Thursday, May 3, 2007

DC Madam, Yes!

I've been following the D.C. Madam story with something approaching outright joy, seeing as how it's the perfect nexus of sex, hypocrisy, power, schadenfreude, and suspense. So far it has claimed Randall Tobias, (former) Deputy Department of State, in charge of US Foreign Assistance. The hypocrisy of someone specifically criticized for promoting abstinence and monogamy over condom use in the developing world is, of course, fantastic. However, I'd like to consider the personal side of this story for a minute.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey has been operating an escort service in D.C. for years, sending high-priced call-girls out to people's apartments, hotels, and offices for "erotic fantasy services" (she claims of course, no sex was ever involved). Now, she's been running this operation from a cell phone. I assume the number was posted somewhere, maybe in the classified section of the local weekly, on the Internet, maybe even in the yellow pages. So someone calls up from their personal cell phone, anonymously, to this number, requests a girl at such and such a time to such and such an address. As a client, they never give their real names or other identification, and they assume that all of this is lost in the haze of anonymity and plausible deniability. They assume that they will not get embarrassing callbacks on their cell phones, no follow-ups, no ties, nothing to link them to their philandering habits.

Fast forward 10 years later, she is indicted for operating a service pretty much everyone in Washington uses. Think about it - her client list contains an enormous number (I think it's safe to assume) of the very policy makers who determine that what she's doing is (allegedly) illegal. And so she's pissed - she provided a service for everyone's enjoyment, and at the moment when her chips are down, no one will own up to supporting her. Fair enough, you think, that's the way politics goes.

But wait! But here's where it gets good. The cell phone company is quietly recording all incoming phone numbers, and, every month, sends Palfrey a statement.
So now she has hard evidence of every one of those sons of bitches who she served over the years. And she's got nothing to lose. Of course, all she has are phone numbers, no names, but an enterprising reporter or investigator could probably put names to most of those private cell phone numbers. So she first tries to auction off the list, is thwarted, and then in an act straight out of a Christopher Buckley novel, just gives to list away to ABC news. And ABC news is promising a tell-all episode of 20/20 during sweeps, where they will name "a Bush administration economist, the head of a conservative think tank, a prominent CEO, several lobbyists and a handful of military officials."

So put yourself in the position of one of these people. Over the years, you've from time-to-time enjoyed the pleasure of such a woman, unbeknownst to your wife and kids. And you've called a few different services, always discreet, always anonymous. And now there's this cloud hanging over your head. And here's the best part: You have no idea if your name is on the list or not! Because it's been so long and you've used so many different call girl services, you can't remember if you've ever used hers. Hell, you might not even have known the name of half the services you've used, you just called a number you found in a classified ad. And you wake up every morning next to the wife you've been cheating on, not knowing whether you're name will show up on TV or not.

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