Poor Tony Ortega. Stuck in a dead-end job as editor of the Broward New Times, a weekly south Florida freebie tabloid with a readership weaned on space alien abduction stories and Elvis sightings, all of them hungry for more lurid exposes and greasier sleaze. How to get away from the mosquitoes and mangrove swamps and into the big time? What do you do when your ambition outstrips your ability?
Ambition is a funny thing. Sometimes people don’t even know they have it until opportunity arises. Maybe that’s what happened to Ortega when a reporter named Kelly Cramer came into his office with a bizarre tale about a billionaire who slept with his own daughter.
Something powerful most have seized control of his mind at that point, and nuked his judgment and reason into quarks. Because he bought it, and decided to run with a story that no editor in his right mind would have entertained publishing for a nanosecond.
“This could be my ticket out of here,” he thought. And, based on the stories of an extortionate ex-wife, a deranged daughter, and a few other pieces of “evidence” so obviously flimsy or clearly fabricated, he accused a wealthy philanthropist of bedding and marrying his own long-lost daughter. It didn’t trouble Ortega at all that the story was clearly a fraud. Because he’s done this before.
In 1992, the New Times L.A., another Village Voice Media ad rag, published a story by one “Antoine Oman,” which reported that two teenage girls who had been kidnapped and raped in the LA region’s Antelope Valley were going to star in a new NBC reality show called “Survive This.” Oman wrote:
“As New Times L.A. explained a few days later, nothing in the Oman tale checked out. The publication claimed to have responded by firing Oman and running a retraction on 22 August 2002 which detailed Oman’s being escorted from the building in disgrace.
“This was supposedly Oman’s first (and last) article for the publication, yet New Times L.A. failed to vet his information prior to loosing it upon the public; as little as a single attempt to verify any of the quotes provided by Oman should have quickly revealed the true nature of the beast. Buzz has it that this article was in fact a hoax-within-a-hoax; that ‘Antoine Oman’ doesn’t exist and was a pseudonym for Tony ['Antoine'] Ortega ['O-man'], the New Times L.A. reporter who penned the “our fault” follow-up article.”
Sound familiar? All the usual earmarks:
- a fabricated story calculated to outrage,
- written at the expense of two innocent victims whose names he now further dragged through the mud to promote himself, and finally,
- a desperate and ill-conceived coverup, even more disingenuous than the original fraud, which at least had elements of truth to it.
Tony Ortega takes two teenagers, already brutally raped by thugs, and editorially sodomizes them by appropriating their identities, putting lies in their mouths, and pimping them as shameless opportunists who would do anything for a buck. Then he writes another fabrication claiming the fictional reporter was fired.
This is some kind of journalism. Believe the New Times L.A. at your peril. Believe Tony Ortega? But maybe that was just youthful enthusiasm and bad judgment. Ortega must have learned his lesson, didn’t he?
According to the Columbia Journalism Review [emphasis ours]:
“Apparently unaware that April Fool’s Day was 13 weeks ago, the Kansas City alternative weekly The Pitch caused an uproar last week with a cover story that described in intimate detail the hitherto secret discovery of the remains of Confederate soldiers at an arena construction site.
The long piece, “Rebel Hell,” featured anonymous government officials and breathless news, with all the veneer of an investigative report:
On April 25, workers digging at the site of the former UMB Bank branch at Grand Avenue and Truman Road discovered human remains and immediately contacted authorities, records obtained by the Pitch show. The unearthing of what turned out to be multiple grave sites has been kept from the public while city, county and state officials wrestle with the implications for the arena project.
The problem? The report was a hoax — but one so well-executed that some readers and even local leaders fell for it. The byline of “Cesar Oman ['O-man' again -- don't ask us where the 'Cesar' came from. Imperial Rome?] ” (actually a pseudonym for managing editor Tony Ortega) was unusual, and many of the ensuing details and quotes were outlandish, but it was billed as a straight news story — coming two days before the actual groundbreaking for the new Sprint Center downtown. “I was completely sucked in,” City Auditor Mark Funkhouser told Kansas City Star. City Manager Wayne Cauthen felt compelled to issue a press release assuring citizens “that there is no truth to this story.”
