"Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore
Research ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT
After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.
Wash. Post publishes report alleging Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated sexual contact with multiple teenagers, including a then-14-year-old
Wash. Post: Four women alleged that when Moore was in his 30s, he initiated sexual contact with them when they were teenagers. According to a report in The Washington Post, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly “pursued” four then-teenage girls, including a then-14-year-old, when he was 32. According to the report, in 1979, Moore allegedly initiated unwanted sexual contact with Leigh Corfman, who was 14 years old at the time. From the November 9 report:
Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.
It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.
“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”
Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.
“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.
Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older. None of the three women say that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact. [The Washington Post, 11/9/17]
Several right-wing media figures quickly sought to downplay the report: “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong”
Fox’s Sean Hannity defended Moore, calling the situation a “he said, she [said]" and claiming it's "a common practice" to make false allegations. Fox News host Sean Hannity took to his radio show to assert that “there’s politics” in the accusations against Moore, baselessly adding that it's "a common practice" to make false allegations. Hannity also asked how one could possibly "know the truth." From the November 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): [Arizona Republican Sen.] John McCain has now just called for Roy Moore to withdraw, whether or not the allegations are true.
OK, so now you've got the swamp, you've got the sewer, you've got the establishment -- they hate Roy Moore. Roy Moore, to them, is another Ted Cruz, another Mike Lee, somebody they can't control. Rand Paul, they can't control those guys. The last thing they need is another one of them that actually believes in the promises they make, et cetera.
It is funny too, because Democrats never called on Bill Clinton to step down after he was -- after all the stuff that happened with him. Never, not one time. So there's politics in all of this. Then you have false allegations that are made and -- how do you determine? It's "he said, she" -- what? You're looking at me puzzled. Why are you looking at me with that look? What?
LYNDA MCLAUGHLIN: No, I'm just -- I'm listening to you and I think it's a very, very dark and sad place that we've come to, because allegations are being waged and in the court of public opinion, people are guilty until they're proven innocent, and it's very, very sad. And I think it's very sad for victims because there are real victims out there that want to tell the truth, and maybe they're afraid to do it, and then there are people who use the word "victim" as leverage and a way to get things. And I think it's really a scary time.
HANNITY: There are false allegations made. I can tell you another thing that is a common practice. People make an allegation at, for example, big corporations. Big corporations, they make a business decision, "All right, if I pay $200,000, this goes away. OK, you're out of here, we're done with you, it's all over," even though they don't believe it happened.
But then they're going to have somebody that comes in and says, "OK, this is going to be the cost of litigating this," and the person -- the other -- the accuser's attorney is going to work pro bono, and that means "for free," and they're going to see this to the ends of the earth unless they can get out, and blah blah blah blah. That happens too, and other people just do -- do some people do it for political reasons?
How do you possibly tell, know the truth, except -- OK, so the two other girls were older in this case. He was apparently, like, 32, and he dated -- one girl was 18, one girl was 17, they never said he did -- there’s no sexual -- there’s kissing involved, and then they're saying this one encounter with a 14 --
MCLAUGHLIN: And it was consensual --
HANNITY: And consensual, that's true. And there's -- I just -- I don't know how you find out the truth. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 11/9/17]
Rush Limbaugh attacked one of the accusers as a “wacky,” “self-admitted mess of a woman.” Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh twice ridiculed one of Moore’s alleged victims as “a wacky woman” and “a self-admitted mess of a woman,” while trying to call her “childhood memories” into question. From the November 10 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): These political sex scandals, they’re fascinating, folks. When the Democrats have one, you need to produce semen, you need a blue dress, you need transcripts of sexting, you need photos of people sneaking into hotel rooms like John Edwards. But when the 40-year-old childhood memories of a wacky woman and The Washington Post allege something about a Republican, all hell breaks loose.
Every never-Trumper alive has come out demanding that Roy Moore step aside based solely on the allegations. They don’t even question the report in The Washington Post, they take the word of a self-admitted mess of a woman and The Washington Post over the judge. Innocent until proven guilty has flown out the window. And how long has this supposed allegation been known? It happened 40 years ago. Why wasn’t this introduced during the primaries? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/10/17, 11/10/17]
Fox’s Laura Ingraham found it “a little curious” that the Post reported on “what happened in 1979.” On her radio program, Fox host Laura Ingraham said, “It is a little curious why [Washington Post owner Jeff] Bezos sends a band of reporters down there to Alabama to find out what happened in 1979.” After that, Ingraham said she agreed with her listeners who argued, "just because The Washington Post has decided to take someone out, don't jump on the grave prematurely." From the November 10 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group’s The Laura Ingraham Show:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): And now a new allegation against Roy Moore. This is a 38-year-old -- the one that’s the most disturbing of all of the charges is something that allegedly happened in 1979. And he's been in office, a friend of mine said to me last year, 40 years. So it is a little curious why [Washington Post owner Jeff] Bezos sends a band of reporters down there to Alabama to find out what just -- what happened in 1979. To me that's a little -- I don't know, I -- we'll see. If it, if -- obviously, if that is true, that he was essentially feeling up a 14-year-old when he was 32, I don't care if you're in Alabama, that's just -- it’s completely unacceptable and he should not be in politics.
