Doug Jones’ recent victory over accused pedophile Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate special election was a sigh of relief for decent people across America. It was also a needed reminder of the power of journalism at a time when the nation’s relationship with fact feels tenuous and frayed.
There were many political takeaways from the case study that was the Alabama election. Some reporters saw Jones as the harbinger of a Democratic wave election coming in 2018; Some highlighted the power of black women turning out in droves to vote for Jones; Some lauded the political power of the #MeToo movement.
One takeaway we can’t let slip through the cracks is the ability of quality journalism to steer the ship of democracy.
Because of the disgusting nature of the accusations against Roy Moore, it may be hard for some to remember that Moore was probably headed for a victory before The Washington Post first published its story documenting Leigh Corfman’s experiences with Moore when she was just 14 years old.
Using RealClearPolitics’s polling interface, we can reference the aggregated polling data gathered throughout the election and see if the story had an impact.
The polling shows that Moore had a clear lead before The Post broke the news on November 9. By November 12, when the polls began to catch up to the news, Jones surged in the polls enough to bring the race to a toss-up within the margin of error.
The fact that Jones won by only 21,000 votes––despite his opponent being accused of sexual misconduct with several minors––is further evidence that, without The Post’s reporting, Moore probably would have won the election.
Some people may say that this doesn’t necessarily show the power of journalism––it should be a no-brainer that some people will abandon their candidate when they are outed as a pedophile. After all, it was the bravery of his accusers that led to the stories being published.
These points are all important. But in this jaded, mistrustful, political environment where partisanship is used to brand good journalism as “fake news,” The Post was still able to cut through the noise and serve as a megaphone for these women while maintaining credibility and integrity.
After the story was published, Moore and his Republican operatives tried to delegitimize The Post. The ultra-conservative group Project Veritas went so far as to execute a sting operation against The Post by paying a woman to approach Post reporters with false accusations against Moore. When the woman met in person with Post Reporter Stephanie McCrummen to talk about the accusations, McCrummen came prepared, and easily outed the woman as trying to trick the paper into publishing false information that would obliterate its credibility, and in turn the credibility of Moore’s original accusers.
If these forces were successful in their attacks on The Post’s trustworthiness as a source of news, even more Alabama voters who are predisposed to despise the “Washington Elite” could have been convinced to ignore the “liberal media” and stick with Moore.
The Post’s even-handedness through both the Project Veritas ordeal and other efforts by Moore supporters to delegitimize the voices of Moore’s rightful accusers gives hope that honest and well-researched journalism still has sway with the people of America. It shows that, despite the president’s attempts to destroy fact and evidence-based news and the presence of a political party complicit in these attempts, a national consensus can still be formed around what is true and what isn’t. And with special prosecutor Bob Mueller’s criminal probe into the Trump campaign intensifying, it’s more important than ever that Americans put their trust in the guiding light of fact-based reporting.