I'll cut to the chase: I think Roy Moore did it. And I can predict what Moore supporters will say: “Of course you would believe that!”
After all, I called for conservatives to repudiate Moore, the Alabama Republican candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, before the Washington Post’s meticulously reported story alleging that Moore dated teenagers and, in one instance, molested a 14 year-old-girl. So naturally I would exploit this politically timed “smear” to ruin a “good man.”
That’s the nature of the Moore defense I’m hearing, not just from folks on Twitter and via email, but from prominent politicos and pundits. It’s all just a hoax perpetrated by people who don’t want to Make America Great Again.
I would say it’s a terrible argument, but calling it an argument is too generous. Here’s Breitbart honcho Steven Bannon on Thursday:
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“The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump,” Bannon told a New Hampshire audience, “is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now is that a coincidence?”
This is typical of Bannon’s demagogic style. Because the Post is allegedly out to get Moore, not only can we not believe what the Post reports, we don’t have to credit what any of the people talking to the Post on the record actually said. It’s a kind of motivated reasoning that lets audiences connect dots and reach conclusions unsupported by the facts.
Bannon uses lots of adjectival nouns — “Bezos-Amazon Washington Post”! — to insinuate a nefarious conspiracy that everyone is supposed to know about. He appeals to intellectual vanity and insecurity: Surely you don’t believe this is a coincidence! This is a classic example of the paranoid style, inferring evil intentions from objective facts.
The most telling detail is Bannon’s claim that the Post “dropped a dime” on Trump with the “Access Hollywood” tape. Translation: They’re snitches!
But here’s the thing: Snitches may or may not be bad people, but what makes people hate snitches is that they tell the truth. A snitch, by definition, is an informer, not a liar.
And the one fact Bannon leaves out of his innuendo-drenched word salad is that the “Access Hollywood” story was actually, you know, true. Trump said what he said — on tape — in his own words! Whether he was lying when he talked about sexually assaulting women is a different question altogether. The Post didn’t make anything up then, and I don’t think it’s making anything up now.
That said, I’m entirely open to the idea that the Post is out to get Moore. But reporters’ motives aren’t nearly as important as people think. The Post was surely out to get Richard Nixon during Watergate; that doesn’t change the fact that Nixon was guilty. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, many people were out to get Bill Clinton (me included), but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an affair with an intern and lie about it under oath. The motivations of truth-tellers cannot turn the truth into a lie.
Both the Post’s reporting and victims’ testimony are persuasive for reasons widely discussed. But there’s one point no one has made: If these women were willing to lie, why not go all in and say they were raped, or insist Moore wouldn’t take “no” for an answer? In for a penny, in for a pound, after all.
But perhaps most damning are Moore’s creepy denials. When Fox News host Sean Hannity asked, almost begged, Moore to deny the allegations categorically, Moore was evasive, lawyerly and weird. If someone asked me if I ever dated teenagers when I was in my 30s, my reply would be “absolutely not.” It wouldn’t be “it would have been out of my customary behavior.” When asked if he remembered dating teenagers, Moore answered, “Not generally, no.” At one point, with barely restrained pique, he insisted, “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”
That’s an odd thing to say if you never dated teenagers.
Moore and his defenders are counting on the fact that his supporters don’t want the allegations to be true. And, shamefully for all concerned, it’s working.
(Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.)