Breitbart.com set out to re-report the Washington Post‘s Roy Moore story. In one aspect, they have uncovered an apparent contradiction between the versions of Leigh Corfman and that of her mother. In another aspect, they made the Washington Post‘s story seem stronger. Overall, their reporting seems to have done the Washington Post a favor — though that was clearly not their intent.
Let’s start with the contradiction they claim to have exposed. Their article reports:
Speaking by phone to Breitbart News on Saturday, Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71, says that her daughter did not have a phone in her bedroom during the period that Moore is reported to have allegedly called Corfman – purportedly on Corfman’s bedroom phone – to arrange at least one encounter.
If accurate, this does appear to contradict an aspect of Corfman’s claim. (Unless she plugged the house phone into a phone jack in her bedroom, which is not impossible.) But . . .
I know that people who are dying to put this matter to rest for partisan reasons are about to get upset at me, but I have to tell you: if you think this one contradiction destroys Leigh Corfman’s account, you have revealed that you have little experience dealing with eyewitnesses. I have some experience in that area myself, and I agree with Paul Mirengoff regarding his dismissal of the significance of this contradiction:
Does Corfman’s faulty recollection about the phone undercut the thrust of that story? I spent decades working with and examining witnesses. In my view, Corfman’s mistake about the bedroom phone is the kind of error people often make when trying to remember details from the distant past. I don’t think her mistake regarding this detail bears much, if at all, on her overall credibility.
Corfman’s claim of sexual misconduct by Moore is not a detail. If she is erring about this matter, she’s not failing to remember something incidental. Her “error,” if she’s making one, is of a different nature — a lie, a delusion, or a substantial embellishment.
I think there are substantial reasons to disbelieve Corfman’s claim of improper sexual touching. I discussed them here. I don’t think her mistake about the location of the phone provides additional reason to dispute her claim.
I endorse wholeheartedly Mirengoff’s emphasis of the distinction between recollection of minor details and recollection of important events. This is Witness 101, and while partisans will no doubt cite the Breitbart story as The Death Blow to Corfman’s account, it is nothing of the sort.
That said, it is an apparent contradiction, and my hat is off to Aaron Klein at Breitbart for going to the effort and probing the details.
Indeed, Klein has done the Washington Post a big favor — though he seems not to realize it — by confirming that Corfman did not seek out the Post; rather, they sought her out:
The mother of Leigh Corfman, who says that Alabama Senatorial Candidate Roy Moore tried to engage in a sexual encounter with her when she was 14, told Breitbart News that the Washington Post worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore.
Speaking by phone to Breitbart News on Saturday, Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71, further stated that her daughter would not have come forward if it weren’t for The Post reporter’s alleged actions.
. . . .
Corfman’s mother, Wells, told Breitbart News that reporters for the Washington Post convinced her daughter to give them an interview.
“She did not go to them,” said Wells. “They called her.”
“They tried to convince her to do it?” this reporter asked.
“Yes,” replied Wells, matter-of-factly.
Wells was asked about Corfman’s motivations for going public. “It wasn’t done for politics, you know,” Wells replied. “It was done for personal reasons. And it wouldn’t have been done if the reporters hadn’t contacted my daughter.”
Klein thinks that The Big Story here is that “Wells[’s] comments seem to indicate activist behavior on the part of the Washington Post reporters.” With all due respect, that’s horse droppings. (I did say “due.”) Her comments indicate reporting on the part of Washington Post reporters. Persuading reluctant witnesses to tell their story is a key skill of any great reporter.
But more importantly, the mom’s comments indicate that the key accuser, her daughter Leigh Corfman, is someone without a political vendetta. Think about it. In the war of words over the validity of the Washington Post‘s story about Roy Moore, the two sides have bitterly debated the motives of Moore’s accusers. Why did Leigh Corfman, the key accuser, come forward now, after 38 years? Surely it must be politically motivated on her part!
Nope. Just as the Post explained, this decision was made reluctantly — a fact that any lawyer will tell you increases her credibility, because it indicates lack of bias. Until now, you might have thought she was eager, and that the Washington Post was just spinning the facts to make her sound reluctant. Thanks to Aaron Klein, we now have confirmation of that key fact by a publication that has every ideological reason to help Moore and hurt Corfman.
So I’ll say something I don’t say often anymore: cheers to Breitbart.com. Their spin is silly, but hey — so is the spin of Big Media. At least they went and gathered some facts. Even if those facts, by and large, hurt Roy Moore rather than helping him.