The Pitch’s readers were similarly impressed. On the Pitch’s website, one comment summarized all the others:
“Tony Ortega has single-handedly ruined the Pitch‘s journalistic integrity with his story “Rebel Hell” (June 23). Why should anyone believe anything else that the Pitch publishes from now on? Very bad move.”
It appears that what gets you fired at any other newspaper gets you promoted in the Village Voice Media chain. But still, a move from a Kansas City weekly to south Florida’s Broward County is more lateral than vertical. Ortega wanted to be a big fish in a bigger pond. When the McMahan story splashed in front of his maw, he snapped at it like a starving tarpon.
This time it was easier. This time Ortega didn’t have to make up the story; it came delivered by Kelly Cramer, who claimed to have gotten it straight from Elena McMahan, Bruce McMahan’s ex-wife. Did she?
Oops! [click to see video]
Elena — under oath in this videotaped deposition — says no. Interesting.
But there was “evidence:”
- Some Xerox copies of emails between Linda and Bruce McMahan,
- a photograph of Bruce McMahan’s hand holding Linda’s hand, wearing matching wedding rings,
- a DNA test conducted on a vibrator proving sexual contact between Bruce and Linda, and
- a Connecticut court case with all the tawdry details.
For a detailed refutation of these shams, please read our earlier story, “Fear and Fraud at the Village Voice” — but briefly:
The so-called emails were copies of altered legitimate emails between Linda McMahan and Bruce McMahan when she was in his employ. No actual evidence of such emails — electronic records of the originals, proof of transmission, etc. — can be provided, because it doesn’t exist. So Ortega looked at a bunch of Xeroxes, and decided they were good enough for him.
The hands photograph was in fact real. Alas, it’s not Linda’s hand in the photo. It’s Elena’s, Bruce’s ex-wife, with both wearing Russian Orthodox wedding rings, as Elena was a “devout” Russian Orthodox. (She so loved her church that she stole $300,000 from it, but that’s another story, also in “Fear and Fraud at the Village Voice.” )
And then there’s the DNA test. Here, borrowing a trick from Ortega, we’ll just quote ourselves:
“Village Voice: Schutt [Linda's husband], suspicious that his wife is fooling around, discovers a sex toy in his wife’s luggage and has it tested for DNA. A ‘laboratory,’ thus far unidentified, confirms the presence of Linda’s DNA, and of Bruce’s. Again the Voice backs this up with proof that cannot be challenged; they display a smeared image of a scrap of paper:
“Cannibal: Where is this ‘test?’ No one, other than Schutt and his wife, seem to have seen it. Did they misplace it? Lose it? Did their dog eat it?
“Schutt’s sang froid is to be admired, however. When he discovers the evidence, does he confront his wife? (“Hey, Linda – what’s this?”) No. He goes to the local DNA lab and has it tested. Sure. More likely he beats the crap out of her, which he did once in California, when the police were summoned to protect her after he assaulted her. (There’s a record of it. She called 911.)”
There never was any DNA test, or any evidence of it. Do you think Ortega didn’t know this?
Finally, in his most recent revisit of this story, “Memo to Bruce McMahan,” Ortega makes reference to an unsealed Connecticut lawsuit, which he claims with admirable bravado “proves” all of these bizarre allegations:
“See, Bruce, when you’re doing this kind of journalism, you do your best to get documentation on things, interview people for their perspective on the facts, and do what you can to draw conclusions on hard data. But when you’re talking about something like incest, things can get dicey. I mean, sure, Linda said under oath many times that you were screwing her, and that you enjoyed dildos and stuff, but how do we really know that you two were doing the nasty?
In this case, Bruce, we know. Oh, boy, do we know.”
He then goes on to cite the Connecticut case: “Kelly Cramer tells me, however, that you were never able to convince the federal judge in Connecticut to seal the case there, and Times reporters can to this day use Pacer to download some of the original documents in all their sexy glory.”
But they can’t. There are no such documents. The Connecticut court case was confined to an action by McMahan to recover a computer from Linda McMahan. No mention of any of your “documents” was ever made. Ortega clearly never even bothered to check.
