The New York Post is facing a demand for retraction from Debbie Rowe's attorney over a story in today's paper, and it's choosing an odd way to defend itself: By relying on the reporting of its arch-rival, the Daily News.
In a letter sent this afternoon, Rowe's attorney Eric George demanded a retraction, calling the story "unequivocally false" and accusing the Post of taking "top honors" in the field of "overzealous and inaccurate sensationalism":
Ms. Rowe has not and will not "giv[e] up her parental rights...."
Ms. Rowe has not accepted—and will not accept—any additional financial consideration beyond the spousal support she and Michael Jackson personally agreed to several years ago.
Your story could only have been concocted with reckless disregard for the truth.... I will look forward to your prompt retraction.
That "reckless disregard for the truth" line is code for "I am going to sue you": For libel suits to succeed against public figures like Rowe, plaintiffs have to demonstrate such disregard.
Post reporter Kate Sheehy, who wrote the story, declined to comment and referred us to Post spokesman Howard Rubinstein, who said an exceedingly strange thing: "The Post told me to refer you to the story by Nancy Dillon now on the web site of the New York Daily News. That is their response." For the Post to be holding up its regular punching bag the Daily News in the face of lawsuit threats is plain bizarre.
So what of that Nancy Dillon story? It purports to have obtained an e-mail from Rowe to a friend of hers in which she makes clear that she doesn't want the kids: "Do I want the kids? Hell no. Does it look good for me to ask for them? Absolutely. I don't want to look like the woman who gave away her kids and just forgot about them."
If true, we suppose that would tend to support the Post's contention that Rowe has given up her parental rights—though the Daily News story only says she is inclined to do so, not that she already has. What it does not say, however, is that Rowe has accepted any money in exchange for giving up those rights. Which is what the Post reported. And what Rowe's attorney is demanding that the paper retract.
Confused, we called Rubinstein back and put the question to him directly: Does the Post stand by its story?
"I'm checking that out right now," he said. A few more minutes later he called back to pass on a quote from Post editor in chief Col Allen: "The Post stands by its story." Well, that settles that. An assistant for George, Rowe's attorney, said he has no comment.