Some supporters of United States Senate candidate Roy Moore have come right out and said they do not believe four women who claim the Alabama Republican pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. But for Moore backers uncomfortable with the apparent insensitivity of directly challenging his accusers — one of whom says the candidate molested her when she was 14 — there is a more socially acceptable workaround: doubt the media, instead.
The strength of the women’s allegations is in the thoroughness of the work of The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites, who based their report on interviews with more than 30 people. The woman who says she was molested at 14, Leigh Corfman, told her story to the Post consistently on six occasions before the paper put it in print.
Journalistic rigour is what tips the balance in what might otherwise be “he said, she said” situations.
“The Washington Post story strikes me as remarkably buttoned-down,” conservative writer Jonah Goldberg of the National Review said on NPR yesterday morning.
Yet if you claim to believe that the Post and other major news outlets make things up, then you don’t have to concede the existence of support for the women’s allegations. You can rationalise sticking with Moore as distrust of the media, rather than disbelief of women who say they were targeted by a serial predator who hunted girls half his age.
Infowars host Mike Cernovich embodied the logic last week when he tweeted that “if the 14-year-old girl stuff about Roy Moore is true, zero of my people will have that”, but said the “issue is WaPo has fabricated stories”.
Two quick fact checks before we move on:
The Washington Post, while imperfect, does not fabricate stories.
Some Moore supporters, most notably Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler, have said they would stand by Moore even if he did everything he is accused of. So the notion that “zero” of Cernovich’s people would tolerate Moore’s alleged behaviour seems dubious, at best.
The goal of Moore’s media boosters is to turn the allegations against him into a referendum on the credibility of the mainstream media — to give people with a conscience permission to vote for the former Alabama chief justice, anyway.
No one is working harder to accomplish this mission than Stephen K. Bannon and Breitbart News. In one article on Sunday, Breitbart reported that Corfman’s mother “told Breitbart News that The Washington Post worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore” — as if that were inappropriate activity for a news outlet.
Convincing people who possess important information to speak publicly is one of the most basic responsibilities of journalists, but Breitbart framed it as “activist behaviour”.
In another article on Sunday, Breitbart claimed in a splashy, all-caps headline that it had uncovered “False reporting in WashPost bombshell” and that Corfman’s mother “Contradicts key detail of daughter’s sexual misconduct story”.
Breitbart’s breathless revelation was that Corfman, according to her mother, did not have a telephone in her room at the time that Moore allegedly called to arrange a meeting. This is neither a key detail nor a contradiction. The Post reported that Corfman was in her bedroom when she spoke by phone with Moore, and Corfman’s mother told Breitbart that “the phone in the house could get through to her easily”.
These criticisms of The Post’s reporting, even if valid, would not address, let alone undermine, the substance of the accusations against Moore. But for Moore supporters who would prefer to dismiss the allegations without explicitly saying so, media bashing provides convenient cover.
• Callum Borchers covers the intersection of politics and media for The Washington Post