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A failed effort to dupe The Washington Post into publishing a woman’s fabricated account of underage sex with Roy Moore represents the latest entry on a list of schemes that attempted to expose fake news in the mainstream media and wound up doing the opposite.
The Post’s Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites reported Monday that a woman who appears to have been working for Project Veritas, the conservative activist group run by James O’Keefe, approached the newspaper with a false claim that she had an abortion at age 15 after Moore impregnated her.
The woman who tried to fool The Post, Jaime Phillips, raised suspicions in similar ways. At times, she seemed to be trying to bait reporters into saying that publishing allegations against Moore would end his campaign. During one meeting, she positioned — and repositioned — her purse in a way that suggested the presence of a hidden camera.
In July, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told viewers (and fellow journalists) that “somebody for some reason appears to be shopping a fairly convincing fake NSA document that purports to directly implicate somebody from the Trump campaign in working with the Russians on their attack on the election. It is a forgery.”
One way to stab in the heart aggressive American reporting on that subject is to lay traps for American journalists who are reporting on it, trick news organizations into reporting what appears to be evidence of what happened, and then after the fact blow that reporting up.
You then hurt the credibility of that news organization. You also cast a shadow over any similar reporting in the future, whether or not it’s true, right? Even if it’s true, you plant a permanent question, a permanent asterisk, a permanent “who knows?” as to whether that too might be false, like that other story — whether that too might be based on fake evidence.
In May, conservative talk show host Bill Mitchell suggested that supporters of President Trump could discredit news outlets such as The Post and New York Times by tricking them into publishing “crazy ‘leaks.’ ”
You know what we should do? Start flooding the NYTimes and WAPO tip lines with all kinds of crazy "leaks." Then laugh when they print them!
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) May 21, 2017
The longer Maddow went on, ever deeper into a conspiratorial thicket, the clearer it became that whatever tax returns Maddow had, they weren’t as juicy as the ones she was talking about. If she had anything that damning, she would have shared them from the start. TV is a ratings game, but an entire episode about highly damaging tax returns is just as likely to get you great ratings as milking the possibility that you have highly damaging tax returns and less likely to get you compared to Geraldo. Maddow even went so far as to hold the tax returns back until after the first commercial break, as if we were watching an episode of The Bachelor and not a matter of national importance—because we weren’t, in fact, watching a matter of national importance, just a cable news show trying to set a ratings record.
Alice Crites, a Post researcher who was looking into Phillips’s background, found a document that strongly reinforced the reporters’ suspicions: a Web page for a fundraising campaign by someone with the same name. It was on the website GoFundMe.com under the name Jaime Phillips.
“I’m moving to New York!” the May 29 appeal said. “I’ve accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt of the liberal MSM. I’ll be using my skills as a researcher and fact-checker to help our movement. I was laid off from my mortgage job a few months ago and came across the opportunity to change my career path.”
But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups.
Though O'Keefe described himself as a progressive radical, not a conservative, he said he targeted ACORN for the same reasons that the political right does: its massive voter registration drives that turn out poor African Americans and Latinos to cast ballots against Republicans.