In late August, the Forward’s Eve Kessler published what was to become a blockbuster story, raising the issue of Virginia Senator George Allen’s Jewish heritage. Since then the Virginia Senate race has become the chattering class’ favorite topic — yet it seems no one has gone back to look at how she got the scoop. Kessler recently left the Forward after more than nine years, to become the associate op-ed editor at the New York Post. She continues to be a contributing editor at the Forward.
Paul McLeary: Since your piece last month in the Forward exposed Senator Allen’s Jewish heritage, the story has blown up into a minor national obsession. How did you initially come to the story?
Eve Kessler: A tip … I actually learned about it probably more than a year ago, so I knew about it and had done this research long before the “macaca” episode.
PM: Allen has long been on a short list for running for president on a Republican ticket, so the tip probably came about because his name had been out there?
EK: Right. I covered the 2004 campaign for the Forward, and I wrote extensively about the Jewish background of some candidates, so this was something that grew out of that.
PM: So you sat on this story for some time after you first learned about it. Were you waiting until Allen became more prominent on the national political stage?
EK: Yes. It was the kind of thing, “When was it going to become relevant?”
PM: After you got the tip, how long did it take for you to do the research and put the piece together?
EK: I worked on it intermittently over a number of months as I reported other stories, so it’s hard for me to say how long it took, but I consulted genealogists in America and in France.
PM: Once you had his mother’s maiden name, was the research much easier?
EK: The thing about it is that there are clues all over his sister’s book, and it was just a matter of checking things out and, you know, it’s standard reporting.
PM: That book has become a focal point of a few different pieces, including the New Republic article about Allen’s obsession with Southern iconography.
EK: Well, it’s tremendously revealing, even in more ways than she knows. As I said, it’s full of information about her mom that, when you read this book, you see that her mom is a Jewish woman.
PM: Was there any sort of pushback to your piece, either from his campaign or from other people?
EK: No, as far as I understand it, he read the piece with interest, or so he said in his statement. I tried to contact them, but they didn’t respond.
PM: What’s your take on Allen’s reaction so far?
EK: It’s kind of been all over the map. They seem to have changed their story three times, so I’m not sure if from their standpoint whether the candidate’s reaction has served them too well.
PM: So, even given the book and your research, did you feel any reservations about publishing the piece?
EK: Obviously, without any confirmation from [the Allen campaign], and I tried to reach Jennifer Allen, too — but I was very confident about the story, because his mother’s family was a prominent and wealthy family. People in France knew who her father was and that he was part of this family. The chances of her father being married to a Christian woman were like zero, so that’s it.