Score a big one for honest, diligent journalism…. (More)
“Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled”
A woman who falsely claimed to the Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.
In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.
The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.
But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.
After [Jaime] Phillips was observed entering the Project Veritas office, the Post made the unusual decision to report her previous off-the-record comments.
“We always honor ‘off-the-record’ agreements when they’re entered into in good faith,” said Martin Baron, the Post’s executive editor. “But this so-called off-the-record conversation was the essence of a scheme to deceive and embarrass us. The intent by Project Veritas clearly was to publicize the conversation if we fell for the trap. Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled, and we can’t honor an ‘off-the-record’ agreement that was solicited in maliciously bad faith.”
Color me Schadenfreude, but the media need to expose these fraudsters more often.
“We actually vet these things”
That photo at the top of the page is from Post’s own video, counter-stinging Phillips (on the right). Among Phillips’ miscues: repeatedly moving her purse in ways that made the Post’s Stephanie McCrummen suspect a hidden camera. And this was just one example of right-wingers trying to trap mainstream media reporters:
In July, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told viewers (and fellow journalists) that “somebody for some reason appears to be shopping a fairly convincing fake NSA document that purports to directly implicate somebody from the Trump campaign in working with the Russians on their attack on the election. It is a forgery.”
Maddow said she and her staff determined that the document is fake before reporting on it. She explained her theory about why someone tried to induce her into airing a bogus scoop:
One way to stab in the heart aggressive American reporting on that subject is to lay traps for American journalists who are reporting on it, trick news organizations into reporting what appears to be evidence of what happened, and then after the fact blow that reporting up.
You then hurt the credibility of that news organization. You also cast a shadow over any similar reporting in the future, whether or not it’s true, right? Even if it’s true, you plant a permanent question, a permanent asterisk, a permanent “who knows?” as to whether that too might be false, like that other story – whether that too might be based on fake evidence.
You know what we should do? Start flooding the NYTimes and WAPO tip lines with all kinds of crazy "leaks." Then laugh when they print them!
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) May 21, 2017
The Trump administration has tried this a few times, sir. We actually vet these things. https://t.co/CNdET1sRbY
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 21, 2017
“They just got slapped in the face by reality”
In one sense, this is a case of The Dog That Doesn’t Bark. Reporters at big publications like the Post are deluged with crank calls and phony tips. Some are obvious fakes. Others are exposed when reporters background-check tipsters or fact-check tips with other sources. The notion that anyone willing to make a few calls could get the Post to run a tale of Conservative Villain Fathered Secret Child is the stuff of right-wing fantasy, as No More Mister Nice Blog’s Steve M. explains:
She tells a completely phony story about her past – and assumes that one of the top newspapers in America won’t even do a minimal amount of fact-checking to try to verify it. She also seems to assume that in the course of her conversations with Post reporters, one of them is going to blurt out something on the order of “Oh yeah, once we run this story, Roy Moore is going down. Woo-hoo! Win one for the resistance, baby!”
That’s not just what O’Keefe et al. want – it’s what they think is reasonable to expect: that the Post will run any story that hurts a Republican, phony or not, because its reporters are nakedly biased, and that the reporters will openly display that bias in response to the slightest prodding.
The simplest explanation is that this is projection – every right-wing media outlet regards itself as part of the Struggle, so conservatives assume that mainstream journalists are partisan lefties who feel the same way and flaunt their biases on the job. But even Fox News wouldn’t be as cavalier about the facts as O’Keefe and company expect the Post to be.
These folks expect the mainstream press to be the cartoon villain everybody in their bubble says it is. They live in a fantasy world – but they just got slapped in the face by reality.
And they can keep believing that precisely because reporters usually don’t write about the hundreds or thousands of crank calls and phony tips. The Post could probably fill an entire print page, each day, with a story that led: “Our reporters investigated these tips and found that none could be substantiated by actual facts.”
Yet because the dog doesn’t bark at crank calls and phony tips, wingnuts can believe the dog will bark at anything … so any story they don’t like must be fake news.
“People who are dumb enough to believe these conspiracy theories are not generally smart enough to carry out a competent entrapment scheme”
So I think reporters need to write these stories more often. When told, stories like this clumsy ‘sting’ help build the credibility of real journalism, as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait explains:
The scam collapsed for a number of reasons. [O’Keefe’s] fake source provided a flimsy cover story with odd details – she claimed to have only spent a few summers in Alabama, but provided a cell phone with an Alabama area code. The supposed place of employment that she provided did not have any person by that name working there. A search of her name turned up a social-media post in which she explained that she was going to “work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt [sic] of the liberal MSM.”
Another reason O’Keefe’s plot collapsed again is because it is premised on a ludicrously false worldview. The Washington Post does not, in fact, publish unverified accusations just because they’re against Republicans. His various attempts to prove rampant voter fraud have failed in part because voter fraud is not rampant.
And it’s usually easy to debunk these shams:
But this larger conceptual problem with O’Keefe’s enterprise creates a secondary problem, which is that the people who are dumb enough to believe these conspiracy theories are not generally smart enough to carry out a competent entrapment scheme. O’Keefe attempted to impersonate a Detroit Free Press columnist at the polls, and failed, in part because the poll worker knew the Free Press writer personally. An elaborate effort to sting the League of Conservation Voters failed clumsily because the operatives left their recording devices sitting around. The “Canadians” who tried to entrap Hillary Clinton staffers into accepting “foreign” donations all gave the same phone number, which turned out to be from “Students for a Conservative Voice.” O’Keefe’s attempt to register the vote of a dead person accidentally used the identity of a voter who is completely alive. His attempt to impersonate a Hungarian donor to the Clinton campaign floundered when its catfisher forgot to hang up the phone and accidentally recorded a long message explaining the details of the operation[.]
Obviously, reporters must be careful about which phony tips and fraudulent tipsters they expose. They don’t want to give life to a ludicrous story in the act of debunking it. But they need to publicly debunk at least some of this crap, to show readers that they really do vet each source and fact-check each tip.
So yes, this was a big win for honest, diligent journalism. Macadamias to the Post reporters and editors. Great work!
Photo Credit: Washington Post video
Good day and good nuts