A reporter involved in breaking the Gary Hart-Donna Rice story a year ago said Saturday, "a malevolent god" seemed to be guiding the newspaper as it worked on the story.

Jim McGee, former investigative reporter for The Miami Herald now with The Washington Post, told a journalism group that information for the story seemed to fall into place at just the right moments."It was an unfolding drama," McGee said. "I thought there was a malevolent god up there saying `let's have a little fun with the Democratic primaries.' "

McGee, Tom Fiedler, the Herald's political editor, and Jim Savage, associate editor for investigations, recalled elements of the story during a weekend meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists. The Herald's coverage of the Hart-Rice affair won the society's Distinguished Service Award for Washington Correspondents.

All three agreed that favorable circumstances contributed to the Herald pursuing the story which led to Hart's withdrawal from the Democratic presidential campaign less than a week after the story appeared May 3.

"Good fortune was on our side," Fiedler said. The political writer, who received the initial anonymous tip, said every piece of information provided by the source checked out, and information they were unable to quickly obtain eventually came from other sources.

The team joked that Hart's indiscretion in a Capitol Hill town house had produced a lot of opportunities for speeches, articles and personal appearances.

"Gary Hart has meant a lot to all of us," Savage said.

In hindsight, Savage said, Gary Hart "really should have gone to the races" instead of meeting Rice in Washington. Hart canceled a fund-raising event at the Kentucky Derby a year ago to meet Rice.

McGee, who left the Miami paper earlier this year, defended the story as legitimate news considering Hart's previous statements denying allegations of womanizing.

Without those denials, followed by Hart's confirmations that he was with Rice during the weekend, the Herald would not have had a story, he said.

Savage said the Herald would not have pursued the story had the Hart-Rice encounter occurred six months earlier.

"That he would be doing this action at that time gave the story its dynamics," the editor said.