The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Breitbart went after Roy Moore’s accusers. It didn’t work.

At a speech in Manchester, N.H. on Nov. 9, Stephen K. Bannon discussed claims about Roy Moore’s sexual misconduct. (Video: Reuters)
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At a pre-Thanksgiving event, Dean Young, the chief strategist for Roy Moore’s failed Senate campaign, echoed winning lines from Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign. “The Washington Post and all the fake media for the last two weeks have said everything they could say about Judge Moore,” said Young. “They’re trying to dig people up, put them on TV and say, ‘Judge Moore is a bad guy.’” Standard stuff. In the same appearance, however, Young also ridiculed Fox News, which had done polling indicating that Moore was behind his opponent, Doug Jones. “You get Fox News to put out their fake polls and everybody else can too, but he’s still winning and he’s never been losing because the people of Alabama don’t go for what you’re trying to sell,” said Young.

A Republican campaign, dissing both the mainstream media and Fox News? What media outlet could it possibly rely upon?

That would be Breitbart, home to Stephen K. Bannon, who moved from an executive position at Breitbart to the Trump campaign in August 2016, then to a top job in the White House, then back to Breitbart this past August. A hard-right nationalist who despises establishments yet worked on Wall Street and makes a handsome living himself, Bannon barnstormed in Alabama on behalf of Moore. “There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” said Bannon at a rally, scolding those who declined to back Moore.

The digital pages of Breitbart followed suit. On Sunday, Aaron Klein, Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter, interviewed Moore as the campaign neared its end. The session aired on Klein’s show, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio,” with an accompanying writeup on Breitbart. In introducing the chat, Klein noted that Moore had given very few media interviews in recent weeks. With that, he posed the following questions to Moore, with paraphrased summaries of Moore’s response in brackets:

How critical is it right now that people get out there and vote?
There are so many major differences — I mean, night and day — between you and Doug Jones. One of those major differences is abortion. Would it be too far to call Doug Jones an abortion extremist?
[No, not too far]
Is it correct to say that a vote for Doug Jones is a vote for the continuation of illegal aliens, meaning illegals taking jobs from Americans?
[Obey the law]
You are, of course, a graduate of U.S. Military Academy, West Point. You served in Vietnam, you have children who serve in the U.S. military, which is something that I don’t think we can’t say for a lot of top politicians — by the way, both Democrat and Republican. And eight years of this radical agenda of Barack Obama has really had a very real-world impact on the U.S. military, on the Navy, on the Army. You getting into the Alabama Senate race, I think, is critical for rebuilding our military and I think you understand that more than anybody else.
[Strong military very important]
And when it comes to the fundamental transformation, really the continuation of policies either, let’s say, pro-American or what we’ve seen under Obama, which is very different. Supreme Court is critical for so many things that touch every aspect of American life, maybe even one day Obamacare. Tell me how important this vote is when it comes to what could happen in the next year, two years, three years. … How important is it to keep the Supreme Court in the hands of conservatives and isn’t this race pretty critical to make sure that that happens?
[Sure is]
I noticed the enormous sum of money that has been poured into this race by the establishment. $50 million or who knows how much more — into the ads that we’re seeing run nonstop on television. At this point, with all of the money poured in, is Doug Jones pretty much owned by the establishment?
[Oh yeah]
I’ve been here in Alabama for several weeks and really came to love this place. It’s really an unbelievable state. I think the people here are just amazing. I think that a lot of people … they’re not really being fooled by Washington. By these ridiculous stories. … Because people beyond Alabama don’t understand this: You say you want to bring Alabama values to Washington, D.C. What are Alabama values? What do you mean by that?

“These ridiculous stories” was an apparent reference to the very sturdy plume of reporting on Moore’s pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s, as first reported by The Washington Post on Nov. 9. Leigh Corfman was just 14 years old when, she alleged, Moore pursued her, once taking off her shirt and pants while he was in his underwear. Several other accusers also came forth. Moore denied the allegations.

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In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Klein said, “The entire media coverage of the campaign for the last few weeks has only been about the accusations.” Instead of continuing that focus, Klein set out to “frame the larger importance of this Senate race.” As opposed to obsessing about the claims against Moore’s behavior, “We need to remember as a country that at the end of the day, this is about policy,” Klein said.

