The media today: Roy Moore and the media’s battle for trust

Days after The Washington Post reported that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with several teenagers when he was in his early 30s, Moore’s media backers are working overtime to discredit the story. According to Axios’s Jonathan Swan, Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon has dispatched two reporters to Alabama to dig up dirt on the Post’s work. Breitbart’s latest attempt sees Aaron Klein catching the Post’s reporters red-handed in the act of committing journalism.

“The mother of Leigh Corfman, who says that Alabama Senatorial Candidate Roy Moore tried to engage in a sexual encounter with her when she was 14, told Breitbart News that The Washington Post worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore,” Klein writes. Of course, anyone who actually read the Post’s story would have known that “neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post….All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews.”

ICYMI: The shocking observation a HuffPost editor made about recent sexual harassment stories

What Breitbart is doing with this type of reporting is, of course, in bad faith. But for those unfamiliar with the process of working with sources to go on the record or inclined to distrust anything written in the mainstream press, the story casts a sinister light on the hard work of Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

A charged political race, allegations of partisan attacks, a national outlet viewed with distrust by many in the state (and around the country): the Moore story serves as a microcosm for our parallel media universes. In one, diligent reporting by a reputable outlet has led to serious concerns about the character of a potential US Senator, leading some within his own party to call for him to withdraw from the race. In another, a liberal billionaire has sent journalists on his payroll out into the country to discredit a politician disliked by the establishment. As Axios’s Swan writes, “This story is about to get even uglier, if that’s imaginable.”

RELATED: The story BuzzFeed, The New York Times and more didn’t want to publish

Below, more on Roy Moore and the media.

  • Empty threat?: com’s Paul Gattis reports Moore claimed on Sunday that he plans to sue The Washington Post. As with all threats of litigation against outlets that publish damaging stories, I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Moore’s response: In his first public appearance after the news broke, Moore called the allegations a “charade.”
  • How the story plays locally: CNN’s Brian Stelter looks at how Alabama newspapers are framing the allegations against Moore.
  • Fox News’s rightward tilt and ratings surge: The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum leads his piece on Fox’s resurgence with examples of its primetime hosts squirming to sow doubt about the Post’s reporting on Moore.
  • Hannity facing a(nother) backlash: CNBC’s Sarah Whitten reports that five companies have said they will no longer advertise their products during Sean Hannity’s Fox News show in response to his coverage of the allegations against Moore.

ICYMI: NYTimes reporter’s thought about media coverage of mass shootings goes viral

Other notable stories

  • Legendary New York gossip columnist Liz Smith died at the age of 94. In The New York Times’s obituary, Robert D. McFadden writes that Smith “captivated millions with her tattletale chitchat and, over time, ascended to fame and wealth that rivaled those of the celebrities she covered.”
  • The New York Times’s Sydney Ember scoops that Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at the Times and a former top editor at Time magazine, will succeed Graydon Carter as editor of Vanity Fair.
  • For CJR, former Alaska Dispatch News business reporter Jeannette Lee Falsey explains how her state’s biggest paper went bankrupt.
  • After Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam outperformed his polls, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan asks whether the numbers are off, or if journalists and pundits are misinterpreting them.
  • With President Trump abroad, The Washington Post’s David Nakamura looks at the battle for access by photojournalists.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.