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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s allies in the conservative media have been trying desperately to undermine the numerous credible reports of sexual misconduct by Moore, and today they thought they’d finally spied an opportunity — which they immediately seized on with characteristic dishonesty.

Beverly Young Nelson, who says Moore assaulted her when she was 16 years old, went public with her story at a November news conference and offered evidence of her past relationship with Moore: a high school yearbook containing a signed inscription from the Alabama Republican. Today, in an interview with ABC News, Nelson told reporter Tom Llamas that while the inscription and the signature were written by Moore, she added notes underneath indicating the date and location.

In certain corners of the conservative media, all hell broke loose as Moore’s defenders claimed that this “bombshell” revelation vindicates their candidate, whose campaign had argued that the handwriting did not match Moore’s and that he was the victim of a conspiracy.

Obviously this is information that should have been disclosed when Nelson (and her attorney, Gloria Allred) went public with her story, given the sensitivity of the issue and the weight placed on the yearbook as material evidence of the relationship between Moore and Nelson. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Moore and his defenders would challenge the authenticity of the inscription — one of those defenders, apparently, is President Trump, who reportedly has been privately calling the signature a forgery.

Nelson’s clarification provided Moore’s supporters an opening to mount a deceitful campaign to discredit her. She maintains that the message and signature in her yearbook still belong to Moore, but Moore’s allies in the conservative media are embellishing what Nelson said and dishonestly reframing her comments to make it seem like she admitted to fabricating the whole thing.

They’re accomplishing this through deliberately sloppy language and tendentious use of the word “forged.” Breitbart.com’s headlined screamed “Roy Moore Accuser Beverly Nelson Admits She Forged Yearbook,” which is a perniciously false characterization of what Nelson said. “Roy Moore accuser admits she forged part of yearbook inscription attributed to Alabama senate candidate,” read a (since deleted) Fox News tweet. Right-wing crank Dinesh D’Souza tweeted that Nelson had “forged his signature in her yearbook,” which is not at all what happened.

Setting aside the bad-faith argument being put forth by Breitbart and Fox News, there’s still the fact that eight other women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual assault and other inappropriate behaviors, often dating back to when they were very young. Moore’s conservative defenders don’t have anything to say about those women beyond insane conspiracy theories about George Soros and Mitch McConnell engineering some sort of anti-Moore plot. (And they’re determinedly unconcerned by the fact that Moore, after having admitted meeting some of his accusers, changed his story to claim he doesn’t know any of them.)

The unstated but obvious goal behind the rush to exaggerate and mischaracterize what Nelson actually said is to discredit everyone who has come forward with stories of misconduct by the Alabama Republican. As I wrote earlier this week, Moore’s allies in the conservative media have mounted a sustained and dishonest campaign to defend the candidate and concoct an alternate reality in which the charges against him have been proven false. Right now they’re trying to throw so much mud that some of it sticks to the other women whose stories have nothing to do with Beverly Young Nelson’s yearbook.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters