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Washington Post’s Handling of Roy Moore Accuser Raises Ethical Questions

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Leigh Corfman, the 53-year-old woman who alleges that Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore touched her inappropriately when she was 14 years old, told NBC’s Today show that she would not have come forward with her story if the Washington Post had not included other accusers in the story.

NBC’s Eun Kyung Kim reports: “When the Washington Post caught wind of [Corfman’s] story and sought her out, she told the paper’s reporters that ‘if they found additional people, that I would tell my story. And they found those people,’ she said.”

The three other people in the original Post story were all past the legal age of consent in Alabama when Moore is alleged to have dated them. None of the relationships was sexual beyond kissing, and all of them were reportedly consensual.

However, the fact that three “accusations” of legal conduct were included with one allegation of illegal conduct created the impression of a pattern of behavior by Roy Moore involving underage women.

Several other women have since emerged to accuse Moore of inappropriate conduct, but none of them was underage at the time.

The Post therefore appears to have padded its original scoop about Corfman — who admitted to the paper she might not be the most credible accuser, given “three divorces and a messy financial history” — with other stories to entice her to speak on the record.

Those stories were different from Corfman’s own story in a fundamental way: they did not allege any illegal conduct. The Post evidently could not come up with any more allegations of liaisons with underage women.

That raises ethical questions about whether the Post printed Corfman’s story without trusting it; whether it misled her into believing other women had made the same accusations; and whether it deliberately created an impression of Moore preying on many underage women when it had no hard evidence of that.

The Post‘s coverage arguably shaped subsequent coverage of Roy Moore, leading other reporters to draw inferences for which there was no evidence.

For example, the New Yorker published an unsubstantiated story that claimed Moore had been banned from a mall because he had been approaching young girls. It cited a second-hand media source that was not prepared to divulge its own sources.

The manager of the mall at the time later emerged to refute the claim that Moore had ever been banned, but by then the New Yorker‘s claim had been widely circulated. The Post‘s original story made the “mall ban” story more believable than it would have been otherwise because of the additional “accusers.”

It is still unclear who connected Corfman to the Post — whether it was a simple news tip, or an opposition research dump. The Post reported that none of the women had approached it, and Corfman told Today that the opportunity to come forward “fell in my lap.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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