Sen. Orrin Hatch and his top campaign aide, who both have had numerous contacts with ex-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, question a national news story hinting that someone is impersonating Ali.
National wire services carried a story by Atlanta Constitution reporter Dave Kindred that said someone, perhaps Ali's personal attorney Richie Hirschfield, has been making telephone calls imitating Ali's distinctive voice. The calls were made to several U.S. senators, including Hatch, journalists and others concerning politics and political appointments.But Hatch and Bud Scruggs, who was Hatch's campaign manager and is now Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff, discount the news report.
"It makes no sense to impersonate him (Ali)," said Scruggs, whose campaign office arranged several appearances with Ali during Hatch's recent victorious campaign. (Hatch and Ali became friends last year when Ali asked that Hatch help get an acquaintance appointed to a Justice Department post).
The impersonator "would be taking such great risks for so little gain," Scruggs said, who believes that all calls he received were indeed from Ali, not an impostor. Scruggs suggests two reasons for the stories about Ali.
"One, Kindred was terribly treated by Ali and Hirschfield. I saw that personally when Kindred came to Salt Lake City in an attempt to interview Ali and Hirschfield on this and other stories. I've never seen a member of the press treated like that. There's bad blood among them.
"Second, most people don't understand Parkinson's Syndrome (the medical problem from which Ali suffers). Ali could be animated, glib and articulate one minute and completely out of it the next minute. I saw that myself. It doesn't surprise me that he could talk intelligently on the phone and a minute later not be able to answer questions posed by those around him," Scruggs said.
Jeanne Lopatto, assistant press secretary to Hatch, said the senator doesn't believe Kindred's story. "Orrin feels he's been dealing with Ali" whe whole time, she said.
Hatch and Ali held a reception during the Republican National Convention, attended by Deseret News reporters Bob Bernick Jr. and Lee Davidson. At that reception, Ali had difficulty talking with those meeting him and refused to be interviewed. However, Hirschfield, also there, told Bernick and Davidson that if they left a telephone number, Ali would call them later.
Someone claiming to be Ali and with Ali's voice did call. Bernick and Davidson interviewed him on the phone and believed it was Ali. The telephone voice was more articulate than Ali had been at the reception, although the reporters did have to repeat some questions in the telephone interview. A story quoting the Ali of the telephone interview was published in the Deseret News.