"You can't fuck the elephants while you're covering the circus" is an old journalistic maxim—often attributed to the
Washington Post 's Ben Bradlee the New York Times' Abe Rosenthal—delineating the boundaries of appropriate reporter-source relationships. Sleep with whomever you want, in other words, with the exception of the people you write about. If recently released email exchanges between the Wall Street Journal's Gina Chon and a former National Security Council official turn out to be as real as they seem, then it looks like Chon fucked a big ol' elephant.
Brett McGurk is Barack Obama's nominee to be the next ambassador to Iraq. He has served in Iraq as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and as an Iraq specialist for the National Security Council. In 2008, he was a special assistant to George W. Bush and an adviser to the NSC on Iraq. In 2006, he married an advertising manager named Caroline Wong, according to their New York Times wedding announcement.
In 2008, Gina Chon was an Iraq correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. And according to email exchanges that were posted anonymously on Flickr three days ago and later picked up by Cryptome, Chon gave McGurk "a real case of blue balls" in Baghdad in June 2008. The emails—the provenance of which is uncertain—make fairly clear that while Chon was covering the U.S. role in Iraq, and using McGurk as a source, she was also romantically involved with him.
This December 2008 email from McGurk to Chon, for instance, refers to the McGurk "coming over to hook up with you for the first time" on June 23, 2008.
The "blue balls" McGurk mentions had apparently been occasioned on the night before that hook-up, according to this June 23, 2008 email from McGurk to Chon.
Later that day, McGurk emailed Chon again that his "blue balls" had receded, apparently because he masturbated. Chon wrote back that masturbation can "come in handy."
Of course, while Chon was giving McGurk blue balls (and presumably helping to relieve them later), she was also covering his actions as a senior White House official helping manage Iraq policy. And the emails also make clear that she had a reporter-source relationship with him. At one point, she asked him for help in getting into a meeting between then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker and some Iraqi officials (he couldn't help her). At another—sandwiched between flirtatious banter—he gave her advice on covering the Iraqi elections:
It's unclear when McGurk's relationship with his wife ended, but the Washington Free Beacon reports that McGurk was married at the time of his liaison with Chon. It also reports that Chon and McGurk are now married.
According to the Free Beacon, the emails threaten to derail McGurk's nomination. He testified before the Senate yesterday, but didn't receive any questions about how and when his relationship with Chon began. It's unclear whether an extra-marital liaison on its own could scuttle a nomination. But if it's true—as the Beacon suggests—that McGurk is the unnamed State Department official who was videotaped receiving oral sex on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, well that would be a different thing altogether.
What if a video existed that showed a prominent State Department VIP on the roof of the Republican Palace in Baghdad receiving, um, pleasure of an oral nature from another State Department officer not his wife, or even his journalist mistress of the time? What if that video has been passed around among Marine Security Guards at the Embassy to the point where it is considered "viral" with many copies made? What if the Deputy Chief of Mission, hand in hand with the Diplomatic Security chief (RSO) at the time, decided that the whole thing needed to be swept under the rug and made to go away, at least until some blogger got a hold of it.
Would that count as poor judgement? What if it was published during his oft-delayed Congressional hearings?
The "journalist mistress" and "congressional hearings" certainly point to McGurk as a suspect. So keep an eye out for interesting surveillance video.
Anyway, the important thing is that our foreign policy is being managed by sober, serious, well-intentioned professionals. And covered by same.
Also, for what it's worth: We hear McGurk wasn't Chon's only conquest during her days in Iraq. She was also seen squiring then-ABC News correspondent Terry McCarthy around Baghdad.
Chon, the Journal, and the State Department declined to return phone calls.
UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the Journal emails to say that the paper is looking into the matter, and that Chon is about to take a planned leave of absence.
We are looking into the matter. Ms. Chon, currently a reporter in Money & Investing, asked for a formal leave of absence from the Wall Street Journal in March when it appeared her then-fiancé might be nominated as ambassador to Iraq. The request was granted at the time, and the leave is scheduled to begin later this summer.