Espionage, sex, malaria, torture, slander and corruption. Former congressman Mel Reynolds covered them all during a session with reporters Wednesday morning in a downtown Chicago hotel.
And those were just the first five minutes.
During a rambling discourse marking his first comment since returning from a controversial trip to Africa, Reynolds insisted he had been set up by Zimbabwean officials, who he said trumped up false pornography charges to keep him from returning home and blowing the whistle on rampant corruption. And he vowed lawsuits against unspecified Chicago media outlets and reporters, who he said had not done due diligence in their reporting of the entire episode.
“Not one news agency in America verified the story,” he said. “Not one! It was a total reckless disregard for the truth.”
Noting that the pornography charges were dropped after just two days, he asked why there was no investigation of why he had been detained by the Zimbabwean government.
“Why is there a double standard when it comes to Mel Reynolds?” the former congressman asked. “They were going to charge me with espionage, which is a life sentence!”
Reynolds says he was eventually spirited out of the Zimbabwe by the country’s political opposition, but not before he contracted malaria, injured his foot and was kept incommunicado in a Zimbabwean hospital.
“I was in a room with no running toilet, no running water for five days,” he said. “I saw young men being beaten with hoses.”
Worst of all, he insists, it was during his hospital stay that he learned his son had been shot on the street in Boston. And he angrily asked why that incident received no media coverage in his hometown.
“Not one newspaper organization anywhere in the world covered the story,” he said. “If my son would have been arrested for bank robbery, or for a sex crime, or would have been arrested for having crack cocaine in his trunk, would the press have missed that?”
Citing privacy policies Wednesday, Boston Police refused to either confirm or deny an incident involving Reynolds' 20-year-old son, which was not publicized when Reynolds said it happened in January. The elder Reynolds said he found it odd that no Chicago media had discovered the incident on their own.
“I was 9,000 miles away and they did crazy stories on me,” he said. “He was a lot closer than 9,000 miles!”
Reynolds was a rising star in the Democratic Party when he was elected to congress in 1992. But he became embroiled in a sex scandal with a young campaign volunteer and was forced to resign in 1995, after he was convicted and ordered to serve a five-year sentence. He faced separate charges for campaign fraud.
Today, the former congressman said his history didn’t obviate the media’s responsibility to tell his story accurately.
“For 20 years I did my very best to repair my reputation,” he said. “Just because a person does not have a perfect background, does not give the news media the right to write anything.”