Now, this computer excites Mr. Ortega — so much that he himself inadvertently provides an admirable refutation of his own allegations:
“Of course you must have known just how much more evidence there was of your years-long, deviant behavior with your daughter sitting in her computer hard drive. You knew you had to get your hands on it.
“So you sued her for possession of her computer, the one you had given her as an employee of one of your firms. (You couldn’t actually say the real reason you wanted your hands on the machine, so you sued her for stealing “trade secrets.” Cute.)”
McMahan sued to obtain this computer not only because it contained proprietary information regarding his hedge fund and his brokerage firm, but because it would show that the so-called emails that Ortega quotes were either altered messages or complete forgeries. Why did Linda want to keep the computer?
Because she knew it would expose her as a liar. And exposed she was, but not by the computer. When her own lawyer, a prominent feminist activist attorney named Gloria Allred, got nervous about the numerous holes and glaring inconsistencies in Linda’s story, Allred had Linda take a lie detector test. She failed. Allred dropped her as a client immediately. Didn’t Ortega know this?
[The Daily Cannibal now adopts the charming, friendly direct person-to-person address approach that Mr. Ortega employs so often and to such good effect. Why not? We're not too old to learn.]
Now, Tony. Come on. Admit it. You knew from the beginning that this whole story was a complete fable, didn’t you? Imagine the gullibility and outright stupidity required to listen to this witches’ brew of lies, manufactured props, third-hand evidence and gutter innuendo, and then to believe even one word of it. Now, you may not be the brightest boy we’ve ever encountered, and as the quotes above amply demonstrate, you can’t write worth a damn, but even you must have known that this fish story was a whopper.
Ask yourself: would any responsible newspaper ever publish anything like this without making some effort to assure itself that it was on solid ground? The fact is, no other reputable publication picked this outhouse slopbucket of a story up — not because they were shy, or the subject matter bothered them — hell, they would have loved to print it. They want readers, too.
But they knew from the outset that it was a sham, and they certainly weren’t going to take your word for it. They know who you are.
But you were jumping out of your jeans to print it. You didn’t care if it were true. You didn’t care what you did to Bruce McMahan, you didn’t care what you did to his children or his grandchildren — whatever it took, you were going to use this to bust out of Broward. You let Kelly Kramer write the original story, and then co-opted it for your own, running it at every excuse.
(Oh, and by the way, what ever happened to her? After all, according to you, it was her initiative thumbing through court records that started all this in the first place. Surely she has risen with you from manatee-spotting obscurity to new prominence?
Alas, no. When last we looked, she was editor of a blog in south Florida called something like “Rides and Tides,” which chiefly publishes local charter boat ads and tide tables. Did you heave her over the side before you set sail for the Voice? Or did she realize what was actually going on here, and, sickened by this scum-surfing horror, sought some sort of cleansing rebirth in the salt water spray?)
So you found your ticket — not to the big time, but at least up from the bush leagues to something more like Triple A . (The Village Voice? Not what it was, is it, Mr. Ortega?) And now, whenever the pressure is on, you return like a dog to its vomit to the only story you’ve got. “We need something juicy this month. Re-run the McMahan story.” That woman up north who slept with her son? Re-run the McMahan story. Did we just get a subpoena? Re-run the McMahan story. And you got away with it for years. Did that make you a tad overconfident? Is that why you reverted to form and just started making things up again?
Soon you will find yourself in a courtroom, and a judge is going to require you to explain all this. This will not go away. You can only dodge so many subpoenas. In L.A. and Kansas City, they already know you’re a fraud. Now everyone will.
What will you do then? Your history of lies won’t help you. Your blog thugs? They won’t help you either. Your bully pulpit at the Village Voice? We know a thing or two about your masters, Mr. Larkin and Mr. Lacey. They’ve fired five editors in short order before you. When the going gets tough — when it’s clear to all that you knowingly and eagerly abetted a fraud, and built your career on lies, do you think they will extend a helping hand? That’s not exactly their style, is it?
I don’t know, Tony. There’s something in the air here deep in the rainforest, and it sounds like this:
“Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops
When the summer shower is through
So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you…”
Hear that, Tony? Your fifteen minutes are up. Three lies and you’re out. Time to go. That heat you feel? That’s not that last fastball –it’s a cookfire. Stewpot’s waiting.