RAYMOND ARROYO: It’s troubling allegations.
INGRAHAM: Never should have -- never should have been in politics. But I received a lot of emails and a lot of tweets from you last night saying -- and I see your point, just because The Washington Post has decided to take someone out, don't jump on the grave prematurely. Don't usher someone into a grave. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 11/10/17]
Fox’s Gregg Jarrett questioned the Post’s credibility in order to dismiss the report. Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said he was “suspicious” of the story because the Post endorsed Moore’s opponent and because “the timing of it on the eve of an election.” From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
GREGG JARRETT: Having said that, I am suspicious of this because of the source, The Washington Post, which has a dog in this fight, having endorsed his opponent. The timing of it on the eve of an election. And finally, he was a huge and has been a huge public figure in Alabama, the best known son of Alabama in many ways and yet none of this came to surface in almost four decades and so that gives me reason to question the credibility of these people. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/9/17]
Fox’s Mercedes Colwin suggested Moore’s accusers might be lying because harassment victims are “very few” and “far between.” Hannity asked Fox legal analyst Mercedes Colwin if “people do it for money, do they do it for political reasons? Is it more common than people would think?” Colwin responded, “Oh definitely,” and spoke about times in her career she thought women had faked accusations of sexual harassment for money. She then said there are “very few, far between” actual victims of sexual predators. From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): And this goes back what you said. Do people do it for money, do they do it political reasons? How come -- Is it more common than people would think?
MERCEDES COLWIN: Oh definitely. I mean they’ll do this for --
HANNITY: They will lie to make money.
COLWIN: Undoubtedly. I mean there are individuals that have come forward with these outrageous allegations and –
HANNITY: And that hurts all women that are victims.
COLWIN: Yes. I used to work in sex crimes in the [district attorney's] office. It was very pitiful to see that because some jurors don’t believe it because they’ve gone -- in their own lives, there are people who’ve made these accusations for money. You see this time and time and time again. And sexual harassment, that term is coined everywhere. Frankly there are -- the laws are very clear as to what it takes in order to be a violation of the law. You have to have some sort of damage. And these individuals, a lot of these women, it's all about money. And they bank on the fact that these corporations have a reputation that they want to save.
HANNITY: And this is where you thread the needle because there are women that are victims of predators.
COLWIN: Yes, there are, there are. But very few and far between. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/9/17]
Ann Coulter on the accusations: "We might find that a little creepy today, but this was nearly 50 years ago." Conservative author Ann Coulter responded to the report that Moore dated teenage girls when he was in his 30s, saying, “We might find that a little creepy today, but this was nearly 50 years ago.” From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
ANN COULTER: Why did it have to be between establishmentarian [Alabama Republican Sen.] Luther Strange, who will open borders, or Roy Moore? So I'm frustrated from the beginning on that. As for, if you haven't read The Washington Post article, to the viewers, they will be talking about how there are all these women coming forward. No. There's one. There is one allegation of a woman -- I mean, yes, he dated girls who were 17, 19 when he was 30. We might find that a little creepy today, but this was nearly 50 years ago. The one serious allegation is a woman -- or at the time she was 14-years-old who claims actual molestation. But -- and who knows. I'd like to see what his response is. But, you can't help thinking about the timing here, Laura. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 11/9/17]
Far-right troll Mike Cernovich: “You pause when 40 year old accusations surface one month away from an election.”
Far-right troll Jack Posobiec: “The media has given more coverage to Roy Moore allegations based on one article than [Democratic New Jersey] Senator Bob Menendez, who is currently on trial. Really makes you think.”
Posobiec later doxxed one of Moore’s accusers on Twitter. The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins reported that Posobiec posted a photo and workplace information of the woman who told the Post that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14 years old. From the November 10 article:
On Friday, Pizzagate conspiracy theory peddler Jack Posobiec posted the photo and workplace of the woman who accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 14 years old.
Posobiec doxed Leigh Corfman, who alleged to the Washington Post that Moore sexually assaulted her as a teenager when Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney in 1979.
When Twitter users began reporting Posobiec’s account for targeted harassment, Posobiec tweeted “It came from Heavy dot com - why aren’t you mass reporting them?”
However, Heavy.com did not spend most of Thursday and Friday discrediting and attacking Corfman, which is what Posobiec’s Twitter timeline reveals.
“Be a shame if the #RoyMooreChildMolester story turned out to be another false accusation after so many reporters have gone all in on it,” he tweeted Friday morning.
