As more members of Congress call on Roy Moore to bow out of the Alabama Senate race following allegations that he dated teenagers while in his thirties, including an allegation that he initiated sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl, the Republican candidate has had at least one consistent media defender throughout the scandal: Breitbart News.
Breitbart, a relentless backer of Moore’s campaign, has focused its energy in recent days on casting the Washington Post, which broke the Moore story, as embarking on a politically motivated battle against the candidate. That media strategy is familiar terrain for readers of Breitbart, which revels in taking on the Republican establishment and the mainstream media.
But inside the Post’s newsroom, sources say, the right-wing site’s war has been met largely with bemusement — and that the paper is not interested in any sort of pissing match as the Moore story continues to snowball, and Moore continues to deny the allegations.
“If Breitbart were gaining traction, that would be one thing,” said one Post source. “Then maybe someone would be plussed. But I think everyone is nonplussed by this whole thing.”
News outlets’ public relations departments don’t typically shy away from a fight — even if that means sniping at a competitor or critic off the record. But a Washington Post spokesperson declined to comment to BuzzFeed News for this story. A spokesperson for Breitbart did not return a request for comment.
The battle, as it were, began last week when Breitbart preempted the Post’s scoop about Moore by running a story beforehand that appeared to be based on the Moore campaign leaking the newspaper’s detailed request for comment.
As Axios reported, Breitbart dispatched two of its reporters to Alabama with the goal of discrediting the Post. In recent days, Breitbart posted a story claiming to contradict the Post’s reporting, when it ended up confirming some of the underlying details, like how the Post sought out the accusers instead of being directly contacted. A Breitbart reporter was granted access to a “closed press” event where Moore said he was planning to sue the newspaper. (The Breitbart stories often repeat the allegations in detail, and one of the Post sources joked that if Moore were to actually go through with suing the Washington Post, he should include Breitbart, too.)
While Post reporters want to keep their criticisms anonymous, Breitbart has been characteristically explicit. On a radio program last week, Breitbart chief Steve Bannon made clear that the site was “at war” with “the Jeff Bezos Amazon Washington Post that weaponized the hit on Donald Trump on Billy Bush weekend, the same Bezos Washington Post weaponized this hit on Judge Roy Moore.”
The Moore story isn’t the first time Breitbart has sought to preempt a mainstream outlet. In August, Breitbart cast a New York Times reporter’s attempt to find sources for a story as proving the Times journalists are “not just on the receiving end of leaks, but are actually soliciting government employees to become leakers.” (Notably, the email obtained by Breitbart showed the reporter insisting that rumors and thinly sourced claims weren’t enough — she wanted to talk to people with knowledge of the things on which she was reporting.)
Post reporters did say that it’s upsetting to see the paper’s work dragged through the mud. But they add that they aren’t concerned about the reporting — which relied on on-the-record sources, including the woman who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14 and he was 32. Moore has denied the allegations.
On Monday, another woman came forward and said that when she was 16 years old, Moore groped her and forced her head near his crotch. In a statement on Monday, Moore's campaign chairman said, "We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone. This is a witch hunt against a man who has had an impeccable career for over 30 years and has always been known as a man of high character."
“It’s not like we’re even nervous about it. We’re not nervous about named sources,” one Post reporter said. “It seems like such an odd fight to pick. People are like, ‘Huh?’”
Moore’s campaign is crucial for Breitbart and Bannon. An ascent to the Senate would be a major victory that would allow Bannon, a crusader against the Republican establishment, to claim victory months after his White House departure.
Breitbart’s efforts have gotten the attention of the Post’s brass. Steven Ginsberg, the Post’s national editor, told the Washington Posts’s own Erik Wemple that the fact that Breitbart preempted the story will “definitely inform how we deal with the Moore campaign and make us consider how we deal with other campaigns, though we won’t necessarily hold what the Moore campaign has done against them.” Ginsberg, who did not return a request for comment from BuzzFeed News, added that he “didn’t recall anything like this on a story that I’ve worked on.”