A Las Vegas man claims he started a false rumor that the injuries suffered by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid several months ago were the result of an attack by Reid’s brother, not an exercise accident.
Larry Pfeifer, a 50-year-old former consultant in the nightclub and entertainment industry, said he fabricated the story after becoming appalled that right-wing political blogger John Hinderaker published a rumor that Reid’s injuries stemmed from an assault by a Mafia enforcer. Pfeifer said he pitched his fake story about the Reid brothers’ supposed fight to Hinderaker, author of the Power Line blog, to test whether the blogger would publish it, as well. When Hinderaker reported it and the rumor was subsequently spread by others in conservative media, Pfeifer says he began plotting to self-report it as a lie to show the lack of credibility and journalistic standards among partisan media figures.
“It was just so outrageous,” he said. “The fact that someone can say something completely false that can destroy somebody’s life, it’s just wrong. Where’s the moral compass?”
Pfeifer, who describes himself as a motivational speaker who is involved in addiction counseling, said he completely concocted the story that Reid’s brother, Larry, showed up intoxicated at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on New Year’s Eve in Henderson and claimed to have beaten up a relative.
Pfeifer said the media figures who published and broadcast the rumor did so without corroboration and without knowing his true identity. He revealed to them that he was using a pseudonym, he said, yet none demanded proof of his true identity.
The rumor spread quickly after Hinderaker published it April 3, landing Pfeifer on conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham’s radio program six days later when Hinderaker was a guest host, and leading to a conversation between Pfeifer and Rush Limbaugh. Pfeifer said he tried to get on Limbaugh’s show, where he planned to admit he’d made up the story.
“I thought the whole thing would be over in a day and a half,” he said. “I wasn’t after 15 minutes of fame. I wanted a platform where I could present this as what it was and 2 million people would pick up on it.”
He said he decided to present the truth after Limbaugh rejected him as a guest but repeated the rumor April 15 on his talk-radio show.
Neither Limbaugh nor Hinderaker presented the story as fact, and both told their audience to take it for what it was worth.
“Is Easton Elliott telling the truth? I have absolutely no idea,” Hinderaker said on Ingraham’s show. (Easton Elliott was the pseudonym Pfeifer adopted.) “He called me and told me this story. He’s related it consistently. Whether he’s right or not, I don’t know.”
But Pfeifer said it was still unconscionable for them to spread it, and now he’s looking to get as much exposure as possible.
“Can I set off a domino effect where people say, ‘We’re sick of this,’ and start turning away from this kind of media or maybe boycott their sponsors?” he said.
Pfeifer said he made up the rumor virtually on the fly, patching it together with bits of information he’d gleaned from going to AA meetings and reading a recent news story about Larry Reid being arrested for drunken driving and allegedly punching a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper. Pfeifer said he peppered it with false information that should have been seen as red flags, including that AA allows intoxicated individuals to attend meetings on New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve.
He said he also made up details designed to create credence to his story, including that there was a potluck dinner at the AA meeting and that Larry Reid’s left hand was injured — a juicy tidbit considering that Harry Reid’s facial injuries were on the right side of his head and thus could have been inflicted by blows from a left hand in a face-to-face fight.
Pfeifer said he was appalled at how little vetting was done on him and his story.
“They had no problem using a story that had nothing but some guy’s word,” Pfeifer said. “Not one of them knew my real name. I didn’t even give them my phone number.”
Harry Reid said his injuries occurred when an elastic resistance band snapped as he was exercising, causing him to fall into a cabinet. Reid, who may suffer permanent vision loss in his right eye because of the accident, has scoffed at speculation that he made up the story.
“It shows the credibility of Rush Limbaugh; he’s the guy that got all this started,” Reid said during a recent interview on CNBC. “Why in the world would I come up with a story that I got hurt in my own bathroom with my wife standing there? And I think a lot of people, as I read, they kind of don’t like me as a person and I think that’s unfortunate.”
In coming forward, Pfeifer said he expected to encounter skepticism about whether he truly was the source of the rumor and whether he made up the story. A convicted felon who was sentenced to prison for financial crimes in the early 1990s, he offered dozens of emails and recordings as verification of his claim. He said he was not pressured to debunk the rumor and had never met Harry Reid or anyone in his family.
Pfeifer said he felt guilty for bringing unwanted attention to Larry Reid and for any harm he might have caused to the Reid family.
“I would really like to apologize to Harry Reid and his brother. What I did was (expletive) up,” Pfeifer said.
Pfeifer said he encountered several reporters who acted responsibly, both while he was spreading the rumor and after he decided to blow the whistle on himself. The Sun demanded that Pfeifer reveal his legal name and show his driver’s license, then ran a public records check on him to verify his identity.
Now, Pfeifer is hoping his story goes viral and leads to appearances in national media to speak out about irresponsible partisan media.
“Why are people so bloodthirsty?” Pfeifer said. “We’re all supposed to be good neighbors. Harry Reid’s a human being. If a complete stranger we knew was injured, wouldn’t we be concerned?
“Besides that, even if Harry Reid concocted a story to protect his brother, why does that matter? I understand (the public's perception) that if somebody could lie about something like this, they could lie about anything. But it’s not like Harry Reid was driving drunk and killed somebody. He was the one who was injured.”
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to clarify information about Pfeifer’s former role in the nightclub and entertainment industry.