James O’Keefe will have his say about this but it smells rank at first blush. A woman contacted WaPo after its first story about Moore chasing teenaged girls was published claiming that he’d impregnated her in 1992 when she was 15 and later drove her to Mississippi to have an abortion. That would be a nuclear bombshell if true. The Post set up a meeting with the woman, Jaime Phillips, to hear her story.
But there were problems.
Back at the newsroom, [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. Reinhard called NFM Lending in Westchester County, but they said a person named Jaime Phillips did not work there.
Alice Crites, a Post researcher who was looking into Phillips’s background, found the document that strongly reinforced the reporters’ suspicions: a Web page for a fundraising campaign by someone with the same name. It was on the website GoFundMe.com under the name Jaime Phillips.
“I’m moving to New York!” the May 29 appeal said. “I’ve accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt of the liberal MSM. I’ll be using my skills as a researcher and fact-checker to help our movement. I was laid off from my mortgage job a few months ago and came across the opportunity to change my career path.”
As chance would have it, Project Veritas was advertising publicly the same month for “undercover reporters.” Reporter Stephanie McCrummen confronted Phillips about the curious GoFundMe page at a second meeting with Phillips, captured on video below. The cringiest moment comes at 5:30 when McCrummen presses her about the “liberal MSM” spiel on her GoFundMe page. Which conservative media outlet did you apply for a job with, she asks? Um … the Daily Caller, says Phillips, adding that she didn’t get the job. And who interviewed you for the position, asks McCrummen? Kathy … Johnson, says Phillips. There’s no Kathy Johnson at the Daily Caller.
Suspecting that she actually she worked for O’Keefe and Project Veritas, WaPo reporters staked out the entrance to PV’s offices. They claim to have seen Phillips entering the building today. Coincidentally, O’Keefe is promising an expose of the Washington Post to be published imminently.
PV seems to have had two goals with this sting. One, the minor goal, was to get a Post reporter on tape admitting that the paper had an anti-Moore agenda. According to WaPo, Phillips pressed both Reinhard and McCrummen to guarantee that her story would cause Moore to lose the Senate election. The paper claims they refused; we’ll see if O’Keefe has video of his own on that point. The major goal, obviously, was to get WaPo to bite on the story, publish it, and then have its credibility utterly destroyed when O’Keefe revealed that it was a lie concocted to prove that the paper was willing to smear a Republican politician without credible evidence. That’s now backfired completely. WaPo itself is waving this around as proof that they have, in fact, done their homework on Moore’s accusers before publishing their accounts. The paper’s Moore coverage seems even more credible now than it did a few hours ago.
But there are other problems. Becket Adams wonders whether this would have backfired on Moore even if WaPo had fallen for PV’s trick:
“A lie can travel half way around the world,” etc. etc. You going to own the libs by spreading an extraordinarily salacious (but fake) story about a senatorial candidate and then hope people notice you jumping out of the bushes and yelling “gotcha!” afterwards?
— Tsar Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) November 27, 2017
I don’t know. It would have been major news if a serious paper had been taken in by a salacious phony sex scandal, not just because of what it meant to the election but because of what it might have meant to the entire sweep of media “Pervnado” coverage. That’s what’s really dicey about this, not the intent to embarrass WaPo but to do it at the price of discrediting real victims of sexual abuse. If WaPo had been hoaxed, millions of people would have treated it as evidence that the other allegations against Moore — and Weinstein and Charlie Rose and Brett Ratner, etc — are inherently untrustworthy because they may not have been properly vetted either. That would have been a logical fallacy, as WaPo’s gullibility in wrongly believing one alleged victim wouldn’t necessarily mean that other alleged victims had been deceitful. (Phillips sought out the paper to tell her story whereas WaPo itself ran down leads in Alabama to find Leigh Corfman and the other Moore accusers.) Certainly the paper would have had to re-report its original stories on Moore, showing in greater detail the evidence it had gathered to make it believe that Corfman et al. were telling the truth. But most Moore supporters and Republicans would have dismissed that out of hand, taking WaPo’s gullibility in Phillips’s case as license to believe that all of the accusations against Moore were part of a hoax to frame him. Every famous man similarly accused going forward would have gotten a similar benefit of the doubt, regardless of the evidence against him. Are they framing him like they framed Roy Moore? Many women in many different fields might have had second thoughts about speaking up as the tide of public opinion turned towards skepticism.
As it is, WaPo did real victims a big favor by sniffing this out and trumpeting PV’s attempt at a hoax. Some papers will inevitably get sloppy in reporting out accusations of sexual misconduct. All it’ll take is one high-profile screw-up to damage America’s appetite for exposes of bad behavior. Throwing a scare into the rest of the media by reminding them that hoaxsters are out there will force reporters do their jobs diligently to the extent they weren’t already. As for PV, if this is just a freelance sting gone wrong then it’ll become a curio of the “Pervnado” period. If, however, it turns out that O’Keefe was working in concert with or at the behest of the Moore campaign, Steve Bannon, or the White House, then suddenly WaPo has a very big story about Trump or his allies manufacturing the fake news they claim to despise so much. Don’t snicker at the possibility of PV having friends in high places: Trump’s foundation donated ten grand to the group two years ago. There would have been a lot of grateful Republicans if this operation had worked, blowing up the scandal that’s engulfed Moore and putting him back on track to win.