Posobiec later explained why he pulled down the tweet.
“While reading the Heavy article I saw the reported information. It was a public Facebook post. Now I realize it wasn’t a good idea to post it myself and took it down out of respect for the accuser,” he wrote. [The Daily Beast, 11/10/17]
Far-right troll Baked Alaska tweeted, then deleted, that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong.”
Far-right blog GotNews smeared author of Post “hit piece” as having an “extensive criminal record.” Far-right blog GotNews, run by troll Charles Johnson, smeared the co-writer of the Post report in a November 9 article as having “an extensive criminal record” and writing “fake checks.” [GotNews, 11/9/17; Media Matters, 4/26/17]
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones lied about the Post’s report, saying Moore “didn’t try to take [accusers] out, he didn’t try to have sex with them.” Infowars’ Alex Jones lied about the Post’s reporting, stating that Roy Moore “didn’t try to take [the accusers] out, he didn’t try to have sex with them.” Jones claimed that Moore simply “told girls they were purty,” adding, “That’s what you do in the South.” From the November 9 edition of Genesis Communications Network’s The Alex Jones Show:
ALEX JONES (HOST): Then they’re saying 35, 40 years ago, Judge [Roy] Moore talked to teenage women. Never made sexual comments or advances. They even admit this, even if it’s true. “He did not try to initiate sexual contact with them.” But I guess at the soda fountain or something, women that were like 18 years old or whatever, he said they looked good, honey. Now let’s just say that’s true. Notice they take contact with women as criminal or pedophilia -- 17-, 18-year-old women. hen they just cover up all the rape and all the rest of it and then it just gets worse from there.
See, so that’s what they’re doing. They’re detonating all of this now and they’ve got oh three women that said Roy Moore 30-plus years ago told young women they were purty. Oh my gosh. And oh, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is so upset now. He can’t get enough people -- see at first I saw all these Republicans resigning because they were way behind the polls for re-election, but then, now I get it. No, no, they’re leaving now so that they can scuttle Trump and literally stop everything. This is -- I mean, it’s like the Trump stuff. It is incredible. It is -- oh, Harvey Weinstein raping all these women, all sorts of stuff, Kevin Spacey, that’s all OK. Roy Moore 30-plus years ago told women, some of whom might of been under 18, they were purty.
I mean all the time I’ll sit there -- I’ve got three daughters -- but I’ll sit there at a play or whatever and tell girls, “You sure look nice.” And then there’ll be an article, “Jones once told a 14-year-old girl she looked nice.” And that’s like a Texas thing. They say don’t even do that. Like, “Hey, sweetie, how you doing?” I’ll say to -- like the waitress come over like, “How you doing, darling?” And like northerners go, “What the hell? That woman just called you darling.”
That’s what you do in the South.
Roy Moore told girls they were purty. Whoo. He didn’t try to take them out, he didn’t try to have sex with them, but you know what he told them they were purty. But a tranny clown dressed as a demon can tell your 3-year-old about sex. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 11/9/17]
Gateway Pundit defended Moore against “GOP inside hit job” by noting that Alabama law for the age of consent in 1975 was 16, even though one of the women who spoke out was 14. Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit attempted to defend Moore by noting in a November 9 article that in 1990, Alabama courts declared that “a female 16 years of age is technically not a ‘child,’ but is one capable of consenting to sexual intercourse,” even though the Post story reported that one of the women was 14 when Moore approached her. The blog also suggested in another November 9 article that the Post report was a “GOP inside hit job.” [The Gateway Pundit, 11/9/17, 11/9/17]
Just prior to Wash. Post report, Breitbart published a story defending the candidate. Just before the Post’s story was published, Breitbart published a story defending the candidate -- whom the website has supported -- in advance of the Post’s report. Breitbart alleged that the Post intended to “hit” Moore with a “piece targeting” him. Breitbart followed with a statement from Moore, in which he called the report “‘completely false and … a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign.’” From the November 9 article:
The Washington Post is imminently planning to run a piece targeting Judge Roy Moore, claiming that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with four teenage girls 34 years ago.
The alleged incidents, all of which Moore strongly denies, allegedly took place between 1977 and 1982. Breitbart News obtained details of the forthcoming Post story from the newspaper’s letter detailing the allegations sent to Moore’s campaign for comment.
“These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign,” Moore said in a statement obtained by Breitbart News.
Separately, Moore’s campaign said in a statement, “This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.”
