Although you may not have felt it, there was a near-seismic disturbance in the Virginia governor’s contest last week. It was the sort of bombshell that can turn a race upside down, and it was delivered by one of the most ubiquitous names in printed news: The Associated Press.
The headline could not have been worse: “Documents: Va. gov. candidate misled investigators.” And the accompanying blurb was even more watered down, stating that “Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to a federal official investigating a Rhode Island estate planner now imprisoned for receiving death benefits on annuities secured on terminally ill people without their knowledge.”
The only problem? None of it was true. As it turned out, the AP journalist, Bob Lewis, had confused McAuliffe with an unrelated “T.M.” listed in the case’s court documents. This other T.M. had apparently helped Joseph Caramadre (the rogue “estate planner”) find terminally ill individuals to insure.
Now, it is irrefutably true that McAuliffe had money invested in the variable annuities offered by Caramadre which (also irrefutably) ultimately profited off the deaths of fellow human beings. But once you wandered away from the headlines, things became far more complex and interesting.
As it turned out, Caramadre’s entire scheme (which involved taking out life insurance annuities on terminal “annuitants” to benefit a third-party investor) was completely legal at the time, and attracted scores of investors. Caramadre was ultimately convicted not of insurance fraud, but of stealing the identities of dying patients. The fact that McAuliffe ended up sinking his money into a character like Caramadre (whose story was hilariously recounted in an episode of Public Radio International’s “This American Life” entitled “Loopholes”) is actually sort of perfect.
In fact, in the hour and 38 minutes that it took the AP to retract the story, we couldn’t help but fantasize that it was true: Perhaps McAuliffe had been palling around with Caramadre, helping him work out the intricacies of his complex insurance scheme, using his irresistible salesman’s charm to convince ailing individuals to take a small payout in return for signing a few documents.
But alas, it was not true. As much as the floundering campaign of GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli wanted to believe it, it was all a lie. Which is why, we imagine, the subject went completely unmentioned at the gubernatorial candidate’s recent University of Richmond forum.
Which saddens us, to be honest. For we were more than ready to go to bat for Mr. Caramadre, who seems to be everything that Republicans profess to love: an eagle-eyed go-getter who spots mistakes in arcane legal language and exploits them to his best advantage. An opportunistic capitalist who (mostly) plays by the rules, even when the rules are obviously written to mean something else entirely.
So will there be any other fallout from this crazy episode? For the AP, definitely — this is the sort of journalistic black eye that takes a good long while to heal. But for the Macker, it looks like the entire incident will barely be remembered come election day. And for the Cooch? Well, any time he’s feeling down, he can always look back and remember that joyous 98 minutes when he was almost certain to become Virginia’s next governor.