Sestak and the Reporter Behind the Story

Larry Kane still has game. The veteran journalist who recently celebrated his 45th year in broadcast journalism, the guy who in his early twenties accompanied the Beatles on their first tour of the United States, is the one who first thought to ask Joe Sestak whether the White House offered him a job to get out of the race against U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. Sestak's answer, and his non-answer, are still reverberating three months after Kane asked the question.

For months, Kane had been hearing from sources that the White House had been "dangling" a job in front of Congressman Joe Sestak, so long as he would abandon his bid to unseat Senator Specter. So back in February, when Sestak was a guest on Kane's "Voice of Reason" program on the Comcast Network, he asked, "Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?"

By now everyone knows how Sestak replied: "Yes."

He continued: "Let me just say that, both here in Pennsylvania and down there, I was called quite a few times. And all I said is, look, I felt when a deal was made, that it was hurting the democratic process. I got into this because I think that deal started getting us off the track where the Democratic Party should go. I would never get out for a deal."

Sestak was true to his word, though he continues to duck the issue of what he was offered and by whom -- most recently in a pointed interview with David Gregory last Sunday on Meet the Press.

Kane, a veteran of 21 political conventions, knew he had a story. He's been breaking news since he was the 22-year-old reporter who was the only broadcast journalist to travel to every stop with the Beatles on their first two tours of America.

As soon as the interview ended, he called the White House and played for a press office representative the tape of the interview. He was promised that someone would "get back to you as soon as we can, probably within a couple of hours."

"The phone did not ring from the White House until 6:45 am the following morning, which is about 15 hours later," Kane told me on Wednesday. In that call, a White House spokesperson flat out denied that Sestak had been offered a job. Later that day, according to Kane, the White House issued a second, stronger denial.

For the ensuing month, reporters repeatedly asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about Sestak's assertion. Gibbs had little of substance to say until March 16, when he said offered: "I've talked to several people in the White House. I've talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I'm told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is -- whatever happened is in the past, and he's focused on his primary election." When the issue came up again during a briefing last week, Gibbs repeatedly insisted that he didn't "have anything to add" to his March statement.

Interestingly, the issue never impacted the Senate primary. Just as in the case of Rand Paul's nuanced take on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the controversial comments were out there well in advance of the primary but did not create a stir until after the polls had closed.

In Paul's case, his remarks came during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal's editorial board on April 17. Asked if, in the context of his limited government philosophy, he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act, Paul said he "abhor[s] racism" but expressed skepticism regarding federal laws that restrict discrimination by private entities.

So why didn't the Sestak charge impact the Pennsylvania race?

Kane believes that was because Sestak was perceived as a sure loser until the weeks immediately leading up to Election Day. (A Rasmussen poll conducted on February 8, the week before Kane's interview, found Specter with a 51-36 advantage over Sestak. Another survey conducted later that month by Franklin and Marshal College's polling center, the pollster of record in Pennsylvania, put Specter's lead at seventeen points.)

"Secondly, it's a bigger issue now because there's an election coming up and because there's this partisan divide in Washington," Kane told me. "So some people are suggesting that maybe there's something illegal about this and I'm not going to get into that. I asked a question. The question was answered. The rest is history."

A third reason why Sestak's claim did not become a primary campaign maelstrom was because the Specter campaign was hamstrung in making it a rallying cry. To hammer the issue would be to embarrass the White House, which had made a show of welcoming Specter to the Democratic Party last April and was backing his first foray into a Democratic primary.

Republican Pat Toomey will have no such conflict.