‘MediaBuzz’ host Howard Kurtz explains how and why journalists and reporters in recent stories like the Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandals get sources to go on the record to tell their stories.
The attempts to discredit the Washington Post for its reporting on Roy Moore have reached the point of absurdity.
And in light of a new accuser who told a tearful, gripping tale at a televised presser yesterday, perhaps skeptics will take a different view.
Beverly Young Nelson, appearing with Gloria Allred, said that when she was 16 Moore groped her in a car, locked the doors, grabbed her neck in an attempt to force sexual contact and left her with bruises after she escaped. Her story will be subjected to scrutiny, but as a self-described Trump voter, Nelson has no apparent motivation to lie. She is the first accuser to say that Moore accosted her, and in fact says she feared he would rape her.
The Post’s account of four women making on-the-record accusations against the Alabama Senate candidate is fair game for criticism, given that the alleged events took place nearly four decades ago. The spotlight is especially intense on the Post’s reporting on Leigh Corfman, who says she was 14 when Moore, then a 32-year-old prosecutor, befriended and sexually molested her.
Breitbart, which has mounted a full-court defense for Moore, spoke to Corfman’s mother and leveled this charge: “that the Washington Post worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore.”
That is a process called reporting. If there’s something wrong with that, I’ve committed hundreds of violations. Sources are often reluctant to provide information, especially on the record, and even more especially if they are taking on someone perceived as powerful.
Reporters for the New York Times and the New Yorker had to coax a number of women into going on the record with their allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The same goes for reporting on allegations involving Silicon Valley companies and media figures at Fox, MSNBC and NPR. A couple of Post metro reporters once tried to persuade people to talk by knocking on their doors during Watergate. There is no suggestion of coercion here; indeed, Corfman spoke to the Post’s reporters six times.
Sometimes allegations turn out to be false. But no less a figure than Mitch McConnell, asking Moore to quit the race yesterday, said: “I believe the women.”
Breitbart quoted, Corfman’s mom, Nancy Wells, as saying of her daughter and the journalists: “She did not go to them. They called her…It wasn’t done for politics, you know. It was done for personal reasons. And it wouldn’t have been done if the reporters hadn’t contacted my daughter.”
Breitbart also seized on Wells’ recollection that her teenage daughter didn’t have a phone in her room for Moore to call her, but said Leigh could easily be reached on the household phone.
Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s executive chairman and the former Trump strategist, questioned the Post’s motivation by noting that the paper also disclosed the “Access Hollywood” tape last year:
“The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump. The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now is that a coincidence?”
But even if you buy the premise that the Post was anxious to break a negative story on Moore, that doesn’t make it untrue.
Moore, for his part, is threatening a lawsuit: “The Washington Post published another attack on my character and reputation because they are desperate to stop my political campaign. These attacks said I was with a minor child and are false and untrue—and for which they will be sued.”
I don’t think we’ll ever see this lawsuit. Roy Moore is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence, but not necessarily the political benefit of the doubt.
We may never have definitive proof of what happened with Leigh Corfman, who, by the way, told others at the time and also says she voted for Donald Trump.
But it’s hard to believe that those attacking the Washington Post would be as skeptical if these were allegations about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky—a story also broken by the Post nearly two decades ago.