March 22, 2013
(J. Scott Applewhite, File/Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite, File/Associated Press)

The Washington Post just published a story with some big implications for the Daily Caller. The conservative website, the Post reports, is alleged to have paid to arrange interviews with Dominican prostitutes who would frame U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez as having done business with them.*

The allegation comes from Jose Antonio Polanco, a key district attorney in the case. It’s a complicated, twisted charge, too: According to Polanco, a Dominican lawyer, Melanio Figueroa, has stated that a “foreign man” under the name of “Carlos” had offered $5,000 to Figueroa to “find and pay women in the Caribbean nation willing to make the claims about Menendez.” This “Carlos,” the Post piece notes, represented himself as working for the Daily Caller.

Huh.

Some background: The Daily Caller on Nov. 1 reported that Dominican women, interviewed via web-video link, alleged that Menendez had paid them for sex. That story cited Figueroa by name as the lawyer representing the women. Though the women told the Daily Caller that they were promised $500 for their services and received only $100, the story failed to provide a compelling explanation as to why they’d testify to the alleged encounter with Menendez.

Later, a possible explanation emerged, though it was far-fetched. The alleged prostitutes, goes the story, were giving negative testimony about Menendez and a friend and campaign donor, Salomon Melgen, to assist in building some kind of divorce case against the latter. Another lawyer was allegedly involved in this scheme. Frankly, this seemed implausible.

More plausible is the simple explanation advanced in the Post story: Man gives money to Dominican lawyer to serve up a nice story for a U.S. media outlet.

Except there’s a problem with that plausibility, and the Post piece acknowledges it frontally: “The account provided that Dominican authorities said they received from Figueroa could not be independently confirmed by The Washington Post.” Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller’s editor-in-chief, issued an airtight denial of the allegation: The site, he says, “never paid anyone, was never asked to pay anyone and of course never would pay anyone for this story. It seems clear to me Figueroa is under pressure to change his story. What I know for certain is this claim is a lie.”

Perhaps ABC News can shed some light on the matter. Its top investigative reporter, Brian Ross, participated in the same web-video setup that the Daily Caller used as the basis for its widely discredited story about Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. In its piece on this mess, Ross and Rhonda Schwartz write that:

“Carlos” was described to ABC News by the lawyer Figueroa, as an associate who was in charge of organizing the interviews via a Skype hook-up. There was no mention made of any connection between “Carlos” and The Daily Caller.

The Skype address used by ABC News to make contact in the Dominican Republic included the names Carlos and Martinez. A message sent by ABC News Thursday to the same Skype address seeking comment has not been returned.

Earlier this year, the Erik Wemple Blog interviewed Matthew Boyle, a Breitbart News reporter who formerly worked at the Daily Caller and wrote the Nov. 1 story containing the original prostitution allegations. At that time, it was well known that ABC News had caught wind of the story through a referral from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington (CREW), an anti-corruption nonprofit that had received e-mails from a certain “Pete Williams” passing along dirt about Menendez. Boyle, however, said that he had “heard some rumblings and talked to Tucker about it. We tracked down the prostitutes. I had no clue that CREW knew about this,” said Boyle. “I had my own sources that I put together.”

Boyle made no mention of “Carlos,” who provides a wonderful, spellbinding addition to the whole bogus Menendez-prostitute story. At one point, the Daily Caller wanted us to believe that these women had simply come forward with their lawyer to out a U.S. senator as a patron of prostitutes; next thing we knew, a woman had recanted the whole thing and a divorce-proceeding narrative squeaked into the story; then, the National Police were pretty much endorsing that tale; now, “Carlos” was wiring up the whole thing.

The Daily Caller trusted the initial interview with the alleged prostitutes. Then they recanted. Should we place more trust in the recantation than the original statements? Figueroa, too, has issued what ABC News terms “contradictory” claims about the episode.

Vis-a-vis that crew, Tucker Carlson is easily the most trustworthy figure involved in this story.

Though this blog has written dire things about the Daily Caller, we’re issuing a formal statement of doubt that the Daily Caller underwrote this slime operation. We believe that the Daily Caller was all too eager to publish completely unsubstantiated allegations about Menendez. We believe that it barely lifted un dedo to corroborate these explosive allegations. And we believe that its vow to continue investigating the story amounts to ducking accountability. But we also believe that this bit of mudslinging against the Daily Caller smacks of the same garbage, gossip and character assassination that the Daily Caller should have sniffed out in the beginning. So it sort of deserves this.

*Correction: Sentence changed to make clear that this is an allegation. Subsequent paragraphs make this clear, but it bears making clear here as well.

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