That’s a peculiar posture for a fellow with Klein’s recent archive. Look at some of his headlines: “Alabama Accuser Deletes Anti-Moore Postings from Facebook, Rants About Removing Trump from Office” (Nov. 10); “Roy Moore’s Accuser Did Work for Joe Biden, Other Democrats” (Nov. 10); “EXCLUSIVE – Mother of Roy Moore Accuser Contradicts Key Detail of Daughter’s Sexual Misconduct Story” (Nov. 12); “EXCLUSIVE – Mother of Roy Moore Accuser: Washington Post Reporters Convinced My Daughter to Go Public” (Nov. 12); “Roy Moore Campaign to Gloria Allred: Release the Evidence to Determine Whether There is Fraud” (Nov. 15); “EXCLUSIVE – Stepson of Roy Moore Accuser: Accusations ‘One Hundred Percent a Lie’” (Nov. 16); “EXCLUSIVE – Ultimatum: Roy Moore Gives Gloria Allred 48 Hours to Release Yearbook, Demands Evidence Be Preserved” (Nov. 16); “EXCLUSIVE – Roy Moore’s Former Longtime Secretary: ‘I Don’t Believe Any of This’” (Nov. 17); “EXCLUSIVE – Roy Moore: Gloria Allred’s Refusal to Release Yearbook Proves Allegations Are ‘Completely Untrue’” (Nov. 17).

Mixed into the lot was some policy coverage, but Klein essentially created for himself a discredit-Roy-Moore-accusers ad hoc beat. “We found pretty massive questions about their credibility and character,” Klein said of Moore’s accusers.

Bill Clinton’s accusers were a cleaner bunch, however. Klein vetted them before Trump’s clash with Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign. He interviewed Bill Clinton accuser Kathleen Willey. He interviewed Clinton accuser Juanita Broaddrick, as candidate Trump noted on the campaign trail. Just last week, Bannon, in a SiriusXM radio interview, credited Klein with being the “genius” who hatched the idea of inviting the Bill Clinton accusers for a media availability before the St. Louis presidential debate in October 2016. The debate followed the airing of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women. Breitbart is actually in something of a dispute with Roger Stone over who gets credit for the tactic.

So: The Moore accusers are not to be trusted; Bill Clinton’s are to be trusted. Asked about this matter, Klein responded, “There’s an enormous difference to me, and that is one of credibility. I am simply investigating these news-making claims against Roy Moore — claims that can impact an election. And what I have found is that there are major aspects to the accusers that have largely not been touched, in fact, not been covered by the news media.” On the other hand, he found few such problems with the Clinton accusers: “I personally re-vetted these women,” says Klein, with the result that they were found to be “highly credible.”

Did Klein & Co. convince Alabama voters? Well, not enough of them to land Moore in the Senate. Fifty-two percent of voters believed the allegations against Moore to be definitely or probably true, according to exit polling, against 43 percent who felt the other way. Four in 10 voters reported that the allegations were an important consideration in their votes.

Post media critic Erik Wemple frequently skewerws Fox News, and, well, some of the network's loyal viewers have something to say about it. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Breitbart has been on a sensational ride for the last two-and-a-half years. Access to big-time Republican candidates, proximity to election tactics and links, links, links from mainstream media outlets, conservative outlets, foreign outlets — everywhere. As a Harvard University study found, Breitbart stands as a behemoth of right-wing media. So: “Fox News gets excluded and criticized by the Breitbart-centered network in February and March,” said study author Yochai Benkler, referring to the ups and downs of the 2016 campaign. “In April, it’s RedState and Erick Erickson coming and being criticized. And you see the right wing sort of splitting into two groups. But eventually once they shut down all of the competition, the network settles back around the gravitational pull of Breitbart.”

There are limits, however. Only so many folks are going to swallow the “exclusive” that Breitbart digs up on this-or-that accuser. A cautionary note to future Republican candidates: When all you have is Breitbart, you have trouble.

In a gracious story Tuesday night, Breitbart’s Joel Pollak credited Jones for his victory. “There is no substitute for hard work. And Doug Jones worked hard enough to earn the win,” he wrote.