Roger Sollenberger got his first scoop about Herschel Walker by accident. “Just googling, really,” the Daily Beast reporter told me. It was June and he was searching for his next story. “I didn’t know that I was looking for a kid. I was just following some other track,” he said, when he stumbled upon some “dusty old sites” that would lead him to his sources (and eventually, the discovery of a son Walker hadn’t publicly acknowledged). “I don’t know exactly if you could reverse engineer that,” said Sollenberger. “It’s just curiosity.” And Walker, in Sollenberger’s opinion, “is one of the most fascinating figures in American public life in the 40 years that I’ve been alive.”
I caught Sollenberger on Thursday morning just after he wrapped up an MSNBC hit. It’s been “a pretty crazy week,” acknowledged the Austin-based investigative reporter, a relative newcomer to journalism who has broken several Walker stories in the past few months—none bigger than Monday’s bombshell. Walker, the former football star turned Georgia GOP Senate candidate, had “urged” a woman he impregnated to get an abortion in 2009 and sent her money as reimbursement for the procedure, Sollenberger reported, claims that the woman supported with a receipt from the clinic, a picture of a signed $700 check from Walker, and a “get well” card with what appears to be Walker’s signature. (Walker, who is staunchly against abortion rights, and supports a proposed federal ban, has categorically denied the allegation and threatened legal action.)
Sollenberger has emerged this midterms election cycle as an unlikely scoop-machine, breaking big news on Walker’s closely watched race against Democrat Raphael Warnock, a contest that could tip the Senate. A musician and former college English teacher, Sollenberger got an MFA in fiction—“the stupid joke would be that prepares me very well for writing the news,” he notes—and describes his path to journalism with a similar fortuitousness as he did the first Walker scoop. “I just sort of fell into reporting, honestly,” he told me, adding he’s “always had a thing for politics” and “government service has been very big in my family.” He set out to become an investigative reporter a couple years ago and was doing it independently until Salon hired him in April 2020. He joined the Daily Beast as a political reporter about a year later.
A brief rundown of Sollenberger’s stories about Walker: The first big one, in June, revealed that Walker had a secret son who had “apparently been estranged from his biological father since his birth a decade ago,” information that the Daily Beast said it confirmed through public posts, a court document naming Walker as the child’s father, and a source close to the boy’s family. (Walker’s campaign claimed Walker was not “hiding” the 10-year-old boy and is “proud of his children,” though the Daily Beast noted that Walker had at that point only publicly acknowledged the existence of one son, 22-year-old Christian Walker.) The development seemed to fly in the face of Walker’s public comments about fatherhood and rebukes of absentee fathers in the Black community. A few days later, Sollenberger reported Walker had two other undisclosed children—a 13-year-old he’d fathered with a different woman, and an adult daughter whom he fathered in college. Walker confirmed that he had “three sons and a daughter” in a statement to the Daily Beast, in which he dismissed the notion he was hiding his children. “I just chose not to use them as props to win a political campaign,” he said. In July, Sollenberger reported Walker had repeatedly lied to his own campaign about his children, though he’d listed them on a form he filled out in 2018 to be appointed to then president Donald Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition—a form the campaign supplied to the Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast reported Monday that when it went to Walker’s campaign for comment on the abortion allegations prior to publication, Robert Ingram, a lawyer representing both the campaign and Walker personally, said, “This is a false story. All you want to do is run with stories to target Black conservatives. You focus on Black conservatives.” Walker on Monday night said he was going to “sue the Daily Beast for this defamatory lie” and said it would be “filed tomorrow morning.” (As of Thursday afternoon, Walker has yet to file; Sollenberger declined to comment beyond that “we stand behind our reporting 100%.”)
Politico reported Tuesday that Walker’s team was already aware of an abortion allegation, which had months earlier been “brought to the attention of those working on Walker’s behalf, in part as a means of discouraging him from running.” Top GOP Georgia operatives reportedly warned Walker’s team that the story could upend the campaign if it got out. “Rather than move to proactively address the story, Walker’s team held their breath, hoping that the election would pass before it surfaced,” according to Politico.
Sollenberger’s reporting is having an impact. “Herschel has fumbled as he was about to score,” Jay Morgan, a prominent local Republican and former Georgia GOP executive director, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “And the clock is running out.” The reporter hasn’t let up either, dropping another exclusive Wednesday evening related to the alleged abortion. Sollenberger reported that the woman in question was also the mother of one of Walker’s children. (Earlier that day, while categorically denying the story during a Fox News appearance, Walker said he had no idea who the unnamed woman could be.)
I asked Sollenberger what it’s been like covering this unfolding political drama. “When you get a character like this, that is where my narrative background comes in, right?” he told me. “I see these stories and I see the people in them, and I’m drawn to things that are weird and contradictory. And Herschel Walker is one of the weirdest, most contradictory people I’ve ever come across.” Our call ended abruptly a few minutes later, when Sollenberger said he was getting a big tip and had to go.