We used to joke that the religion beat is sometimes known as the sex beat because of all the peccadilloes and crimes that some religious personalities find themselves in.
But yesterday’s story by Reuters about the theft of some boudoir photos supposedly commissioned by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. raises that designation to a new level.
Personally, I will never understand anyone who allows sexually intimate photos of any kind to be taken of them — in this case, apparently photos of a husband and/or wife. These things have ways of getting into the hands of people who don’t wish you well. Ask Jeff Bezos to explain this to you if you don’t already know.
I should add that Falwell has denied the Reuters report in an interview with Fox News commentator Todd Starnes. But why didn’t he tell Reuters the same thing?
Read on for my nominee of Weird Religion Story of the Week.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.
Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” photographs — the sort that would typically be kept “between husband and wife,” Cohen said in the taped conversation.
According to a source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the person who possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells’ behalf.
Other parts of this taped conversation made the news a week ago (see above video). Why it took this long for reporters to pick up on the Falwell connection puzzles me. The mind goes in odd places trying to imagine just what is in these photos, if this story is true.
Here’s some other questions journalists might want to ask, in addition to valid questions about Jerry Jr. and a Trump lawyer: Who leaked the photos and/or stole them? Is blackmail still a crime? Is there any possibility that some kind of crime has been committed, a crime in which the Falwell family has been wronged?
The Falwells enlisted Cohen’s help in 2015, according to the source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the year Trump announced his presidential candidacy. At the time, Cohen was Trump’s confidant and personal lawyer, and he worked for the Trump Organization.
The Falwells wanted to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen told Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he said, without going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”
What was it? The mind reels at the thought.
Could Jerry Falwell, in his innermost thoughts, be more like former Mars Hill Church (Seattle) pastor Mark Driscoll (who was pretty edgy on the sex thing) than we thought?
Cohen would later prove successful in another matter involving Falwell, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Cohen helped persuade Falwell to issue his endorsement of Trump’s presidential candidacy at a critical moment, they said: just before the Iowa caucuses. Falwell subsequently barnstormed with Trump and vouched for the candidate’s Christian virtues…
Cohen’s connection to the Falwells sheds light on the formidable alliance between Trump and a man who, through his university, is one of the most influential evangelical figures in America. Falwell’s backing helped galvanize evangelicals and persuaded many Christians concerned about Trump’s past behavior to embrace him as a repentant sinner.
In case you haven’t connected the dots by now, Reuters does it for you.
During the campaign, Cohen worked closely with Liberty University to help promote Trump’s candidacy. It was around that time that Cohen heard from the Falwells about the photographs, said the source familiar with Cohen’s thinking.
The Falwells told Cohen that someone had obtained photographs that were embarrassing to them, and was demanding money, the source said. Reuters was unable to determine who made the demand. The source said Cohen flew to Florida and soon met with an attorney for the person with the photographs. Cohen spoke with the attorney, telling the lawyer that his client was committing a crime, and that law enforcement authorities would be called if the demands didn’t stop, the source said.
Must say that Cohen is a fighter. Definitely the guy you want on your team when the blackmail requests start rolling in.
The Reuters story was just getting picked up by other media on Wednesday evening. This humor site provides some needed backstory to the Cohen-Falwell relationship and, although it’s quite opinionated, the below two paragraphs are comical.
That these photos of Falwell exist at all is ironclad proof that we live in hell.
Falwell, whose father was a well-known conservative evangelical psycho, is the president of the hyper-Christian Liberty University. Leaked nudes wouldn’t exactly be a good look for him.
No kidding. Also, these quotes by Cohen were part of an (what he thought was) off-the-record conversation with someone who was secretly tape recording him.
In this mishmash of religion, politics and porn, one lesson comes to mind: The stranger a story sounds, the higher to odds that it might be true — especially in this age of digital media and blind-carbon-copy “forward” buttons on email programs.
By late Tuesday, the Washington Post had issued its own story on the matter, written by political reporter Felicia Sonmez and ex-GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. We learn that the incriminating material was possibly off Falwell’s phone. Again, shades of Jeff Bezos.
The Post provides the actual recording of Cohen spilling the beans. Be sure to listen to it.
“They’re photos between husband and wife, the whole bit,” Cohen says. After describing how the blackmailer was persuaded to destroy the photos, he adds, “I felt terrible, you know, for Becki.”
Becki is Falwell’s wife. He doesn’t say he feels terrible for Jerry Jr.
Figure it out, folks, and let us know your thoughts. And any way you slice this, Falwell is not going to come out well.
FIRST IMAGE: The famous photo of the Falwells with Trump, with guest appearance by Playboy cover featuring The Donald.