helping out homeless families. Kids that are being bullied. This story is about bullying, too.
Pfeifer asks that anyone who wants to join him to "stand up against lies" email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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