In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, right-wing news outlet Breitbart is pulling all the stops in an effort to discredit Moore’s accusers.
According to a report by Axios, Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon — previously President Trump’s chief strategist — has sent two of his reporters, Matt Boyle and Aaron Klein, to cover the controversy on the ground in Alabama with one goal in mind: to poke holes in the original Washington Post report that detailed the allegations against Moore.
“This story is about to get even uglier, if that’s imaginable,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan predicted on Sunday. “I expect more counter-attacks will play out in Breitbart News and other outlets over the coming days.”
So far, that prediction has proved accurate: Sunday evening, overblown headlines pointing a finger at the Post’s reporting were splashed across the Breitbart homepage. By Monday morning, the site had dedicated an entire subsection to its malicious coverage of the story. One headline read, “EXCLUSIVE: Mother of Roy Moore Accuser Contradicts Key Detail of Daughter’s Sexual Misconduct Story. Revealed: False Reporting in Washpost Bombshell.” Another headline ignored the allegations altogether, instead delighting in a poll that found Moore held a “Double Digit Lead Over Democrat Doug Jones” before and after the accusations were made.
The allegations against Moore are disturbing: the Post report claims that, in 1979, a 32-year-old Moore approached 14-year-old Leigh Corfman at the Etowah County courthouse and asked for her phone number. After meeting with her several times, Moore on one occasion allegedly drove Corfman to a wooded area and began sexually abusing her, touching her over her bra and underpants and forcing her to touch him over his underwear. The Post also quoted several other women who claimed an adult Moore had approached them for dates when they were teenagers.
But Breitbart’s coverage has honed in on several details of that report that it claims are fabricated or misleading. It’s reporting is being parroted by other sites seeking to defend Moore, including Gateway Pundit and GotNews. None of the Breitbart’s attempts to discredit the original reporting or Moore’s accusers hold water.
Claim: Corfman didn’t have a phone in her bedroom
One of Breitbart’s “exclusive” scoops includes a report — the questionably titled “Mother of Roy Moore Accuser Contradicts Key Detail of Daughter’s Sexual Misconduct Story” — which appears to insinuate that Moore couldn’t possibly have arranged meetings with Corfman because the bedroom phone she used to speak with him didn’t exist.
“She said that she spoke to Moore from what she described as the phone in her bedroom,” the article states. “…[Nancy] Wells, Corfman’s mother, was asked by Breitbart News: ‘Back then did she have her own phone in her room or something?’ ‘No,’ she replied matter-of-factly.”
Of course, Breitbart immediately contradicts its own reporting, quoting Wells as saying that “the phone in the house could get through to [Corfman] easily.” (Notably, in the 1970s, people commonly had very long phone cords, allowing a home phone to be moved from room to room.)
As Swan notes, highlighting this detail at all makes little sense.
“It’s quite a head-scratcher as to why Breitbart thinks this bedroom phone detail matters,” he wrote. “…Wells stands by her daughter’s allegations. But the fact Breitbart is running stories like this shows the extremes to which it may go to discredit Moore’s accusers.”
Claim: The report is false because it relies on Corfman’s memories
Breitbart also attempts to discredit the Post report by claiming that it relies on Corfman’s memories of what happened.
“The Post story relies heavily on Corfman’s memory and her ability to recount events consistently,” reporter Klein writes. “The newspaper reported that ‘Corfman described her story consistently in six interviews with The Post.’ The Post story uses the word ‘remembers’ 10 times when quoting or paraphrasing Corfman.”
Klein then proceeds to detail every use of the word “remembers” in the original report.
It’s not exactly clear why Klein hones in on this fact, given that most reports are based on sources recalling certain events or conversations, even from years prior.
Corfman’s story was backed up by several people who knew her at the time, including two of her childhood friends and an ex-boyfriend, Mike Ortiz, whom Corfman dated around 2009.
Two of Corfman’s friends specifically recalled her telling them about an older man she had been seeing. “I remember talking to her and telling her [that seeing an older man, Moore, was] not a good idea, because we were so young,” Corfman’s friend, Betsy Davis, told the Post. Another friend, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job, also backed Corfman’s account.
“I believed her when she told me and I still believe her,” Ortiz added in a CNN interview shortly after the Post report was published. “She wouldn’t lie about something like that.”
Breitbart itself even notes that Wells is sticking by her daughter’s account.
“It’s truthful and it was researched very well,” the outlet quoted her as saying.
Claim: Corfman was divorced, declared bankruptcy, and used to use drugs, so she’s probably lying
In another attempt to discredit Corfman’s story, Klein draws attention to the fact that Corfman has a history of divorce, bankruptcy, and teenaged drug use.
“Corfman described her own troubled background to the Post, including three divorces, bankruptcies and a history of drug abuse,” Klein writes. A few lines later, citing a statement from Moore’s campaign, he notes, “The campaign pointed out that Moore has been married to his wife, Kayla, for nearly 33 years and has four children and five grandchildren. It also noted that Moore has served in public office in the past and that no such allegations were previously made.”
While the outlet isn’t directly comparing Corfman and Moore, placing their personal histories and experiences side by side implies that one party — in this case, Moore — is more believable.
Corfman predicted her history would be played against her, telling the Post, “There is no one here [in my hometown] that doesn’t know that I’m not an angel. I have prayed over [the decision to speak out]. All I know is that I can’t sit back and let this continue, let him continue without the mask being removed.”
