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Local gadfly at center of fake interview maelstrom
By Catherine Edman | Daily Herald Staff

Rob Sherman said Thursday he was surprised when his name was linked as a possible source to a fake interview of Barack Obama published in a French magazine.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/13/2007 6:40 PM | Updated: 9/13/2007 8:00 PM

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It's not like Rob Sherman -- probably the suburbs' best-known atheist -- is adverse to publicity.

But when reporters called demanding to know when he interviewed presidential candidate Barack Obama for a French magazine, he got a tad confused.

Sherman, the Buffalo Grove man famous for filing challenges to remove crosses from municipal logos, the word God from public property and public funding for the Boy Scouts because they exclude atheists, was named as the source of a fabricated interview with Obama.

Reports surfaced this week that a former ABC News consultant, Alexis Debat, hired a suburban Chicago freelance reporter -- named Rob Sherman -- to interview Obama. French magazine Rue 89 claims the interview was made up. Other politicians, including United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then added their names to the chorus alleging Debat faked their interviews, too.

At least one prominent media observer wrote about the scandal, linking to Sherman's Web site while asking is it "this man, perhaps?" A Google search of "Rob Sherman, Chicago" offers up with the same site, perhaps explaining the surfeit of inquiries of Sherman, who also hosts a one-hour radio show each morning on WJJG AM-1530.

"I'm doing everything to say I am the prominent Rob Sherman in Chicago, and I've never been involved with this guy," he said.

ABC News Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross said he's worked with Debat as a consultant for years and was contacted this spring by someone who questioned his Sorbonne degree.

"We demanded his resignation back in June when someone told us he didn't have the Ph.D.," Ross said. "He couldn't prove it."

In the meantime, Debat provided Ross with a letter from "Rob Sherman" explaining their business relationship and providing an address -- 173 E. Taylor, Lombard.

A Daily Herald reporter visited Taylor Road and could find no such address. Local postal officials said addresses on that street stop at 135 and pick up again at 213.

Calls made to the phone number on the letter provided by Debat were not returned.

Debat responded to a Daily Herald inquiry by e mail, and said he met a Rob Sherman in Washington D.C. in 2003, and that he claimed to be a semi-retired free-lance journalist. He also sent a copy of an e mail he said he received from Sherman claiming the Obama interview was conducted June 4 in Galesburg.

However, Obama spoke that morning in Chicago, then flew to Washington, D.C. that afternoon for a 7 p.m. forum, said spokesman Ben LaBolt. Neither a Rob Sherman nor an Alexis Debat have interviewed Obama this year, LaBolt said.

Debat told other media that he got the answers from the alleged Sherman interview in March.

Washington Post Media Critic Howard Kurtz also has been working on stories about Debat's credibility. He said he, too, had not been able to locate the Rob Sherman with whom the French writer supposedly dealt. But he did learn a quite a bit as a result of his own interviews.

"It's not the famous atheist," he said, a fact Debat confirmed.

"Debat told us it was not that Rob Sherman," Kurtz said.

After Sherman wrote an e mail to Debat asking for an explanation, he, too, received as response exonerating him.

Not that it's stopping journalists from placing phone calls to the Buffalo Grove man who rarely shies away from the spotlight. And he answers every call.

"I've got a national reputation to maintain," Sherman said.

So how did a man who until this week was a senior fellow on counterterrorism at Washington think tank the Nixon Center randomly come up with the name Rob Sherman from suburban Chicago?

"It does seem like an amazing coincidence," Kurtz said. "Until I find out if there was another Rob Sherman, I can't answer that."

Staff Writer Michael Wamble contributed to this report.