Cindy McCain Caught 2: Interview with John South, Tarnished National Enquirer Reporter Who Wrote Story

By Ray Stern

The National Enquirer will publish more photographs in its print edition tomorrow to bolster an article accusing Cindy McCain (pictured at left) of having an affair, says the article's writer, John South.

South acknowledges the picture released initially by the Enquirer (below) is too grainy to say with any certainty the woman is McCain. But he says the picture is one of a series, and that at least one other picture in the series reveals her face.

According to South's source, McCain was hanging out with the guy in the picture at the Tempe Music Festival on April 1, 2006.

"She was not wearing makeup, or very little makeup -- definitely dressed down," South says he was told. "When they were making out, it was at the back of the Budweiser VIP beer tent. They apparently didn't know that they could be seen."

But someone with a camera did see them, South says. The above picture was taken without a flash, but the photographer/source strolled up to the romantic couple and took one photo of Cindy using a flash.

"If you compare it, you can see clearly that it's the same woman" from the no-flash make-out photo with her unknown date, South says.

"As you can imagine," South says in his British accent, "We are now going hell for leather to try and identify this guy."

The story came out this week because South says he just recently received a phone call from the source, who also sent the photos. South called New Times earlier this week to see if reporters here had heard anything about Cindy's alleged affair. (As I told him, New Times had heard a rumor to that effect a few months ago. But the source of the rumor had no further details and nothing was ever published).

Of course, the Enquirer has fudged stories in the past in the name of sensationalism and inhabits a level of public trust that's -- maybe -- one step above the defunct Weekly World News. Despite the promise of more pictures, this story must be taken lightly at this point.

And the credentials of South, as a little Internet research shows, leave something to be desired. He has been at the center of at least two high-profile libel lawsuits involving the Enquirer.

South was one of the writers in a precedent-setting libel case that came before the United States Supreme Court in 1984, Calder vs. Jones.

In that case, Shirley Jones -- the mom from the '70s TV show, the Partridge Family -- sued South and the Enquirer for reporting that she had a drinking problem. The Enquirer publishers, based in Florida, didn't think it was right to have to go all the way to California, where Jones lived, just so she could sue them. But the Supreme Court ruled Jones could do just that. Now journalists anywhere can be sued for libel in any state. After the ruling, the Enquirer apologized to Jones, retracted the offensive parts of its article and paid her a large settlement check.

In 1998, South, the Enquirer and the father of murder victim JonBenet Ramsey were sued for writing a story that claimed a Boulder photographer might be named as Ramsey's killer. That case was later dismissed, but the damage to Stephen Miles -- who lived six blocks from the Ramseys and had apparently never met them -- was done.

If he's wrong on the Cindy McCain story, South's defense would probably be simple: It was just a look-alike. Whoops.