She teared up on camera.
Her heartbreaking story compelled three major candidates for Louisiana governor to issue statements. “Miss Ellis’s courageous decision to give her child a chance at life should be commended,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. “These allegations are deeply troubling,” Scott Angelle wrote. “The people of Louisiana deserve the truth and answers from David Vitter.” John Bel Edwards was less direct and, arguably, more astute. “I live by the Honor Code I pledged at West Point,” he said. “‘A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.’ That’s how I will govern Louisiana.”
On Saturday, with only a week left before Louisiana voters head to the polls to decide who will become their next governor, Jason Brad Berry of The American Zombie published a bombshell interview with Wendy Ellis, a former prostitute who once sold her story about hooking up with U.S. Sen. David Vitter to Hustler Magazine. Her story has changed, though, dramatically. Today, Ellis says that her relationship with Vitter was much more intimate and much more involved than she previously claimed. But most notably, Ellis now claims she was once pregnant with Vitter’s child and that Vitter, then a Congressman, asked her to get an abortion, which she refused to do.
Sen. Vitter’s dalliances with prostitutes are well-known and documented, and his 2007 scandal involving the D.C. Madam has become a flashpoint in the current campaign. But Ellis’s sordid story about being paid $5,000 a month for three years to have sex with David Vitter unravels upon close inspection. Quoting from WDSU (bold mine):
Ellis has a checkered legal past, which includes felony fraud and forgery convictions. Berry’s report does not indicate that any physical evidence of the child was presented, but an interview segment added to The American Zombie on Saturday night includes new detail from Ellis on the birth of the child, which she said happened in 2000.
Court records related to that same case show Ellis appealing for early release. In a letter to an Arkansas judge, which is entered into the legal record, she writes: “I was accused of working for an escort service and stripping. Yes, I danced, as I told you, but I never worked for an escort service.“
The same letter notes that Ellis was being treated for acute lymphoma leukemia, with seven months of radiation and chemotherapy treatments beginning in January 1999, and speaks to a serious and long-term romantic relationship with a man in Florida “within a year” after the disease went into remission.
There is no indication in the letter as to whether the Florida relationship involved sexual activity or how often Ellis was in Florida — a significant point, since Ellis told Berry she was exclusively sexually active with Vitter at the time she became pregnant.
Wendy Ellis, also known as Wendy Williams, Wendy Yow, and Wendy Cortez, once served a portion of a ten-year prison sentence for a crime of dishonesty and a probation violation, and she has a track record of making outrageous claims about Sen. Vitter, claims the Senator has repeatedly denied.
Clancy DuBos of Gambit was one of the very first reporters to pick up on the story, but less than 24 hours after he filed his initial report, he decided to pull it offline. “There are holes in parts of the woman’s story,” he writes, “but this remains largely a ‘she said/he said’ tale that may never be proved totally true or totally false. Vitter is not commenting, nor is anyone from his campaign for governor.” Reporters from The Times-Picayune, The Advocate, and Politico independently looked into the allegations made by Ellis and, ultimately, decided not to publish anything.
To be sure, Sen. Vitter’s past invite people like Wendy Ellis into his orbit, and Louisiana voters should think long and hard about the distractions he would generate if elected governor.
But two wrongs don’t make a right.
David Vitter, for all of his faults, is not an irredeemably terrible person simply because he used to pay people to have sex with him (There are other reasons he is irredeemably terrible). That doesn’t automatically disqualify him from earning a decent living for his family, but it probably should disqualify him from representing Louisiana in the U.S. Senate and living, rent-free, in the Governor’s Mansion.
Stories like Wendy Ellis’s are provocative and sensational and, I’ll admit, a little bit of fun for people like me, aficionados of Louisiana politics. But ultimately, I want what is best for the state, my home, not what generates the most attention to my small corner of the Internet. Ellis’s story, in my humble opinion, is destructive, because it is riddled with huge holes; it is flawed; and with all due respect to the reporter, it was not properly vetted.
In fairness, Berry promises more reporting on the issue, and I hope that he follows through. I know him to be a passionate advocate for Louisiana and a fierce champion of accountability. I also believe Berry should be provided the benefit of the doubt. He has done some stellar reporting in the past. But it would be a huge mistake and reckless miscalculation to assume Wendy Ellis will be given any credibility at all after next Saturday.
The story is either there, or it is not. Right now, the story isn’t standing; it’s crumbling.