By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
National opinion writers, network talking heads and even random strangers are slamming Alabama as a clannish bunch of backwoods, inbred rubes simply too dumb to determine who to elect as U.S. Senator on December 12. And even here at home, much of the same criticism is amplified in print, online and even in these pages.
At the Alabama Political Reporter, we allow all voices with few exceptions, but our primary focus is on accuracy in reporting.
In a time when our nation is experiencing a much-needed outing of misogynistic behavior, it is difficult to look at any charge of sexual exploitation with cool-eyed dispassion. The benefit of the doubt is given to the accuser, not the accused, as hopefully, a widespread cleansing will result from earnest and honest conversation about our past and the way forward.
As individuals, we can argue about the wisdom of voters. We can even disagree on the outcome of an election. But for better or worse, all political contests are winner take all in Alabama.
As editor-in-chief of APR, my job is to ensure that our publication presents accurate reporting.
APR also has a policy of publishing opinion/commentary from the right, left and center.
During the latest scandal to rock state politics, my goal is that our overall coverage of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is accurate and fair.
As I’ve told our reporters, Moore is a complicated man to cover even in the best of times. His propensity for what many feel is hateful speech can chill even some conservatives. Moore’s coarse, inflammatory rhetoric is meant to cut through a veneer of modernity like a rusty blade. Like a fire and brimstone preacher, Moore condemns a world he sees as increasingly secular and godless. His view of a wicked and sinful world is shared by many Alabamians.
There are those who believe Moore is a target of the Republican establishment and left-leaning journalists. And there are those who think that he is a sexual aggressor who must be stopped at all costs.
Reporters should not be judge and jury, rather, they should present evidence without fear or favor. However, in the real world, it is difficult to disengage emotions fully when covering someone like Moore. Perhaps this is why we see media reports stating imperially that nine women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct and hear the words pedophile or child molester used to describe Moore.
Perhaps the national media and even our homegrown reports and opinion writers believe Alabamians can’t count or don’t know the meaning of words. Factual errors and incorrect usage of clearly defined words is the very thing that gives credence to the phrase “fake news.”
Are two acts of alleged sexual aggression against teenage girls not enough to cause concern about a Senate candidate’s character? Is not a single accusation of grabbing a 28-year-old woman’s butt not enough to give us pause to reconsider our vote?
Of the nine women being reported as “Moore accusers,” only three have alleged him with sexual assault. Is that not enough?
Two of the other women said they dated Moore. One of those two said Moore brought her drinks when she was 18, and the legal age for drinking was 19. The others only claim that Moore pursued them when they were of the age of consent.
Reasonable people can agree that a man in his 30s chasing teenaged girls is inappropriate, but to lump these women in with Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson is to diminish the severity of their accounts. It further gives support to claims of unfair and manufactured news reporting.
Do we as a society not believe that even one claim of sexual assault on a minor is enough? This inflation in the number of accusers again undermines the seriousness of the accusations because not everyone in Alabama lacks basic reading comprehension skills. And most of us can count to eleven without removing our shoes.
Is Alabama a conservative state? Yes. Does it have a troubled past? Yes. Is the state’s collective conscience void of judgment? No. But to read or listen to commentators around the country and here at home, we are not only ignorant but mean and uncaring.
Also, when reporting or giving opinions, words matter; and as best as possible, journalists and commentators should use words as properly defined.
Here again, national press, state press and many on social media, are suspect because they have mislabeled or not understood the nature of what Moore’s victims accused him of doing. This mischaracterization is dismissive and perhaps harmful to real victims of other heinous crimes.
Since The Post‘s first report on December 9, the hashtags #RoyMoorePedophile and #RoyMooreChildMolester have been trending on social media. News shows have also used the word pedophile to describe Moore on numerous occasions.
Writing in The Post, Rachel Hope Cleves, a professor of history at the University of Victoria, and Nicholas L. Syrett, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas, explain why assigning the word pedophile to Moore undercuts the real crisis engulfing young women and men who have been preyed on by others.
“[A]ccounting for sexual abuse with a diagnosis of pedophilia obscures the way that abusive behavior fits into our everyday sexual system that privileges powerful men to take advantage of the younger, the female and the less powerful,” according to Cleves and Syrett. Pedophilia is a particular legal and medical term and a much different offense than what Moore’s accusers have cited.
From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, the problem as Cleves and Syrett describe it is one of powerful men taking advantage of females and males who are younger and have less power. If we as a society are to address serious problems, we should call these actions by their proper names, and the press should as well.
The media has a responsibility to state facts without inflating the story for shock-effect. Any act of sexual violence or assault should be disturbing enough to not need embellishment by a click-hungry media.
Recently, I received an email from a woman saying she is an Ohio businesswoman who has built an international business. She says, “If Alabama citizens vote for Roy Moore, yes you are ignorant rubes! Do you support young Alabama women and their potential? Do you even tbelieve (sic) in evolution??? As a strong Ohio woman from middle class family who built a large international company, I ask: Could an Alabama young woman do this! I’m scared for them. Of course the women speak truth. Please believe them! Otherwise you confirm my view of Alabama as scarily, hopelessly backward, i.e. dumb. Please support your women citizens. MS.”
It is my view that Alabamians do care genuinely about our young women, children and families. I also believe we as a whole take these allegations leveled at Moore seriously.
Advice from emailers, national pundits and even the opinion pages of al.com or alreporter.com, do not trump the wisdom of Alabama’s voters. They are not ignorant, mean or stupid, and that is my opinion. But it could be that I, too, am a southern rube.