Breitbart is now doing exactly what Corfman feared.
Of course, nothing about being divorced or going through financial difficulties suggests that Corfman wasn’t abused by Moore or is not telling the truth.
Claim: The Post reporters are activists who pressured Corfman to talk
On Sunday, Breitbart posted an article claiming that Post reporters had pressured Corfman to talk about her alleged experiences with Moore — insinuating that they were behaving as activists in that regard.
“The mother of Leigh Corfman…told Breitbart News that the Washington Post worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore,” it reads. “Speaking by phone…Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71, further stated that her daughter would not have come forward if it weren’t for The Post reporter’s alleged actions.”
Breitbart then quoted Wells directly:
“She did not go to them,” said Wells. “They called her.”
“They tried to convince her to do it?” this reporter asked.
“Yes,” replied Wells, matter-of-factly.
Wells was asked about Corfman’s motivations for going public. “It wasn’t done for politics, you know,” Wells replied. “It was done for personal reasons. And it wouldn’t have been done if the reporters hadn’t contacted my daughter.”
Asked about the timing of The Post interview and why 38 years after the alleged incident her daughter decided to speak out weeks before the election, Wells replied: “She was contacted by the reporter. That’s why.”
Wells comments seem to indicate activist behavior on the part of the Washington Post reporters.
Wells’ own words do not, in fact, implicate the Post reporters of any wrongdoing. Instead, they appear to prove that the Post’s reporters were doing their jobs by asking a source to go on the record about her experience to corroborate claims in a story, a common journalistic request.
The Post itself clarified that fact in its initial report, writing, “Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All [Moore’s accusers] 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. The women say they don’t know one another.”
Claim: The accusations against Moore can’t be true because he and his wife are always together
Roy Moore's wife Kayla writes on Facebook the campaign is gathering evidence the Moore accusers were paid to come forward – which will part of their lawsuit. pic.twitter.com/fKXzuSmIK5
— andrew kaczynski🤔 (@KFILE) November 13, 2017
In an article on Sunday, Breitbart appeared to back Moore’s wife, Kayla, who claimed in an interview that the allegations against her husband were unfounded because she was with him all the time and had been married to him for nearly 33 years.
“We work out together,” she told the outlet. “We, of course, live together. We travel together. We do everything together. Even when he worked at the Supreme Court, he was just down the road from me, so when we got back to Montgomery this last time of course I went with him — and it was just me and him; we kind of had our own little place. But when he was working at the Supreme Court, I was down in my office, we would have lunch or I would go down to his office. After work, when the other one was still working—we were always together. Always together.”
Breitbart claimed that this was true because, at the “dozens” of Alabama campaign events its reporters had covered, “Kayla Moore has joined her husband.”
Moore’s alleged interactions with Corfman, however, occurred in the late 1970s. Moore and his wife married in the mid-’80s.
Kayla Moore also claimed separately that she and her husband had “met at a Bible study” and “raised [their] children at in Bible-focused Christian home.”
“You know, it’s just not true,” she reiterated, referring to the many allegations against her husband. “Any of it.”
On Monday, CNN’s KFile reported that Moore’s wife had been visiting various Facebook groups, spreading an unfounded rumor that the Post had paid people $1,000 to come forward with stories about him.
Claim: The allegations are false because one of Moore’s accusers worked for Democrats
Among one of Breitbart’s more flimsy rebuttals is an insinuation that one of Moore’s accusers was a Democratic operative who sought to defame Moore.
“Deborah Wesson Gibson, the woman who alleges that she engaged in a legal and consensual but inappropriate relationship with Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore, has boasted about doing work for Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats,” the report reads. A separate article on Gibson posted a day earlier also indicated that Gibson had shared Facebook posts critical of Moore, posts from MoveOn.org, and had “liked” posts from “far-left activist groups” like the ACLU. (The ACLU is a nonpartisan group.)
The connection Breitbart appears to be making is that, because Gibson — who says she dated a 34-year-old Moore for two to three months when she was 17 — has previously done ESL interpreting work for Democratic campaigns and supports left-leaning causes on Facebook, her account is questionable at best.
Partisan allegiances, of course, do not prove or disprove any of Moore’s accusers’ stories and are unrelated to their allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior. Corfman identifies herself as a Republican who voted for President Trump in the 2016 election, undermining Breitbart’s suggestion that the Post report is a partisan attack.
Despite the mounting allegations against him and the calls for him to step down from the U.S. Senate race, Moore has dug in his heels since the Post report broke, claiming that the allegations are part of a smear campaign by the left.
“Judge Roy Moore has endured the most outlandish attacks on any candidate in the modern political arena, but this story in today’s Washington Post alleging sexual impropriety takes the cake,” Moore campaign chair Bill Armistead wrote in a statement on Thursday. “National liberal organizations know their chosen candidate Doug Jones is in a death spiral, and this is their last ditch Hail Mary. The Washington Post has already endorsed the Judge’s opponent, and for months, they have engaged in a systematic campaign to distort the truth about the Judge’s record and career and derail his campaign.”
Armistead added that Moore “has been married to [wife] Kayla for nearly 33 years, has 4 children, and 5 grandchildren” and had a long record of public service. He claimed that, “after over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now.”
“This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation,” he concluded.
Moore has since claimed that he plans to sue the Washington Post over the report. So far, he has not publicly followed through on those threats.