Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has come under fire following accusations that he attempted to rape a teenager and engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with other teens, including a then-14-year-old minor. In order to defend Moore, right-wing and far-right media that have also been staunch supporters of President Donald Trump have resorted to pushing conspiracy theories -- some based on discredited Twitter accounts -- including suggesting that Moore’s signature on the yearbook of one of the accusers is forged and questioning the location of a phone another accuser said she used to speak to Moore. Moore’s wife has also pushed some of the conspiratorial claims on Facebook.
Pushing conspiracy theories
When Beverly Young Nelson, the woman who said Moore tried to rape her in 1977, showed the media a message signed “Roy Moore, D.A.” in her yearbook from that year, a conspiracy theory began making the rounds. The far-right and consistently unreliable blog Gateway Pundit claimed that the signature was forged in a piece headlined “IT’S A FAKE.” The website cited Twitter account Thomas Wictor as its source, claiming Wictor is “known for his insightful take on politics.” On the contrary, Wictor has a history of pushing false claims, including helping spread a made-up Puerto Rican trucker strike after Hurricane Maria and sharing a fake Facebook post of fallen soldier La David Johnson’s wife criticizing Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). Despite Wictor’s poor track record, Gateway Pundit’s highly dubious claim has spread among other pro-Trump media and message boards that have previously helped push conspiracy theories. Roy Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore, also posted the article on her Facebook page.
Before that, shortly after the The Washington Post published its initial report about Moore, Twitter account @umpire43 dubiously claimed that a “family friend” told his wife that “a WAPO reporter named Beth offered her 1000$ to accuse Roy Moore.” The Gateway Pundit and the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars both picked up the tweet, and from there, numerous fake news websites promoted it, as did the far-right-friendly One America News Network. Kayla Moore also posted a link on Facebook to one of the fake news websites pushing the claim. But the Twitter account that launched the rumor has previously made a similar allegation about two other news outlets, has lied about its own background, and has since deleted many of its tweets.
Pushing irrelevant or inconsequential stories to try to discredit the accusers
Many pro-Trump media outlets have also jumped on the tangential point that one of the accusers, Deborah Wesson Gibson, was an interpreter for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and worked with former Vice President Joe Biden at some events. Breitbart, The Gateway Pundit, Infowars, and many fake news websites all jumped on this allegation, and more traditional right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and The Daily Caller hyped it as well.
Pro-Trump media have also supported a separate effort by Breitbart to discredit the accusers. One Breitbart report claimed that the mother of Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time of her encounter with Moore, said that her daughter did not have a phone in her bedroom, though the Post reported that Corfman had spoken with Moore on such a phone. Kayla Moore, The Gateway Pundit and multiple fake news websites promoted Breitbart’s report, which dubiously suggested that Corfman was lying. Another Breitbart report hyped a comment from Corfman’s mother that the Post “worked to convince her daughter to give an interview,” even though the Post had acknowledged that fact in its original report. Gateway Pundit called it “one heck of a revelation,” and fake news website TruthFeed called it a “bombshell.”
Pro-Trump media commentators have also smeared the accusers in other ways. Some have suggested that struggles Corfman faced later in her life meant her accusation was not credible (in fact the Post reported that Corfman hesitated to share her story earlier precisely because she feared her struggles would be used against her). CNN’s Ed Martin suggested that Corfman should not be believed because she had “multiple bankruptcies.” Fox News host Sean Hannity on his radio show said that the accusers could be violating one of the Ten Commandments: “thou shalt not bear false witness.” On the same show, a guest, Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, said that Corfman “disgust[ed]” her because she “spent 38 years thinking about this before [she] said anything” and was “making women poison to work for.” Additionally, radio host Rush Limbaugh called Corfman a “wacky,” “self-admitted mess of a woman,” and frequent Fox News guest David Wohl called Corfman “basically incorrigible” because she “was suffering from drug addiction, alcohol abuse.” As Post columnist Margaret Sullivan noted, these kinds of smears are exactly why so many women are hesitant to report abuse.