The supposedly objective evidence an Anchorage Daily News-ProPublica story posits as proof that the late Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott traumatized the former director of law enforcement for the Fairbanks-based Tanana Chiefs Conference doesn’t appear to show what those news organizations claim it does.
They report a “spike” in the heart rate of former director Jody Potts shows she was deeply troubled when the married Democrat two years ago told her that, according to her story, “ever since I met you. I’ve been physically attracted to you, and I hope that’s reciprocated.”
A screenshot of the heart-rate data, however, displays not one but two points of elevation, and neither would constitute a spike for an athlete seriously training for Ironman triathlon as Potts was at the time. The 115 beats per minute maximum shown on the screenshot of Potts’ monitor would correspond to a Zone 1 training level on the five-zone system for heart-monitor training.
Polar, a major manufacturer of heart-rate watches and heart monitors, describes the “intensity” of Zone 1 as “very light.” It corresponds to a walk and is what serious athletes would consider “recovery training” after real, heart-stressing workouts.
Most noticeable, however, is there are two – not one – of these elevations in Potts’ heart-rate data. The thumb-size screengrab used by ADN/ProPublica makes it difficult to determine when exactly they occur, but the first clearly comes before 4 p.m., when Potts heads for a meeting with Mallott in an upscale Anchorage hotel, and the second comes near 5 p.m., possibly when she leaves the hotel.
The compression of the heart rate data over a 20-hour time period makes it impossible to tell the exact timing of the two peaks or how quickly they rise from Potts’ normal, daily heart rate of from 65 to around 100 beats per minute (bpm).
A downtown stroll?
The account of the day Potts provided ADN-ProPublica (she has not responded to a request for an interview with this website) says that she was at a meeting of Walker’s advisory council on tribal relations at the Atwood Building downtown in the state’s largest city when Mallott invited her to his hotel room in October 2018.
The Atwood meeting ended at 3:30 p.m. The ADN-ProPublica story reports Potts saying she met with Mallott at the hotel about six blocks away around 4 p.m. The data on her heart-rate monitor is what would be expected if she walked the six blocks from the Atwood to the Hotel Captain Cook.
The ADN-ProPublica story does not say how Potts got to the hotel or how she left, but it does say that “as she walked across the tile floors of the Hotel Captain Cook, her phone pinged with two texts from Mallott.”
Strangely, the 3:30 to 4 p.m. timeline reported in the story is out of sync with a screenshot of part of that ext exchange Potts had with Mallott to ask him what room he was in on the seventh floor. The text Potts shared with ADN-ProPublica outlining Mallott’s messages as she reportedly walked down the entry floor corridor in the Cook are recorded at 3:38 p.m. – eight minutes after the meeting adjourned at the Atwood.
That is about how much time it might take someone to walk from the Atwood to the Cook. The scale on the heart-monitor print out Potts provided the ADN-ProPublica makes it impossible to tell exactly whether her heart rate rose between 3:30 and 3.38, but it clearly peaks after 3 p.m. and before 4 p.m.
After the latter hour, it drops down below 70 bpm. Such a drop would be consistent with Potts riding the elevator to the seventh floor of the Cook and then sitting down to chat with Mallott as the story says she did:
“She sat on a chair facing the window; Mallott sat on a small couch.”
Potts’ heart rate then rises as she talks to Mallott, but not radically so. The peak appears to be around 90 bpm somewhere midway between 4 and 5 p.m. The ADN-ProPublica story does not say how long Potts met with Mallott or make any mention of the second “spike” in her heart rate.
Without knowing Potts’ maximum heart rate, it is impossible to know what a real spike – the sort of thing that might happen if she was exposed to serious emotional distress – would look like, but it would almost surely be over 140 bpm.
A peer-reviewed study of fear and heart-rate spikes published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 found that when 55 tests subjects were wired up and put on a rollercoaster their “mean heart rate increased from 89 bpm before the ride to a maximum of 155 bpm during the ride.”
“The largest rate increase occurred during the ascent, where speed was low and there were no significant acceleration forces, suggesting a contributing role of emotional stress,” the researchers concluded.
Potts’ heart-rate numbers do not look at all like those for the people studied under stress, but it could be that some of her data is missing. Watches that monitor heart rates 24/7 are known to be less than accurate at capturing true spikes as some record a reading only every few minutes to reduce the drain on a watch’s battery.
It is possible Potts glanced at her watch at some point and saw a much higher number than 115 bpm, but that is not what ADN-ProPublica reported.
“The Garmin running watch she wore to monitor her heart while exercising recorded every pounding beat,” the reporters wrote. “When Potts later looked at the app, she found her heart rate had spiked around 4 p.m., the time of the encounter.”
No serious or semi-serious athlete would consider a heart rate of 115 a “pounding beat.”
The story does not say which Garmin watch Potts was wearing, but some Garmin watches incorporate a “stress level” feature which might have been useful in this case.
“It allows a user to determine their current level of stress based on one’s heart-rate variability,” the company website says. “When using the stress level feature, the device uses heart rate data to determine the interval between each heartbeat. The variable length of time in between each heartbeat is regulated by the body’s autonomic nervous system. The less variability between beats equals higher stress levels, whereas the increase in variability indicates less stress.”
