A person purporting to be a Washington Post reporter left a voicemail on an Alabama phone number offering up to $7,000 to women willing to malign Republican senate nominee Roy Moore.
The Nov. 14 message was received by Pastor Al Moore of Creola, Ala., who played the recording for local CBS affiliate WKRG. The news outlet described the message as a "robocall" and said "at least one person in our viewing area" received the message. (They did not respond when we asked how many people had received the call.)
"Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein, I’m a reporter for the Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000 dollars," the message stated.
The caller then said the newspaper "will not be fully investigating these claims" but would make a written report, and said he could be contacted via email at [email protected]
This voicemail smelled fishy to us — so we decided to investigate further. It turns out the call was a hoax that appears calculated to undermine the work of real journalists.
The suspicious voicemail comes as top Republicans call for Moore to end his bid in the Dec. 12 special election after the Washington Post reported that Moore, while in his 30s, had sexual encounters with several teenagers, including a 14-year-old girl, according to the women. Since then, another accuser has alleged that Moore assaulted her in locked car when she was 16.
Moore’s attorney, Trenton Garmon, seized on the phone call during a Nov. 15 appearance on MSNBC and floated the possibility of pursuing legal action.
"Robocalls are now even being made asking for people to come forward against Roy, which I think is kind of an indication of the political climate that we're in, and we plan on even probably getting into some depositions related to that," said Garmon, who acknowledged that he did not know who was responsible for making the call.
It’s unclear what relationship, if any, the voicemail bears to the Nov. 9 Washington Post report concerning Moore’s alleged sexual encounters.
But for his part, Moore forcefully denied the allegations and threatened to sue the Post after their bombshell investigation led top Republicans to call for Moore’s exit.
"The Washington Post published another attack on my character and reputation because they are desperate to stop my political campaign," he said at a Nov. 12 campaign speech in Huntsville, Ala. "These attacks said I was with a minor child and are false and untrue -- and for which they will be sued."
The Moore campaign did not respond to our request to comment on this story.
Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron dismissed the voicemail as an effort to "discredit real journalism," saying the reporting methods described in the call bear "no relationship to reality."
"The Post has just learned that at least one person in Alabama has received a call from someone falsely claiming to be from The Washington Post," Baron said in a written statement. "The call’s description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality. We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism."
The Washington Post further noted in a Nov. 15 article that no Post newsroom employees are named "Bernie Bernstein" or "Al Bernstein." Additionally, Moore, the pastor who received the voicemail, told WKRG that his attempt to email the address provided in the message came back undeliverable. (The same was true of our efforts.)
A caller purporting to be a Washington Post reporter named Bernie Bernstein left a voicemail saying the newspaper was offering women up to $7,000 for damaging information on Roy Moore.
The Washington Post denied having made the call and dismissed it as an effort to discredit journalism. Further, it said the reporting methods described in the call — offering cash in exchange for muck — runs counter to Post practice.
We found no record of any Washington Post reporters or editors named Bernie Bernstein or Al Bernstein, and emails sent to the address provided in the message came back undeliverable.
We rate this Pants on Fire.