If you’re not familiar with the stories regarding Project Veritas’ failed attempt to plant a fake news story in The Washington Post, they’re worth catching up to, for several reasons.
The conservative charity, whose mission has been to prove that the mainstream media lies, was recently exposed for its efforts to get The Washington Post to print a false story regarding Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
The attempt, which failed to result in a “fake news” story, instead led to some excellent reporting and digging by the Post staff and ultimately a different story.
A woman identifying herself as Jaime Phillips sought to have Post journalists publish her claim that Moore got her pregnant when she was a teenager. She terminated her pregnancy, the woman said in the course of several interviews. As she shared her story, she told the reporters she too wanted to be a journalist. As she dished dirt on Moore, she asked them often for their thoughts on whether her allegations would wreck his candidacy.
But her story didn’t check out, including her claims about her motivations.
The Post didn’t publish the story. Instead, its journalists did their jobs and began checking their source out. When they did, they found some disturbing inconsistencies in Phillips’ cover story. Last week, they watched as Phillips walked into a New York office of Project Veritas.
In not jumping at the too-good-to-be-true story, the Post journalists did their jobs and upheld the standard of ethical, accurate reporting.
Check your sources, we’re taught. Whether we learned it in j-school or at the elbow of a veteran crime or political reporter, we learned to take no one’s word for granted without corroboration.
An old journalism adage sums it up best: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
The second lesson from this recent episode is more heartening, if you ask me.
In a coffee shop in Virginia, with audio and video devices running, a Washington Post reporter sat down with Phillips and in the most disarming yet ultimately effective way possible, stripped away her fabrications.
Watch the nearly 10-minute interview between reporter Stephanie McCrummen and Phillips and you’ll see a professional journalist at work, collecting information with no subterfuge or pretext.
As you watch it at first, you might not be impressed. The setting is pedestrian, the camera angle is boring and the line of questioning doesn’t sound like anything you’d see on the Sunday morning talk shows.
McCrummen sounds like she’d make a good homicide detective. She never closes the door on letting Phillips explain. Even as she lays out the evidence against believing the woman’s story, McCrummen pauses frequently, offering Phillips a chance to elaborate.
She is upfront and honest with Phillips: I’m here to find out what happened and this is your chance to tell me. You’re being taped, the reporter explains (ironic, since one Project Veritas ploy is to secretly tape journalists in a effort to discredit them and prove bias).
She doesn’t leap or react to the faltering Phillips. Gently, but insistently, she asks for the answers, shifting topics at times, but never stops pressing.
It’s not flashy, it’s not flamboyant and it’s not good television. But it’s good journalism.
The interview has been widely circulated, watched and commented on.
For me, the interview is a lesson in planning, preparing and persistence that we can both celebrate and learn from.
It’s an antidote to the blustering style of television interviews and pundits. It is pure working class and it is what is needed every day in our industry and in our communities.
W.F. “Buzz” Keough is managing editor of The Press of Atlantic City.