MIDLAND CITY, Alabama—A Roy Moore victory over Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate special election would represent a major victory for President Donald Trump. But it would be an absolute triumph for some of the conservative press.
As much as any candidate, it is the press corps that is on the ballot on Tuesday. Exposés by The Washington Post turned what was supposed to be a sleepy contest in one of the most conservative states in the country into a political battleground. Since then, the primary question being asked of voters, and pushed by conservative media sympathetic to Moore, has been: Do you—can you—believe the sexual-misconduct allegations that you have read?
Moore has done his best to sow doubts. He has leaned on the large, enthusiastic voter base he built throughout his decades in public life—a base that showed up in full force at a rally at Jordan’s Activity Barn here in Dale County on Monday night. And to keep it intact, he has resorted to a nonstop barrage of attacks on a press corps that he’s deemed disingenuous and agenda-driven.
His crowd has followed his lead.
“Nobody’s going to believe The Washington Post. That’s fake news. Nobody believes [the media]. It’s terrible. It’s terrible,” Whitey, a 71-year-old Alabamian who declined to provide his last name, told The Daily Beast. “When Trump started endorsing him, I said he’s going to be good.”
Nearly every voter who spoke with The Daily Beast here made the same argument: The allegations that Moore sexually preyed on teenage girls when he was in his thirties are contrived; the female accusers are getting paid to speak out publicly; and the news media is in cahoots with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Democrats.
The speakers talked about the news media even more than they disparaged Jones. Moore’s wife, Kayla, used the entirety of her speech to harangue the “fake news.” Janet Porter, a TV spokeswoman for the Moore campaign, slammed the “lynch-mob media.” Another speaker told the crowd that members of the press “hate you and hold in contempt everything you hold dear, including your life and your precious Christian faith.”
As Moore’s supporters flooded into the recreational hall here in rural southeastern Alabama, they regularly rebuffed reporters who tried to conduct interviews. During the rally—which lasted two and a half hours and featured nearly a dozen speakers—the media was heckled more than any mention of other popular Trump punching bags.
“[Reporters] keep talking about this like there’s some truth to it. Nothing has been proven. We know in Alabama it is not true. These are false allegations,” Suzelle Josey, a Prattville resident, told The Daily Beast. “And it’s irresponsible of the media to keep talking about it like it’s been proven. Because nothing has been proven.”
“I don’t know where all of these allegations are coming from,” Albert Hudson, 73, told The Daily Beast, labeling all non-Fox News media as untrustworthy. "I think all of them are fictitious. Somebody’s probably trying to get some money."
The stakes in Tuesday’s elections are incredibly high. The future of major legislative items, like tax reform, could be altered should Moore lose and the Republican Party see its Senate majority reduced to a single seat (51-49). But beyond that are the sociopolitical implications. Moore is a hardline cultural conservative. He routinely rails against immigration and homosexuality, has said that Muslims shouldn’t serve in Congress, and waxed nostalgically about how the family structure was stronger during the time of slavery. On Monday night, his wife defended charges that he was anti-Semitic by noting that the couple had a Jewish lawyer.
The cannon of statements has been nearly overshadowed by the sexual-assault allegations. And, collectively, they’ve left Moore with little choice but to hammer the Fourth Estate as an enemy.
Part of that strategy appears driven out of necessity because Moore has staked so much of his political future on insisting that the Post’s bombshell allegations are false. Indeed, national Republicans suspect that part of the reason Moore has been able to survive this scandal at all is because it was the Post and not a local outlet that broke the initial story.
“I think the way the allegations came out—from a national news outlet and not a local one—probably caused the most backlash from Republicans in the state,” national GOP strategist Scott Jennings told The Daily Beast. “That’s the sad world we live in, where distrust in the national [political] media is so high that serious matters are immediately dismissed if your own tribe is negatively affected.”
But some of Moore’s playbook has been drawn from the successful template Trump used when he won the presidency last year.
Drawing on that experience—during which he denied numerous allegations of sexual harassment levied against him—Trump has backed Moore with tweets, a nearby political rally, and a robocall. But he’s not the only person responsible for helping shore up the Alabama candidate’s electoral support. Sean Hannity, the Fox News prime-time host, may be even more responsible than Trump for Moore’s political survival.
“I just had to believe what I think is true and what’s not. Hannity being behind him helped,” Philip Parker, 64, told The Daily Beast.
Indeed, at the Moore rally, Fox News was king. An overwhelming number of those in attendance credited the television network alongside Breitbart News, the conservative website helmed by Stephen Bannon, for rationalizing their votes for Moore even with the allegations against him.
Bannon himself was in attendance on Monday night, revving up the crowd by attacking not just members of the press (including MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough) but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Moore. He even targeted Ivanka Trump, though not by name.
“There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” Bannon said, in a thinly veiled reference to the first daughter’s reaction to the Moore accusations.
Moore himself directly addressed the allegations. And like many of his supporters, he did it not by expressing contrition or simply denying the validity of the account. He did it by attacking the messenger.
“They waited till 30 days before this general election to come forward. Now, they’ve allowed their pictures to be on political advertisements. And they’ve gone on national television arguing their case—after waiting 40 years,” Moore said, adding the allegations were “never once” mentioned during his previous statewide campaigns.