By Chris Adams
The number of prominent men brought low by allegations of sexual harassment seems never-ending – from media stars such as Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer, to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, to political heavyweight Sen. Al Franken.
Amid the disgraced were would-be senator Roy Moore and television anchor Charlie Rose. The stories were very different, with one thing in common: Both stories were broken by investigative reporters for The Washington Post.
Amy Brittain (bio, Twitter) and Beth Reinhard (bio, Twitter) unearthed the Moore and Rose stories in the waning months of 2017, and they continued to follow the stories in the weeks and months that followed. In a National Press Foundation video, the reporters shared how the stories came about and offered tips on how other reporters can tackle similar stories.
Some key takeaways:
__Sourcing any investigative story is difficult but working with women who were victimized by sexual predators years earlier can be especially dicey. Many women talked with Brittain and Reinhard only reluctantly, and initially off-the-record. Only later did they sometimes choose to go on-the-record. The reporters talked about the benefits of going on-the-record, but they knew the decision to do so would be a life-defining event for the woman.
“This is not the kind of situation where you can convince somebody to go on the record,” Brittain said. They allowed the women to decide on their own timeframes; one did so just 48 hours before the Rose story went live.
__Vetting any investigative story is vital, and was especially so for these stories, which rested on the credibility of the women making the accusations. Reinhard described how she and her reporting partner ran down every detail, making sure the smallest bits of information matched up with the public record or other sources.
They checked to see whether a certain restaurant served wine in 1979. They explored women’s political affiliations, divorces, bankruptcies and criminal records. Some of that they put into the story, seeking to fend off any charges that they were hiding information about sources whose credibility was vital.
“If you get a detail wrong – the name of the street, saying a restaurant served wine when it didn’t – that’s the kind of detail people will use to tear down the story,” Reinhard said.
That vetting process saved the Post from potential embarrassment when a woman approached Reinhard with a fabricated tale that Moore had impregnated her when she was a teenager and then drove her to Mississippi to get an abortion. The woman actually worked with an organization that seeks to trap reporters into making inflammatory, liberally biased statements.
Reinhard never gave the woman what she apparently wanted: promises or predictions that cooperating would help bring Moore down. Instead, the Post outed the woman and the effort behind it.
“Any email you send might end up on the internet,” Reinhard said. “We have to be guarded.”