March 5, 2013
Sen. Robert Menendez
Sen. Robert Menendez (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

In November, the Daily Caller, under the byline of Matthew Boyle, interviewed two Dominican women who claimed that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) had paid to have sex with them.

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on court documents alleging that the story was bogus. A woman claimed in an affidavit that she’d been the victim of a crazy scheme — still inadequately explained – that resulted in her saying false things about sex and men on a video. “Those are my words and that is me, but it does not reflect the truth,” said the woman in an affidavit quoted in the Post story.

The Daily Caller and the Post have since traded follow-ups, with no one backing off from previously issued claims.

Time now to check in on the evidence so far:

The case for the Daily Caller

  • Testimony from two anonymous women who appear in a web video with their faces blurred out.
  • The story narrated how the women were shown a photo of Menendez; they said they’d had sex with him.
  • Boyle told the Erik Wemple Blog that he knew the women’s names but couldn’t name them out of security concerns for them.
  • An un-anonymous attorney, Melanio Figueroa, who represented the women.
  • Tricia Enright, a spokeswoman for Menendez, called the accusations false.

The case for the Washington Post

  • It relies on court documents.
  • The woman who is recanting her testimony is named: Nexis de los Santos Santana, a 23-year-old.
  • Menendez is quoted directly, saying the claims are false and “smears.”

Court records plus a named subject vs. faceless testimony — that’s generally a blowout on the journalistic reliability front.

The Daily Caller and Boyle — who is now at Breitbart.com — aren’t acting as if their reporting has been debunked. They insist that it’s The Post, even with documents and on-the-record stuff, that has it all wrong. Their attack consists of the simple charge: “While the Post said it had an affidavit from a woman in the Dominican Republic admitting she fabricated claims Menendez paid her for sex, that woman was not one of the two prostitutes TheDC interviewed for a Nov. 1 report.”

As Boyle himself wrote in the wee hours of Tuesday, “neither one identified herself by that name.” That contention itself raises a pivotal question: Boyle was interviewing these women remotely — he in the States and the women in the Dominican Republic; they told him their names. How on earth could he be certain they were giving him their true names?

When asked about that, Boyle said he didn’t want to answer “at this time” but he expressed confidence in the information. ABC News today added a fascinating twist to this very dynamic. It reports having interviewed the woman identified as Nexis de los Santos Santana — and that she had identified herself to ABC News as “Michelle Rodriguez.”

Upshot: No one in this story is on the record.

Another question for Boyle relates to money. According to The Post’s account, a Dominican lawyer paid de los Santos to say the things she said. When asked if he knew of any payment behind the interview, he responded, “No.”

Enright, of Menendez’s office, says that they have little to add to these reports. “Everything that we know is what we’ve read in The Washington Post and … the Miami Herald. And that’s everything we know,” she says.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.