COMMENTS: Numbers Game

A second inside-the-Beltway story relating to the news media was decidedly unsentimental. It too, was covered by reporters from CBS and NBC but not ABC--which was especially odd.

The story concerned the racketeering prosecution of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a San Francisco businesswoman accused of operating Pamela Martin & Associates as a telephone-based escort service running 130 prostitutes for Washington DC powerbrokers.

So far, so seamy--but not really newsworthy.

To raise money for her defense, Palfrey had tried to sell her telephone logs to any scandalmonger who cared to deploy a reverse directory to dig up dirt on her Johns. Palfrey admits she ran a "sexual" business but called it "albeit legal"--she presumably meant "legal, albeit sexual." A court prohibited her from making the sale, so she announced that she was donating the logs to a news organization. Ostensibly, journalists would find out the names of her escorts' clients so they would testify in open court that she was not the DC Madam that she had been nicknamed. She has "customers shaking in high places," CBS' Bob Orr suggested. When a straightfaced Palfrey asked the press to "put aside the titillation of the Who's Who? list," Orr snorted--"Fat chance!"--although he did note that Palfrey "denies trying to blackmail former clients."

What makes it odd that CBS and NBC should cover the story but not ABC was that, as NBC's Pete Williams told us, the recipient of the logs turns out to be ABC News.


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