He said vs. he said in Colorado Springs

ted haggardThe pre-election story of the day, of course, is about the stunning allegations by a former gay male escort against the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Haggard has stepped down from both posts, pending investigations. The Colorado media are all over this story now, which broke in classic he said-he said fashion in high-profile settings in local radio and television. This is, however, a national story. After all, not that long ago Time chose Haggard as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals (and Catholics who "vote" like evangelicals, whatever that means).

The next stage? Accuser Mike Jones -- a weightlifter, trainer and massage pro -- has offered to take a lie-detector test on live radio. He also says he has some evidence in the form of voicemail messages and envelopes from "Art," the man he realized was Haggard when he saw him interviewed on the History Channel.

Jones said he timed his bombshell to hit Haggard and religious conservatives before Colorado votes on two pivotal measures linked to homosexuality. In a talk-show setting, Jones was allowed to say pretty much whatever he wanted to say. Here is a sample from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

On Peter Boyles' show Thursday, Boyles announced Jones would take a polygraph test Friday morning. Jones told Boyles his evidence consisted of "various voicemails that he has left me. Even if the voicemails didn't even mention sex, let's just say that, why would he be contacting me period?"

Jones said Haggard's fantasy was for Jones to arrange for a group of "young college guys ... around 18-22. He would love to have an orgy," he said.

Jones said the two got together at least once a month. At first, he said, Haggard claimed he was from Kansas City. "As time went on, the calls started coming from Colorado Springs," he said.

An early story in The Denver Post by Eric Gorski, Felisa Cardona and Manny Gonzales includes this interesting passage. Note the reference to Jones playing the voicemail recording, but refusing to reveal "the topic" of the recording.

So the Post people heard a recording, but the words on the tape were so vague that they could not determine what "Art" was saying? Here's that part of the story:

Today, Jones showed the Denver Post an envelope addressed to him from "Art," a name Jones says Haggard used -- sent from an address in Colorado Springs. Jones said the envelope came to him with two $100 bills inside. Jones also played a recording of a voicemail left for Jones from "Art." Jones refused to reveal what the topic of the voicemail was about because there could be legal problems and he wants to consult with an attorney.

"They want to protect the sanctity of marriage and I am trying to figure out what that means because they are not doing a good job," Jones said of anti-gay marriage proponents. "To have someone in such a high profile position preaching against them and doing opposite behind other people's backs is hypocritical."

It would seem that Jones is going to need evidence of some kind to make his charges stick. But does that matter a few days before an election?

There will be a tsunami of coverage tomorrow. Please help us find the reports that focus on the evidence, rather than mere words of the accuser.

Meanwhile, here is a statement (PDF) from New Life Church. And here is a link to the KUSA-TV interview with Haggard.

Stay tuned.

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