Given the go-ahead last April to dig deeper into the story, Podesta enlisted the help of free-lance writer Linda Kramer, also 39. The two spent six exhausting weeks interviewing dozens of people connected with the case and reading about 400 pounds of court records and medical evidence. "We both love doing long, investigative work," Podesta says. "Little did we know we were entering a bottomless swamp."
Adds assistant managing editor John Saar, who encouraged the project from the start: "They knew it would be a difficult, maybe impossible assignment. The story's a real-life Rashomon that has left a legion of lawyers and journalists uncertain which of the two principals is telling the truth. Yet Podesta and Kramer, with patience and persistence, dug out new facts that raise deeply troubling questions about Elizabeth Morgan's incarceration." The resulting story—written by senior writer Paula Chin just before she left to cover the turmoil in China (this issue's lead story)—appears on page 113.
Podesta and her husband, Don, a Washington Post editor, have three children: Laura, 12, Brian, 10, and P.J., 3. Kramer and her husband, Steve Jenning, an aide to Oregon Congressman Ron Wyden, have two: David, 9, and Sam, 5. So they feel a special sorrow for the child in this dispute. "She'll never have a normal life. She has been failed because no one has been able to determine absolutely what happened," says Kramer. "It's sad, but it's an issue I'm glad we had a chance to report in some depth."
Some stories just won't go away. It was nearly three years ago that PEOPLE first considered running an article about Elizabeth Morgan, the Yale-educated surgeon who was sitting in a Washington, D.C., jail because she refused to reveal the whereabouts of her then 4-year-old daughter, Hilary. Morgan claimed that her ex-husband, oral surgeon Eric Foretich, had sexually abused the child and would again if Morgan complied with the unsupervised parental visits ordered by the court. So she hid the child and went to jail for contempt. Last fall her story was investigated by D.C. correspondent Jane Sims Podesta while she was reporting on parents who defy the law to save their children from alleged sexual horrors (PEOPLE, Jan. 23). "But the Morgan story didn't end there," says Podesta, 39. "There were too many unanswered questions, and Morgan was still in jail. It haunted me."