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. [Breitbart, 11/9/17]
Breitbart Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak: Moore’s multiple relationships with teenagers were “perfectly legitimate.” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak argued that the Post piece included reports “of perfectly legitimate relationships” and went on to assert, “The 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story, because those are women of legal age of consent at the time.” Pollak concluded that “there's only one relationship that's been alleged that's problematic.” From the November 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:
JOEL POLLAK: Well, if this story is true -- and I think that any story about sexual misconduct, especially with someone who is under age, is very serious -- why would The Washington Post wrap it with all kinds of perfectly legitimate relationships, as well as all kinds of other political clutter? I think the reason people are questioning not only the motivations but the accuracy of The Washington Post piece is because they packaged it with all sorts of other stuff that has nothing to do with the question. And so, we'll have to see where this goes. I think there's a lot of drilling down that needs to be done.
ALI VELSHI (HOST): So, in good media criticism, that's valid. Writing a piece criticizing how The Washington Post reports on something is something else. But I have read this several times. This piece -- if you think The Washington Post piece is a hatchet job, yours feels like a defense of Roy Moore.
POLLAK: Well, you said yourself at the start of the segment that he's being accused of relationships with teenagers. Now to me, that's not accurate. And in fact, it's following in a narrative that the Post tried to set up --
VELSHI: But it is. It is teenagers. It's a 14-year-old, a 16-year-old, and I think two 18-year-olds. They're teenagers.
POLLAK: The 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story, because those are women of legal age of consent at the time of the relationships.
My point is that the Post has successfully put a narrative out, at least on MSNBC and in other places, that there's this pattern of teenagers. There's really, as far as we know -- the facts could come out differently -- but as far as we know, there's only one relationship that's been alleged that's problematic. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi, 11/9/17]
Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “Roy Moore should change his name to Bob Menendez, and then the media will leave him alone.”
Frequent Fox guest David Wohl: “The timing of these allegations,” from an accuser who is “basically incorrigible,” “makes them highly suspect.” Frequent Fox News guest and former Trump campaign surrogate David Wohl attacked the alleged victim, saying that “the timing of these allegations, one month before the election, makes them highly suspect.” Wohl went on to say that the accuser “was suffering from drug addiction, alcohol abuse” and “was basically incorrigible.” From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum:
MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): David, you’re defending Roy Moore in this situation?
DAVID WOHL: Well, look, the timing of these allegations, one month before the election, makes them highly suspect. I mean, let me get this straight. These acts allegedly took place in 1979 and her first disclosure is 38 years later not to law enforcement but to a newspaper that has endorsed Roy Moore's opponent and is hell-bent on taking him down. I'm sorry, the credibility is completely zero. Mr. Trump -- President Trump went through this same thing during the election, three maybe four women made outrageous allegations against him.
MACCALLUM: Yeah, but they weren’t 14-year-old girls.
WOHL: Well one was, one said it happened when she was 13. She didn’t show up at her press conference and mysteriously dismissed her complaint against him shortly thereafter. So, I mean she -- the girl also admits, Martha, during this time that she was suffering from drug addiction, alcohol abuse. She was basically incorrigible.
MACCALLUM: But that’s not the point, David. It’s not a question of her character; it’s a question of his character. He was the adult, he was 32 years old. And so the question is whether or not -- and she said, “I went along with it, I went to his house a couple of times.” It’s really not that question of her going, it’s a question of whether or not he did this. And I’m not hearing in what his statement is saying, and I understand that this is obviously a hugely politically charged environment. His opponents are looking for anything they can possibly find to take him down. This is a long-held Republican seat. Everybody gets all of that. The question is whether or not this happened and whether or not voters are going to hold that against him. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 11/9/17]
Fake news website RedStateWatcher: Wash. Post report is a “hit piece” on Moore. Fake news website RedStateWatcher wrote a piece headlined “BREAKING: WaPo Reporter Behind Roy Moore Hit Piece Exposed! [RedStateWatcher, 11/9/17; BuzzFeed, 11/4/16]
Fake news website TruthFeed: Post report seems like “an ‘inside job’ by GOP establishment.” Fake news website TruthFeed suggested the Post report was “an ‘inside job’ by [the] GOP establishment, hell-bent on keeping an America First Senator out of the Senate,” and suggested that the timing of the allegations seemed suspicious. From the November 10 article:
Many people feel it’s a coincidence that Mitch McConnell’s, guy Luther Strange, was defeated in Alabama by Roy Moore, and now suddenly 40-year old “sex abuse” allegations surface.
Add to the coincidence, the fact that McConnell, McCain, and other establishment creatures quickly crawled out of the woodwork to condemn Moore and call for him to step down.
*This piece has been updated to include additional examples.
- Premiere Radio Networks, Genesis Communications Network, Fox News Channel, Courtside Entertainment Group
- Roy Moore, Sean Hannity, Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, Joe Walsh, Alex Jones, Joel Pollak, Ben Shapiro, David Wohl, Laura Ingraham, Mercedes Colwin, Gregg Jarrett, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter
- The Sean Hannity Show, GotNews, The Alex Jones Show, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hannity, The Laura Ingraham Show, The Ingraham Angle