How an NBC News Producer Was Wooed by ‘the Extreme Form of a Con Man’

By Chris Ariens Comment

It’s the kind of story that would make a great hour of Dateline NBC. But this story never would, because NBC is at the center of it.

Take some time to read Vanity Fair’s extraordinary tale of award-winning NBC News producer Benita Alexander and her former fiancé, the world-renwoned thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini who was the subject of a June, 2014 NBC News special called Leap of Faith reported by Meredith Vieira. During months of filming for the special Alexander, who produced the piece, and Macchiarini fell in love.

“I knew that I was crossing the line in the sense that it’s a basic and well-understood rule of journalism that you don’t become involved with one of the subjects of your story,” Alexander told Vanity Fair’s Adam Ciralsky.

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Benita Alexander (middle) and Paolo Macchiarini (second from left) during the shoot for the NBC News special Leap of Faith

But she did. And she kept the relationship secret from most everyone until after the show aired in June, 2014. (NBC News president Deborah Turness encouraged the staff to watch the 2-hour special in a note obtained by TVNewser that day.)

But for Alexander, crossing the line wouldn’t matter for much longer. Through 2014, their relationship blossomed and by Christmas Macchiarini had proposed marriage. As a July wedding was arranged, Alexander quit NBC with plans to move to Barcelona. And this is where the story begins to take a stunning, shocking, bizarre Dateline-like turn:

Macchiarini could be secretive at times. After his Christmas proposal, he told Alexander that he could not stick around for New Year’s because he was on call for what, she said, he termed an “emergency V.I.P. surgery.” When she pressed him for details, he swore her to silence before telling her, that he was part of a “highly classified group of doctors from around the world who cater to the world’s V.I.P.’s.” She said Macchiarini over time revealed that he had operated on Bill and Hillary Clinton, Emperor Akihito of Japan, and President Obama.

Then the wedding invitations arrived: “Sheathed in lambskin and engraved with the initials B&P, the invitations were addressed to, among others, the Obamas, the Clintons, the Putins, the Sarkozys, Andrea Bocelli, Kofi Annan, Russell Crowe, Elton John, John Legend, Kenny Rogers, Meredith Vieira, and His Holiness Pope Francis.”

Of course, Pope Francis was going to perform the ceremony, because, after all, Macchiarini was his personal physician.

A former NBC News producer is going to marry an internationally-recogonized super-surgeon who was the subject of an Emmy-nominated news special, at the Vatican, in a ceremony officiated by the Pope? Sounds like a great story! And NBC would get the exclusive, of course.

“Congrats that this is all coming together,” Dateline senior EP David Corvo wrote to Alexander in an email. “With invitations going out, I need to tell Deborah Turness. Is everything remaining confidential? She’ll of course want to discuss coverage soonest. (And exclusivity, as you would expect.) Again, congrats.” (A source told TVNewser Corvo was not made aware of the relationship until 6 months after the special aired. Another source told Vanity Fair that Corvo was skeptical about the Pope’s involvement, and did not tell Turness about the possibility of covering the spectacle.)

But it was all a scam. No Pope. No Bocelli. No Obamas, or Clintons. No wedding. The groom, after all, was already married to someone else.

Head over to Vanity Fair to see how this stunner turns out.

But first, did Benita Alexander ever question the stories Paolo Macchiarini told her? “This was not some guy I picked up in a bar. This was a renowned, accomplished, established surgeon whom we had followed all over the world. The very prospect of him making all of this stuff up, even as I described it to friends as surreal and overwhelming, seemed too ridiculous to give it any credence. Why would he risk his reputation by doing that? What reason could he possibly have to lie to me, someone he obviously loved, in that manner?”

Why indeed. As for Alexander, TVNewser hears she is currently not working, but looking for her next job in news.

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