The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For Roy Moore’s insistent defenders: Here’s why now.

Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore delivers remarks to the Mid-Alabama Republican Club. This is the first time Moore has spoken publicly since allegations of sexual misconduct with an underage girl. (Cameron Carnes/The Washington Post)
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There’s been a consistent refrain from those seeking to discredit The Washington Post’s reporting that uncovered a 1979 incident in which Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly fondled a 14-year-old girl: Why now? Why is it only a month before the election that this story came to light, after being unmentioned for the past 40 years?

Here, for example, is Moore himself making the argument:

“To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable,” he said at an event in Alabama over the weekend. He later added, “Isn’t it strange after 40 years of constant investigation, that people have waited four weeks before a general election to bring their complaint? That’s not a coincidence.”

Of course it’s not a coincidence that the women came forward just as Moore is seeking election to the Senate — but not in the way Moore means.

Moore has been a controversial figure in American politics for some time but mostly at the edges. His fight to preserve a monument to the Ten Commandments in a state building 15 years ago gained him national attention — but not necessarily national importance. Now, he’s seeking election to the Senate, one of 100 people who make up one half of the legislative branch of government. It’s a much more important fight nationally, and, as a result, has attracted much more attention.

There’s a reason that people with skeletons in their closets are loath to seek elected office: Once they do, the scrutiny that is a natural part of the campaign process threatens to expose those skeletons. This is less true for lower-level elected positions, where there is less media attention and fewer resources. For something like the Senate or the presidency, though, that scrutiny is both intense — and should be expected.

In this case, reporter Stephanie McCrummen was in Alabama as part of The Post’s coverage of the race. She explained the genesis of the story to NPR last week.

I was in Alabama actually reporting another story on Roy Moore supporters, a story aiming to understand, you know, the basis of his support in the state. And it was at the end of a long conversation with someone there that these allegations surfaced. So none of these women — none of the women in this story sought out The Washington Post. No one promoted this story to The Washington Post. And all of the women went through quite a long process deciding whether to come forward.

We’ve seen a similar difficult deliberative process in other recent allegations that have made headlines. Moore’s claim that it’s “unbelievable” that it could take 40 years for these stories to come to light ignores dozens of recent examples of allegations against men in positions of power that took decades to surface.

It’s important to note that McCrummen wasn’t the only Post reporter covering the race. In late September, shortly before the primary, our Michael Scherer profiled Moore, including a two-hour interview conducted as the pair drove to visit Moore’s mother. When Moore came to Washington, our Sean Sullivan covered his visit. Had either Scherer or Sullivan heard the same rumors as McCrummen — rumors, we’ve learned over the past few days, that have been around for years — it’s safe to say that they, too, would have investigated further.

That, of course, is what reporting is about: telling important stories. Sometimes that means convincing people who know the stories to come forward, as The Post’s team did with the four women sharing stories about Moore’s alleged interest in teenage girls, including Leigh Corfman, the girl who was 14. The original story noted that “[n]either Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post.” After learning about them, “two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore.”

Why was it important? Presumably because of the timing. Because now.

For 40 years, as Moore and his defenders point out, the women kept their stories close, telling some friends and family (and, in Corfman’s case, one former boyfriend) but not the public at large. It’s important for Alabamians at large to know about those interactions now presumably because Moore is running for the Senate. The same reason it’s important for The Post and other outlets to cover who he is and what he believes, as Scherer, Sullivan and McCrummen all have.

The point of asking “why now” is not usually a good-faith effort to understand why the interactions only just came to light. It is usually simply meant to raise uncertainty about the women’s stories and, therefore, about the allegations against Moore. It is up to the voters of Alabama to decide if the allegations against Moore are a reason to oppose his candidacy; they may decide that they are not. The Post’s role is simply to bring the stories to light.

There’s a more subtle aspect to “why now” that’s worth pointing out. Why did the story drop last week? Because that was when the story was ready, after dozens of interviews and a great deal of verification, down to the date of court appearances 38 years ago.

Why now? Because that’s when an important story about a man who is right now seeking election to the Senate was unearthed, researched and vetted. It’s no more complicated than that.