I hope that one of my readers can help me do a bit of potentially important research. This investigation could alter the election.
A while back, I published a story about a fatal 1968 car crash
in which a young Mitt Romney, driving a car carrying other Mormon missionaries, smashed headlong into a vehicle driven by a Catholic cleric. Romney claims that the other driver -- a priest named Albert Marie -- was at fault (possibly due to drunkeness) and that the priest died from his injuries.
One of the missionaries in Romney's car, Leola Anderson, also died.
In more recent times, a Daily Kos
researcher (along with a few other bloggers) claimed that Romney was the one at fault, that "Albert Marie" is fictional, and that the man driving the other car was actually Bishop Jean-Félix-Albert-Marie Vilnet, a beloved French cleric who is still alive. (He's now in his 90s.) The allegation is that in 1968, Romney's "protectors" put together a false story -- one designed to avert any potential scandal that might involve the son of George Romney, who was widely considered a likely future Republican presidential nominee. Allegedly, this cover-up necessitated telling a false story to the family of Leola Anderson.
The first version of my post told the "Vilnet" story, as published by Daily Kos and other liberal-ish venues. In an update to that story, I backtracked on my original account -- at least to a certain degree -- because a reader brought to my attention a New York Times investigative piece published in 2008. Here's the relevant section from that piece:
The driver of the car that hit Romney, according to an account in a local newspaper at the time, was a 46-year-old man, Albert Marie, from Sireuil. Marie, according to French Mormons who responded to the accident, was a Catholic priest; in an interview this spring, a priest at the parish in Sireuil confirmed that the church's former pastor, now deceased, was Albert Marie. Many of the Mormons familiar with the accident say they believe that the priest was inebriated at the time of the crash but that assertion could not be confirmed.
The priest was traveling with his mother, Marie-Antoinette Marie, and a 48-year-old woman, Marguerite Longué, neither of whom could be located.
The details are persuasive, and they go a long ways toward verifying Mitt Romney's version of events.
But I remain bothered by the NYT writer's infuriating refusal to cite his sources. It is said that the official police records have disappeared (a claim that has been disputed). The NYT writer, Michael Paulson, derives his information from a 1968 clipping from a French newspaper. Alas, he does not give us a date.
I'm also bothered by the fact that we have a photo of a man who looks exactly like Bishop Vilnet recovering in the hospital from what appear to be serious injuries. The photo seems to have been taken in the 1960s, to judge from the furnishings.
An anonymous informant has written to this blog, stating that all of the relevant photos (of the crashed cars, of Vilnet, and of Mitt Romney in the hospital) were taken by the same French news photographer, named
The church in Sireuil (a very small town) does not have an individual website, so I wrote to the diocese, asking if they could confirm the existence of a priest named Albert Marie who died in 1968. Quite a few days have passed since that inquiry, yet no response has arrived. My French is quite poor, and I may have made a bad impression.
It may be worth noting that Romney has claimed that the accident occurred "on a mountain road." The area is, in fact, quite flat.
As noted above, my original post has inspired an anonymous informant to send in a series of strange, highly detailed comments. Maddeningly, this writer seems to presume that I know more about this case than I actually do.
The most intriguing of his (or her) comments is the following:
Occupy Security set a MMOG crew on this scandal early on. The Salarnier photos of the two cars showed that there had been no highway-speed collision. The radiator of that Mercedes 180 was pushed in about 18 inches, though the flimsy Citroen DS did start start to come apart. Then visual inspection of the crash scene belied the claims of a "mountain road" and failing to pass a truck. (Unnamed and imaginary local witnesses and a bogus Sud Quest story had further misinformed the 2007 press investigations. Big stakes here as selling the 1968 Big Lie was essential to run Romney for president.)
"Sud Quest" is undoubtedly a typo for Sud Ouest, a well-known regional French newspaper which is still in business
. Our Anonymous informant seems positive that journalists covering Romney in the 2007/2008 period (including Michael Paulson) were led astray by a fake Sud Ouest news clip.
Consider the implications. This could be huge.
If we can prove that a bogus news clip exists -- if we can do a side-by-side comparison between a fake clip and the actual newspaper page from 1968 -- well, that's all she wrote
. That would be the end of Romney's quest for the presidency.
I think that the public would forgive Mitt Romney if he were the driver at fault back in 1968. Everyone understands that young drivers make mistakes. I even think the public might forgive a 1968 effort by George Romney loyalists to keep a lid on the story. Conceivably, the cover story was put in place during the period when Mitt was lying in a coma in that hospital. Conceivably, Mitt Romney may sincerely believe
a false story.
But most of the American public would never
forgive the creation and distribution of a fake newsclip in the 2007/2008 period. If Team Romney did indeed mislead journalists -- well, as I said: That's all she wrote
My questions are simple: How to proceed? Does anyone know whether the NYT and the WP were, in fact, shown a bogus news clip attributed to the French newspaper Sud Ouest? Will our Anonymous informant please step forward? Is he the same person who posts as bontemps2012
at Daily Kos? Is he telling us things that he can prove
, or is he telling us what he believes
I would like to ask that informant -- in all humility -- not only to tell us what he knows and how he or she knows it, but also to stop presuming that we are already cognizant of details which have not yet been placed on the record. For example, our informant presumes that we know what he means by the term "MMOG." To be frank, I haven't the vaguest idea as to what an MMOG might be. (I presume that this is not a reference to online gaming.) I don't mean any disrespect, Mr. Anonymous -- but I'm not in your head
, my readers are not in your head, and this story isn't going anywhere unless we have solid citations and a crystal-clear narrative.
Also, I would be grateful if a reader with a firmer grasp of French could help me translate my inquiries.
It's getting interesting! This story from the U.K. Daily Mail
reprints the "Vilnet in the hospital" photo -- clearly attributed to Andre Salarnier. But the man in the photo is identified as Duane Anderson, husband of Leolo. The Daily Mail story derives entirely from a 2007 Boston Globe investigation, no longer on the internet.
Let's compare the hospital photo to pictures of Bishop Vilnet and Duane Anderson:
I think most people would agree that the Vilnet identification is much more convincing. The eyebrows, the hair, the lips and the overall shape of the face are all very, very similar. (The uncropped Anderson photo -- which you can find on the internet -- shows him with his wife, so it was taken before the accident.)
Many readers may not understand that professional newsfolk often do not do the dirty work of digging up information in archives. When a journalist is given a folder filled with newsclips and such, said journalist will usually take the information at face value. In this case, it seems likely that someone at the Boston Globe (and the Daily Mail) printed the Anderson identification without double-checking.
Two major, respected newspapers have printed what clearly looks to be a misidentified photograph. That fact indicates that something very odd is up.
In the comments, a reader directs our attention to this story
in French -- a recent interview with Salarnier, the photographer who befriended Romney. He says that he does not care to discuss the accident because he does not want it to be a factor in the presidential race. Perhaps tellingly, Salarnier gives an account of the accident which omits all mention of the allegation that a French priest was killed; he also does not say which party was at fault.
One would think that he would mention the dead priest.
Again: The key question here is not who was at fault in 1968. The question is: Did Team Romney intentionally mislead reporters in 2007 and 2008?