There is no way to tell from the data Potts provided ADN/ProPublica whether there was a change in variability between her heartbeats that would indicate she was stressed. The data shows only those slight rises in heart rate before 4 p.m. and around 5 p.m.
If Potts is to be believed, her uncomfortable but less than lurid meeting with Mallott in his Anchorage hotel room that contained his confession of desire, but no sexual advances, and ended with, in her words, “an awkward hug,” is what led to a crisis within the administration of Gov. Bill Walker.
Shortly after the Potts encounter, Mallott mysteriously resigned with an explanation of having made inappropriate comments to an unidentified woman. The Associated Press a year later reported it had obtained some emails about the incident in response to a freedom-of-information act request filed with the state.
In one of those emails, then-first lady Donna Walker wrote her husband, “I think that you describing it as ‘inappropriate comments’ is a huge understatement and you will be criticized for that. It was the conduct as well of inviting her to his room, and it sounds like there was some discrepancy as to how he greeted/touched her. I think you need to say inappropriate conduct.”
Potts’ new account makes no mention of how Mallott “greeted/touched her” other than to say he asked her to sit down and then confessed his attraction.
Alaska being a small state, Potts’ role in the lieutenant governor’s resignation didn’t take long to get out. The right-leaning website Must Read Alaska first revealed the woman in question was Potts, who is like Mallott an Alaska Native and was said to have first met Mallott at a potlatch in Minto, a predominately Native village near the geographic center of the state.
All sorts of rumors about their relationship over the years that followed have swirled around the state. Potts contends there was nothing going on between them, and that she was lured to the Cook for what she thought was a meeting with Mallott plus the governor.
The Mallott family insists she was not lured to the Cook by the late lieutenant governor. The Mallotts and Potts have also entered into a legally binding “nondisclosure agreement (NDA)” limiting what can be said about the Potts-Mallott meeting.
Such settlements are made to head off lawsuits. The Mallotts admit this settlement included a financial payment to Potts, but they refuse to say how much. What other provisions might be written into the NDA one can only guess, and the same can be said for Potts’ motivation for now telling a story that doesn’t amount to much on the Bill Clinton/Donald Trump scale to which Americans have become accustomed.
Mallott asked her to meet him at his hotel on an October Sunday, a non-workday. She went. He confessed his overwhelming physical attraction. The confession made Potts uncomfortable as it would make many women. Potts understandably said she feared that if she told Mallott he was an old man and she was not interested, it might hurt her career.
That was underlined when he told her about things he’d done to further her career. All of this was recorded in a written statement Potts provided ADN/ProPublica. But the statement makes no mention of Mallott suggesting sexual activity or overtly threatening Pott’s career.
“He was looking me up and down,” Potts wrote. “Her legs shook and she sat on her hands to try and steady herself,” the ADN/ProPublica added, and this is when the latter reported, “the Garmin running watch she wore to monitor her heart while exercising recorded every pounding beat.”
The problem is that this is happening sometime after 4 p.m. and her heart rate is down in the color-coded Garmin blue zone that indicates it wasn’t pounding at all. It was beating rather normally.
Why Potts, who is likely to have understood heart-rate training, would offer this data as evidence of an indication she was upset is unclear. That reporters unfamiliar with heart-rating training would accept it as evidence is more easily explained.
They likely didn’t understand the data and took someone else’s explanation for what the data said. It happens all the time. Reporters, especially those sympathetic to someone’s story, are all too easily played.
Not to mention the news is a twisted business these days.
“On Aug. 25, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica reported that Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson had sent hundreds of text messages including kiss emoji, dinner invitations and other overtures to a younger state employee. Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Clarkson’s resignation less than two hours later,” the ADN-ProPublica story about Potts said.
“It was the Clarkson resignation that indirectly led Potts and her family to come forward publicly.”
How those dots connect is not explained anywhere in the story. But the rumor is that someone – none of the rumors say who – decided something had to be done about the old Mallott story because Must Read’s right-leaning Suzanne Downing was making a stink about how the details of that story about a pol on the left never came out in the mainstream media while the nitty-gritty of Clarkson’s lustful misbehavior has quickly spread all over the news in the 49th state.
Downing contends ADN and ProPublica lean left and accordingly treat Democrats differently than Republicans. The ADN contends Downing is a “blogger” with a Republican ax to grind. There may be some truth to both claims.
All that can be said for sure is that in this case the ADN-ProPublica got played. Potts’ heart-rate data simply does not show a “pounding heart” when she met with Mallott. Her heart rate goes up as she is going to meet the late lieutenant governor, but falls to a rather relaxed level as they talk at the hotel.
If anything, the data is startling for how low – 60 to 100 bpm – Potts’ heart rate for most of the time after 4 p.m. It’s not unusual for some people to have a heart rate that low only when they are asleep.
“A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute,” the Mayo Clinic reports. “Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.”
Potts’ heart-rate monitor reports her resting rate is 53 bpm.