Issa told me that he did not set the fire at the Quantum factory in 1982, and he is furious that the story has dogged him. He lashed out at Eric Lichtblau, the New York Times reporter who, in 1998, while working for the Los Angeles Times, first aired allegations from Issa’s former business partner Joey Adkins. Lichtblau, Issa charged, “is a notorious hatchet man.” (“Everything in that story was accurate,” Lichtblau told me in response. “The picture that emerged of his early start in Cleveland was very different from the Horatio Alger story he had adopted.”)
Adkins, both Issa brothers said, is not credible. William told me that Adkins was “a lowlife.” The morning after the fire, Darrell said, Adkins took most of the Steal Stopper merchandise that wasn’t damaged, hauled it away, and set up a rival business across town. (Adkins told me it was his understanding that the inventory would be scrapped, so he took it.)
Issa seemed unfamiliar with the insurance company’s fire-analysis report concluding that the fire was arson, and said that, as far as he knew, it was officially declared accidental. He blamed the local fire department for letting the fire get out of hand. “If the fire department had done a competent job and turned off the natural-gas line, there would’ve been de-minimis damage,” he said. “They fought the fire for a couple of hours before they realized that the fire is being fed by a gas line from an overhead heater that had ruptured early on in the fire. And if there’s a story, the story is ‘Fire department screws up, small fire becomes devastating fire.’ ” If Issa is right, the natural gas could explain the blue flames that insurance investigators cited as evidence of arson, although it wouldn’t explain the suspected presence of an accelerant.
Overall, the piece is a fascinating read and a must-see primer on Issa as he looks to define himself in his new role. Though much of Lizza’s reporting isn’t necessarily new—part of the reason Issa faces the music and deals with the accusations so directly is that he’s been doing so for years—but it is comprehensively researched and cogently put together. And ultimately, it’s pretty damning whether you believe Issa’s accusers or his most oft-used response: it was my brother.
As mentioned, though, the most interesting element of this profile might be the controversy it stirred over at The Daily Beast. First, the almost otherworldliness of Kurtz’s mistake, then the near-two months it took to correct it, followed by the speculation as to why it had taken so long. Finally, last week, there was the relentless Twitter campaign by The Daily’s Hunter Walker to get Kurtz to Tweet a correction. Walker hounded @HowardKurtz for a Twitter correction with over 150 messages. (Disclosure: Walker is a former classmate and a friend and thus any suggestion that Walker was riding Kurtz for a bit of attention will be implied and not stated). Walker’s logic: it would not have been hard to Tweet a correction before it slipped your mind, and in an age of personalized Twitter streams and Facebook pages, you are obliged to—especially if your story was promoted through both media.