Last week, The Washington Post published a blockbuster story on Roy Moore, a Republican running to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate. In the story, four women say that Moore pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers.
The story’s focus is Leigh Corfman. She told the Post that in 1979, Moore approached her at a courthouse when her mother was there for a custody hearing. At the time, Corfman was 14, and Moore was 32. She alleges that Moore, an assistant district attorney at the time, took her to his house, disrobed and touched her.
After the Post’s story broke, Moore called it “the very definition of fake news.” He said the Post had committed “intentional defamation.”
Let’s take a look at each of Moore’s accusations.
“Fake news” is propaganda. It’s false information that is designed to mislead, confuse and demoralize. The Post story is real news. It’s reported, edited and written to provide readers with the background and character of a person seeking an important office.
“Intentional defamation” indicates that Moore is considering legal action against the Post. To win a libel case, a public figure like Moore must show, among other things, that a news organization acted with “actual malice.” That means that he must show that the Post knowingly published false information or exercised reckless disregard for the truth.
A thorough reading of the Post story shows that it was meticulously reported, with two journalists interviewing more than 30 sources over a three-week period. For example, the Post looked into whether the accusers were supporters of Moore’s opponents in the Senate race:
The Post also looked into whether the custody hearing that Corfman described had taken place that day. It did:This attention to detail shows that the Post’s reporters and editors did their homework. I will be surprised if Moore files a libel suit against the newspaper and even more surprised if he prevails.