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In his July 1996 hit piece on Deepak Chopra in the Weekly Standard, Matt Labash alleged that the new-age avatar was more huckster than holy man, that his health remedies were undiluted quackery, and that some of the tenets of his faith had been plagiarized. And that was just the nice stuff. Near the end of the story, Labash alleged that Chopra had patronized a prostitute on three occasions in 1991. (Full disclosure: Labash has put together a few hits for Washington City Paper as a free-lancer.)
Before the article hit the streets, Labash presented Chopra’s lawyer, Michael Flynn, with evidence that the guru’s personal approach to spiritual renewal seemed to include commercial sex transactions. When he called Flynn, Labash had on-the-record quotes from Judy Bangert, a former San Francisco call girl, American Express vouchers bearing Chopra’s name showing two different billings to Bangert’s escort service in 1991, and a hotel receipt for another date on which Bangert said Chopra had paid in cash. Bangert, who told Labash she was sickened by Chopra’s hypocrisy, offered to take a lie-detector test, which she passed.
Flynn’s well-modulated response to Labash’s inquiries included a solemn threat: “[Chopra] wants me to tell you to go jump in the fucking lakeprint whatever you want, and then we’ll bring a lawsuit to expose the truth.” Perhaps Chopra put it in more spiritual terms, but Flynn’s J.D. seems to stand for Junkyard Dog: The California civil litigator cut his teeth litigating against the maniacs in leadership at the Church of Scientology. Within a week of the publication of Labash’s piece, Flynn filed suit in D.C. Superior Court seeking $35 million in damages. (The libel suit has since been moved to Federal District Court.) Given the comprehensiveness of the evidence compiled by Labash, Standard editors thought they were libel-proofuntil Bangert recanted.
“Dr. Deepak Chopra did not pay me for sex and did not have sex with me. I have never met, talked to or had any relationship with Dr. Chopra. Any statements made by [me] prior to this date contrary to the above are a mistake,” Bangert stated in a declaration made before a notary last December.
Sources at the Standard say they believe Bangert changed her story because she lacked representation and was getting hammered by Chopra’s lawyers. They point out that as recently as last November Bangert filed an answer in the D.C. case that said, “Dr. Chopra and his lawyer, Mr. Flynn, have shown a deliberate and reckless disregard for the truth or anything pertaining to the truth and have attempted to force their own perverse and distorted version of reality onto anyone who feels the compulsion to listen.”
Even though Bangert flaked out on them, the Standard is sticking by its story. Labash referred calls to Standard editor and publisher William Kristol.
“We believe what we published was true. We took serious precautions to ensure that it was true,” Kristol said in a phone interview. “You can’t be deterred from publishing what you believe to be true by legal threats,” he added. And Bangert’s recantation? “We’ll see how she ends up testifying. We have documents that support her statements to us….We remain open to other documentary evidence, but Mr. Flynn seems to be more interested in suing us than persuading us.”
In a phone interview, Flynn said that Bangert actually delivered sexual nirvana to a Chopra impersonator, not his client, and said he made every effort to share evidence that Chopra was out of the country when the Standard alleged he was banging Bangert.
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“We had an airline ticket and a hotel bill in India that showed he wasn’t even in the U.S., but they refused to even meet with us to look at the documents….We generally turn the other cheek on all of this stuff, but this effort to assassinate his reputation was so vicious, so pervasive, that we had no choice but to respond,” said Flynn.
“You are dealing with a brash young journalist who was out to make a name for himself, and the responsible people at the Standard allowed him to do this irresponsible piece,” said Flynn, who went on to allege that the born-again beliefs of Fred Barnes at the Standard may have played a role in the magazine’s decision to debunk Deepak. Flynn has filed a separate suit in San Diego on Chopra’s behalf for $15 million charging that Labash was in cahoots with other Chopra enemies and became part of a conspiracy to extort money from the guru. (The Standard’s lawyer, Slade Metcalf, said, “Mr. Labash did not have contact with any of the other defendants in the California case prior to the publication of the article in the Standard.”)
Kristol said the Standard has been neither chastened nor crippled by Chopra’s pursuit of a libel verdict. “It’s never that fun being sued,” he said. “There are of course legal fees and all of that, but we have managed to come out every week since.”
Throwing Rocks From Inside the Glass House Michael Wilbon’s sports coverage is an exception to the scribblings of the Post’s ramshackle collection of columnists: He’s a perspicacious guy, and a deft writer to boot. A bit preachy, but hey, that’s all right as long as you know what you are talking about. On Saturday, March 1, Wilbon wrote a bromidic column about the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the majors. The point was to upbraid modern black ballplayersone of Wilbon’s favorite pastimeswho don’t understand Robinson’s legacy. “It is unthinkable that black baseball players, in particular, could not know chapter and verse of Robinson’s life,” he wrote. It’s even more unthinkable that a columnist who was presuming to lecture about such things couldn’t correctly report the year Robinson retired: “And one dangerous notion that we need to be extra careful about is that there hasn’t been much progress for blacks in sports, baseball specifically, since Robinson retired in 1955.” According to the 1995 Sports Illustrated Sports Almanac, the Hall of Fame first and second baseman retired in 1956.
One Paper’s Struggle With Attention Deficit Disorder The Post’s Health tabloid recently ran what seemed to be a serial feature called “One Family’s Struggle With Attention Deficit Disorder.” A secondary headline on both the March 4 and March 11 issues promised an in-depth look at what happens to a family when a child has ADD. The March 4 issue contained no such story, but the March 11 issue ran a review of a book called Willie: Raising and Loving a Child With Attention Deficit Disorder by Anne Colin. Among the characteristics of ADD mentioned in the sidebar were “signs of inattention,” “careless mistakes,” and “distractability.” The story was obviously scheduled for the March 4 issue but got pushed back to March 11the folks who forgot to lose the callout on the cover might want to think about getting in line for some Ritalin themselves.
When a Brochure Becomes a Magazine Beltway wannabes probably got all damp and excited when they received a promotional mailing for Capital Style, a proposed glossy from the folks who put out Roll Call and the Economist: “Capital Style will revel in the Washington way of life. Meet personalities behind the political and social rituals that make Capitol Hill and the rest of Washington such a fascinating place….Join us as we explore the corridors of power and follow them wherever they lead.” Sounds like an ink version of C-SPAN, but maybe there’s a vital and uncovered niche between George and Washingtonian.
Don’t bank on seeing the magazine anytime soon, though. “We are testing the market,” said Roll Call’s marketing manager Bill Thomas, who is spearheading the project. Yeah, and when’s it going to come out? “We are testing the market and analyzing the market,” said Thomas. So you haven’t actually decided whether to launch or not? “We are testing the market and that’s all I’m going to say.” Apparently, if enough people respond to the breathy promotional brochurethe prose sounds as if it was cranked out by a bunch of wonks who took too much Ecstasythen and only then will they have the opportunity to become members of “America’s Second Most Exclusive Club.” Until then, the oxymoronically titled magazine’s safaris into the heart of federal Washington will be restricted to brochures: “Capital Style takes you into the lives of Washington’s most interesting inhabitantsthe people who make things happen…locally, nationally, and internationally. How does their political power enhance their ‘celebrity status’? How do they weather personal and professional setbacks? You’ll find out in Capital Style.” Or you could just find a dull pair of knitting needles around the house and push them slowly through your eyes toward the back of your head, and save $16.95.David Carr
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