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Feld vs Pottker
June 2, 2013 1:09 PM   Subscribe

On a gloomy Veterans Day in 1998, Janice Pottker answered an unexpected knock on the door of her home in Potomac, Md., a woodsy, upscale suburb of Washington. Standing there was a man she’d never seen before, a private detective who introduced himself as Tim Tieff. He told Pottker, a freelance writer married to a senior government official, that he had a discreet message from Charles F. Smith, a former top executive with Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circuses, Disney Shows on Ice, and other subsidiaries that make it the largest live entertainment company in the world. Smith wanted to see her, he said.

It had to have been startling news for Pottker, who had written a controversial, 11,000-word piece on the circus and its colorful owners, Washington’s Feld family, for a local business magazine in 1990. Her piece had recounted the Feld family’s Horatio Alger-like story, but it had also exposed some unpleasant secrets about the famously tight-lipped Felds — such as a bitter feud that had broken out between the two chief heirs, and the bisexuality of the family’s patriarch, Irvin Feld. The circus had refused to talk to her ever since.
posted by marienbad (15 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't really say I'm all that shocked, but great story. Thanks for posting.
posted by nevercalm at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2013


Your fear of clowns is, it seems, entirely justified.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


And by "clowns" I mean the CIA.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...surveillance reports from Martin and Lewis..."

It runs deeper than we imagined.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some more on the story from the Washington Post in 2005.
posted by killdevil at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2013


Wow. Given that the articles was written a decade ago, I looked up Ken Feld to see what had happened to him. Turns out, he is currently a trustee for Boston University:

http://www.bu.edu/trustees/boardoftrustees/members/

Keep it classy, BU.
posted by Tsuga at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Universities have a long tradition of elevating sketchy plutocrats to their boards. Nothing too surprising about him showing up on BU's board.
posted by killdevil at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Trying to follow all the twists and turns of this cloaks-and-daggers story made my eye twitch. Very interesting read, if disturbing.
posted by quiet earth at 4:23 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interestingly reminiscent of the story of the Rockefellers and Ida Tarbell, one of the first muckraking journalists.
posted by dhartung at 4:25 PM on June 2, 2013


Wait, this article was from 2001. Does anyone have any updates from this decade?
posted by fremen at 4:49 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


After 13 years justice?
posted by humanfont at 5:03 PM on June 2, 2013


Quite honestly, it seems like a more interesting story than the one that Pottker wrote about originally, although it's a bit amusing that Irvin Feld was a literal snake-oil salesman.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:19 PM on June 2, 2013


That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever read, amazing how quiet they kept this.
posted by bongo_x at 7:20 PM on June 2, 2013


That's an amazing story.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:16 AM on June 3, 2013


Confirms every ghastly thing I ever thought about the circus starting at age seven.

And then some:
And that was just the treatment of people. “We had some real problems with the elephants,” Kaplan testified. “I was told [by the circus veterinarian] … that about half of the elephants in each of the shows had tuberculosis and that the tuberculosis was an easily transmitted disease to individuals, to human beings. The circus, the elephants, were transported all throughout Florida, which is illegal to do that in the State of Florida.”

Later, he said, “I was asked by Chuck [Smith], through Kenneth [Feld], to find a physician who would test the people on the circus to see if they had tuberculosis but who would destroy the records and not turn them into the Centers for Disease Control.”
Might be very interesting to look through CDC records and see how many otherwise inexplicable cases of tuberculosis you could now account for by correlating them with the circus coming to town.
posted by jamjam at 11:55 AM on June 3, 2013


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