The Washington Post on Monday night published a detailed account of an apparent attempt to deceive Post reporters into believing a made-up story of a woman who says she had an abortion after Roy Moore, who is now the GOP Senate nominee in Alabama, impregnated her when she was 15. The woman was seen Monday morning walking into the headquarters of Project Veritas, a political operation that employs deceptive tactics in attempts to embarrass journalists and expose alleged bias.
But however this plot turned out, it's worth recapping just how poorly conceived and executed it was — and just how embarrassing this is for Project Veritas. Shortly after the woman was seen walking into the headquarters, founder James O’Keefe declined to answer questions about her connection to the organization.
Project Veritas has taken down some powerful people, but this was a mess. (And it's not alone in that distinction, as Will Sommer recounts.) Let's take it piece by piece.
1. The woman, Jaime Phillips, claimed to have spent only one summer in Alabama, yet she called from an Alabama area code and had “rolltide” in her email address
As The Post's Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites reported:
Back at the newsroom, [Post reporter Beth] Reinhard became concerned about elements of Phillips’s story. Phillips had said she lived in Alabama only for a summer while a teenager, but the cellphone number Phillips provided had an Alabama area code.
Elsewhere in the story, they report that Phillips's “email address included 'rolltide,' the rallying cry of the University of Alabama’s sports teams, which are nicknamed the Crimson Tide.”
For someone who spent only a short time in Alabama — and claimed to have experienced what would seem to be a traumatic event during that short time — the woman sure seemed fond of the state, so much so that she rooted for its college sports teams and obtained an area code from the state.
2. She kept asking The Post's reporters to assure her that her information would take Moore down
Post reporters were apparently suspicious of the woman's repeated attempts to get them to say that her story would be the end of Moore's special election campaign in Alabama:
Phillips also repeatedly asked [Reinhard] to guarantee her that Moore would lose the election if she came forward. Reinhard told her in a subsequent text message that she could not predict what the impact would be. . . .
She said she wanted [Post reporter Stephanie] McCrummen to assure her that the article would result in Moore’s defeat, according to a recording. McCrummen instead asked her about her story regarding Moore.
Phillips complained that President Trump had endorsed Moore.
“So my whole thing is, like, I want him to be completely taken out of the race,” she said. “And I really expected that was going to happen, and now it’s not. So, I don’t know what you think about that.”
It's pretty clear what was happening here: Phillips wanted to catch Post reporters talking in a way that suggested they were out to get Moore. It didn't happen, but she kept pressing the point in a way that would give any reporter pause. Even if she weren't working for Project Veritas, such extensive interest in a particular outcome would be a major red flag for a reporter.
3. Two companies disputed that she worked for or sought employment with them
Phillips told The Post that she had a job at NFM Lending in Westchester County, N.Y., but The Post called the company, and it turned out she didn't work there.
When confronted about a Web page on which Phillips apparently said she was going to work “in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceit of the liberal MSM,” Phillips explained that she had interviewed with the conservative Daily Caller. She named a woman named Kathy Johnson as her contact. That person doesn't exist, and the Daily Caller told The Post that Phillips didn't interview there.
4. She used her real name and left a paper trail
The above Web page was a GoFundMe account seeking to raise money for the relocation to New York of a woman named Jaime Phillips. One of the donors to it matches the name of Phillips's daughter, according to public records.
So Phillips apparently went to work as a covert operative, still used her real name and left a paper trail suggesting that she was working for such an organization.
5. Project Veritas's exposé of The Post includes a reporter talking about how opinionated The Post is — in its opinion section
As The Post prepared to publish Monday, Project Veritas and O'Keefe suggested repeatedly that The Post was fighting back against a damning video that Project Veritas was about to publish.
On Monday night, the video arrived. It featured Post employees surreptitiously recorded talking about how The Post's editorial section opposes President Trump (which is news to nobody) and how Trump is good for business (which is also news to nobody).
Almost every newspaper has an editorial board that leans ideologically one way or the other and has strong opinions about issues of the day.
ICYMI, our new #AmericanPravda series exposed two @washingtonpost employees admitting to an excessive bias in the Post's Editorial section, and saying that @realDonaldTrump drives their business. See more here: https://t.co/PHv7HPFhkQ
— Project Veritas (@Project_Veritas) November 28, 2017
6. It also includes a Post employee talking about how The Post's “Democracy Dies in Darkness” slogan came to be — something The Post already explained
In the video, another Post employee talks about the origins of The Post's slogan and how Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos liked it. But that already has been publicized . . . by The Post.
The paper’s owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, used the phrase in an interview with The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, at a tech forum at The Post last May. “I think a lot of us believe this, that democracy dies in darkness, that certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light,” he said at the time, speaking of his reasons for buying the paper. . . .
The group brainstormed more than 500 would-be slogans. The choices ranged from the heroic (“Dauntless Defenders of the Truth”) to the clunky (“American democracy lives down the street. No one keeps closer watch.”) to the Zen-like (“Yes. Know.”).
The group ultimately ended up where it started — with “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”