A day after The Washington Post published an article outlining allegations that Roy Moore had a series of sexual encounters with underage girls, one of the reporters who worked on the story received an email: “Roy Moore in Alabama … I might know something but I need to keep myself safe. How do we do this?” The Post’s Beth Reinhard asked if the author of the email (who identified herself as “Lindsay James”) would be willing to speak with her off the record. James said her real name was Jaime Phillips and they agreed to meet.
Phillips told an incredible story: That Moore impregnated her when she was 15, convinced her to get an abortion and drove her to a clinic in Mississippi. During her interviews with The Post, she “repeatedly asked the reporter to guarantee her that Moore would lose the election if she came forward.”
Reinhard immediately questioned elements of Phillips’s story – for example, she said she had only lived in Alabama briefly as a teenager, but her cellphone had an Alabama area code. Then a Washington Post researcher discovered a GoFundMe page posted by a woman named Jaime Phillips: “I’m moving to New York! I’ve accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt of the liberal MSM.”
On Monday morning, Washington Post reporters saw Phillips enter the New York offices of Project Veritas – a conservative organization that claims to expose bias in the media. Subsequent reporting has revealed that Phillips spent months trying to “insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters,” signing up to attend 15 events and even showing up at farewell parties for Post employees.
What started as an effort to humiliate The Washington Post has instead demonstrated the paper’s scrupulous commitment to accuracy and honesty. It has also reminded journalists across the country that politically-motivated organizations like Project Veritas will do anything in their power to discredit legitimate newsgathering operations.
This is a dangerous time for journalism. We have a president whose hostility toward free speech and the media is unprecedented – from his suggestion that NBC’s broadcast license should be revoked for a negative story about him to his recent assertion that CNN International is a “major source of (Fake) news.” According to PolitiFact, Trump has publicly used the term “fake news” 153 times since he was sworn in as president. This is part of his incessant effort to confuse Americans about which sources are credible and which ones aren’t, which makes it much more difficult to hold him accountable.
Then there’s the surging number of actual fake news outlets that are happy to exploit this confusion by publishing blatantly false material. As political polarization in the U.S. reaches levels that Pew Research Center hasn’t seen since it started collecting data on the phenomenon, Americans are increasingly retreating to their partisan echo chambers – many of which are gutters of fake news like Alex Jones’s Infowars.
Project Veritas only adds to the noise – it purports to be interested in a “more ethical and transparent society,” but it’s really just a tool of political sabotage. Every journalist in the country should be grateful to The Washington Post for exposing the tactics of such a sleazy and dishonest organization. Meanwhile, the rest of us should never forget that we’re living in a country where liars and charlatans are masquerading as journalists and partisan hacks think they have a duty to conduct “sting” operations against people who have dedicated their lives to telling us the truth.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.