By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Harold Doley Jr., David Brand, Yuri Tadesse, and Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, all top associates of Al Sharpton, participated in a news barrage against Jesse Jackson in early 2001 that elevated Sharpton to a new national status. With the illegitimate-baby story spawning an array of other, mostly financial scandals, Sharpton, The New York Times Magazine reported, "offered himself up as Jackson's first defender" while "sources close to him were disparaging Jackson."
The prime instigator was Doley, a black Republican millionaire who supported Sharpton financially, giving to the National Action Network and even subsidizing the family while Sharpton served out his 90-day jail term that spring. The first black with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and a linchpin in Jackson's creation of the Wall Street Project, Doley told the Voice: "I said to Sharpton, 'I'm going to bring Jesse down and make you the man.' Al said, 'I'm ready.' " Doley said he talked with then New York Post columnist Rod Dreher, while Brand, a businessman with direct ties to Sharpton for more than a decade, "interfaced with the masthead at the Post." Doley and Brand acknowledge that they and Sharpton knew about the baby months before the story broke in The National Enquirer in mid January; Doley says the Post was on it early but let the Enquirer break it.
Dreher, one of whose early stories on Jackson's alleged shakedown of Wall Street and other firms was based on blind quotes from Doley that reappeared in an on-the-record story months later, asked the Voice: "Why are they outing themselves now? I always thought Sharpton was using Doley to funnel stuff to me that Sharpton couldn't say directly. He even said he'd talked to the Rev. I figured it was all approved by Sharpton." He said Post editorial-page editor Bob McManus urged him "to talk to Brand" and that he did "several times," with Brand also invoking his Sharpton ties. Dreher wrote 20 articles pounding Jackson, including the revelation that Rainbow/Push put out a press release in 1999 announcing Karin Stanford's maternity leave and naming another man as the child's father.
Lou Colasuonno, whose public relations firm represented Jackson during this crisis, said the baby question was first raised at a Hamptons fundraiser by a Post reporter, who grilled Jackson. The Post, he said, "had been working the story and was trying to break it."
Jesse," says Colasuonno, "was always convinced that Reverend Al was behind the campaign. He said it again and again." Colasuonno was with Jackson the first time he and Sharpton were together after the baby story broke and he could feel Jackson's anger. "They were kind of the best of enemies," he recalls.
Tadesse, an Ethiopian who was Jackson's body man for years, accompanying him everywhere, became extremely close to Doley and Sharpton, and was suspected by Jackson and the child's mother, Stanford, who ran Rainbow/Push's Washington office, as a prime source. Tadesse, who knew the baby scene so well he drove Stanford to doctor appointments, has long insisted that he never talked to the press. But he certainly was talking to Doley. When Jackson fired Tadesse before the stories broke, Tadesse solidified his relationship with Sharpton. Dedrick Muhammed, who was Sharpton's body man, says Sharpton and Tadesse met several times in D.C., and that Tadesse was seeking "a consultant deal with Sharpton." He appears to have gotten a consulting jobassociated with Sharpton's trip to Israelthat year, though it likely remains unpaid.
Walker, the then pastor of Canaan Baptist and one of the city's most prominent black ministers, was also chairman of NAN and a daily adviser to Sharpton. Within days of the baby story, he agreed to allow Jackson to appear at his church for what he saw as a penance service and Jackson saw as a support service. Walker wasn't there and insisted that Sharpton preside. When Jackson arrived and saw Doleywho he knew was an enemyat the door, he asked a Sharpton aide to get Doley to leave. Instead, Kathy Sharpton, who is a trustee of the church, brought Doley up to the front row and had him sit beside her and Sharpton's daughters. Walker wound up incensed over the celebratory nature of the service and wrote a private letter lambasting Jackson and even mildly criticizing his protégé Sharpton for allowing what he regarded as a charade. Months later, the letter was leaked to Peter Noel, a Voice writer at the time, who was closely tied to Sharpton. Sources say Sharpton made sure Noel got it, and the story had national reverberations, hitting the cable networks.
Sharpton wound up gloating to The Nation that he "got that impulse out my system"a reference to Jackson's affair"when I was on the road with James Brown all those years," noting that he was happily married. He made that comment in April 2001, right in the middle of his apparent marital contest of wills with Marjorie Harris.