Out of nowhere, the Miami Herald has dusted off and expanded upon one of Washington's oldest and juiciest political rumors: The one about a rising young beltway journalist and his gay affair with a powerful GOP congressman, and how the journalist shot himself in the head when his lover's political rival threatened to out them. According to the Herald, that rival may have been Newt Gingrich.
The rumor, in brief, is as follows: In the summer of 1997, the Hill's Sandy Hume—the then-28-year-old son of Fox News' Brit Hume—broke a blockbuster story about four GOP congressman who plotted, and failed, to overthrow Newt Gingrich as Speaker. One of those men was Bill Paxon, a New York Republican who was married to fellow Congresswoman Susan Molinari. Another of the plotters, Majority Leader Dick Armey, scuttled the coup when he learned that Paxon, and not he, would replace Gingrich. Armey later disavowed the whole attempt and claimed not to have been involved.
A few months later, in February 1998, Paxon launched an attempt to unseat Armey from his leadership position. Just days later, Sandy Hume killed himself with a gunshot to the head. Just days after that, Paxon suddenly and inexplicably resigned and never returned to public life. Almost immediately, rumors began flying that Hume and Paxon had been having an affair, and that Armey had threatened to out them. Hence the suicide and the sudden resignation. The theory was common knowledge among the D.C. press corps, but it never made it to print (as far as I can tell) beyond the dark corners of the internet and an angry passage, years later, in Joe Scarborough's Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day accusing Armey of smearing Hume. (Scarborough's take was later picked up in this Huffington Post piece.)
But today, pegged to a conference call with Molinari organized by the Romney campaign and designed to bash Newt Gingrich, the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo has rehashed the "imbroglia" in a blog post, shining more light on the rumor (though without any reporting) than it has seen in more than a decade. But Caputo adds a new wrinkle to the tale: "Some" blame Gingrich, and not just Armey, he says, for the threat to go public with information about Hume and Paxon's alleged relationship.
About the same time, rumors surfaced that Hume and Paxon had been involved in a a gay affair. Some (namely MSNBC's Joe Scarborough) blamed Armey for leaking the information to stop Paxon. Some blamed Gingrich, since he benefitted most. Some blamed them both for the rumor.
Because South Florida is New York's sixth borough, word of the Paxon-Gingrich-Hume imbroglia has been the subject of whispers by some political operatives tied to the Empire State (Paxon was a Buffalo rep.). It's almost impossible to know just what specifically happened all those years ago, but there's clearly deep scar tissue here that gainsays a simple political narrative that will unfold on a 30 minute conference call.
If true, of course, Gingrich's role in Sandy Hume's suicide is likely the cause of some behind-the-scenes agita at Fox News, where Sandy's father is an emeritus anchor and still a frequent on-screen analyst. The GOP field seems increasingly to be narrowing down to Mitt Romney versus the guy who may have caused one of Fox's most beloved on-air personalities to suffer a personal tragedy beyond measure.
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