The strange tale of Roy Moore's Senate candidacy just took another twist Tuesday.
A robocall received by a pastor in Mobile, Alabama, purported to be from a Washington Post reporter named Bernie Bernstein. It offered women aged 54 to 57 $7,000 to make “damaging remarks” about the Senate hopeful, reported WKRG.
The Washington Post’s editor, Marty Baron, said in a statement the publication had nothing to do with the calls.
Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, speaks at a campaign rally on September 25, in Fairhope, Alabama. Scott Olson/Getty Images
“The Post has just learned that at least one person in Alabama has received a call from someone falsely claiming to be from The Washington Post. The call’s description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality. We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism.”
The robocall is not the first—though it may be the weirdest—attempt by Moore backers to smear the five women who have alleged the former judge made inappropriate sexual advances toward them or molested them as teens. Rumors about the women have spread since the first four came forward with their accusations last Thursday.
The partisan website GatewayPundit.com published a report on November 9 citing a single Twitter account. It claimed that the Post had paid Leigh Corfman, who alleges she was molested by Moore when she was 14, to go on the record with her accusation.
The rumor swept the internet, being picked up by the Infowars conspiracy theories site and finding itself to the top of the r/The_Donald subreddit, the most active pro-Trump discussion page on the internet.
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The rumor was recycled by pro-Trump radio station One America News Network, and Fox News’s top-rated host Sean Hannity on Friday hinted that the accusers may have been motivated by financial considerations but did not reference the rumor directly.
The Twitter account allegedly belonged to ex–Navy SEAL "Doug Lewis." In the message cited by Gateway Pundit, he claimed that a family friend who lives in Alabama told his wife that a Washington Post reporter “named Beth” approached her and offered her money to accuse Moore.
"Doug Lewis" claimed to have a recording of the conversation that he was passing on to the Etowah County District Attorney's Office.
The Washington Post described the claims in a statement as “categorically false,” adding: “We have an explicit policy that prohibits paying sources.”
Shortly after tweeting the claims, though, the "Doug Lewis" Umpire43 account disappeared.
Post reporter Dave Weigel pointed out several discrepancies in the account's description of his military service—with "Doug Lewis" claiming at different times he had been awarded four, three and two Purple Hearts.
This was not the only inconsistency.
On Tuesday, The Daily Beast found that the account user had been using the identity of a Navy serviceman who died in 2007 and had at different times claimed via the account to be a pollster, Navy veteran, an expert on voting machines and a baseball umpire.
The Daily Beast also reported that the account may have been the source of Donald Trump's bogus claim that American Muslims celebrated 9/11—with the then-presidential hopeful's communications director Dan Scavino re-tweeting Umpire43's claim in 2015.
Politicians will often criticize opponents using robocalls—but the use of the method to discredit a news organization may be unprecedented and illustrates the lengths Moore's backers are prepared to go to in order to neutralize the allegations that threaten to derail his candidacy.
On Twitter, some alleged the use of the name "Bernie Bernstein" in the message was an anti-Semitic dog whistle.
John Rodgers, a Moore campaign spokesman, has denied any connection between the candidate's election team and the message.
Moore has denied all allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, and is continuing to fight for the Senate seat, despite the Republican National Committee and senior party leadership calling for him to step aside.
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