On March 7, I wrote a post titled Is the Washington Post Story on Menendez Rathergate II? The post criticized “the flawed Washington Post story purporting to debunk the Daily Caller pieces on Menendez.” In the post, I said: “We can’t lose sight of this: it could be the next Rathergate.”
Tonight, I am feeling rather prescient. Tonight, the question arises: are we possibly looking at one of the most embarrassing moments in journalism in years?
Those who have followed the Menendez story will recall the WaPo story in question. Carol Leonnig and Ernesto Londoño breathlessly reported that they had found one of the hookers interviewed by the Caller, who said she had made up the story about having sex with Menendez in the Dominican Republic.
The article repeatedly referred to “affidavits obtained by The Washington Post.” Remember that fact: it will become important.
The WaPo story had a giant pile of journalistic flaws. They had the wrong hooker: the person they talked to had never talked to the Caller. Worse, the paper stealth-corrected that mistake without acknowledging error. Even worse, the paper had claimed to contact Tucker Carlson before publication, but he says they lied.
All bad enough! But the potentially Rathergate-ish aspect of the story emerged when a Twitter user said he had found the curious affidavit that the paper had apparently used as a linchpin of their story. As I said on March 7:
[T]he affidavit they relied on? I’m just saying, that thing seems suspect.
Somehow I think we haven’t heard the last of this story. Keep it in the forefront of your mind.
Are you quite sure of that?
He said with a small but confident smile.
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Tonight, the Daily Caller reports some verrrrry questionable aspects of that affidavit. The information comes rather deep in an item that confirms a Washington Post story that ran earlier tonight, revealing that there is a grand jury investigation into Menendez. That’s news, I guess, but to me the interesting stuff comes way down in paragraph 11, where the Caller tells us:
TheDC has been unable to confirm that the woman, who gave her name in the affidavit as Nexis de los Santos Santana, actually exists. She did not attend the March 4 press conference where the affidavit was first presented.
In the affidavit, Nexis de los Santos Santana’s voter ID number — what Dominicans call a cedula — was presented as an 11-digit number. Dominican cedulas have 12 digits.
Using the Dominican government’s online voter registration database to insert the digits 0 through 9 in each of the possible places where a digit may have been missing, TheDC was unable to identify any voters who reside in the Vista Catalina neighborhood of the city of La Romana — the area where the affidavit said de los Santana resides.
They’re not done. The mysteries continue:
In addition, the street on which she claimed to reside does not exist in any of more than a dozen maps TheDC has examined. Multiple sources on the ground in the Dominican Republic have been unable to locate that street, where the affidavit said de los Santos resides in a house with no number.
TheDC attempted to contact Miguel Galván, a Dominican attorney who filed his own affidavit alongside the de los Santos document and vouched for her with the Dominican press. A secretary at his office promised to call TheDC with a number where Galván could be reached, but she did not provide it. Upon hearing it was TheDC requesting the information, she replied only, “Ohhh.”
Now, the Daily Caller is a Very Restrained and Reserved Organization, and so they’re not going to come right out and say the Washington Post got suckered, Dan Rather style.
But I don’t mind asking, with wide innocent eyes: it’s kind of looking that way, isn’t it?
UPDATE: By the way, it should be noted that even if the affidavit is a fake, that does not necessarily mean that the Daily Caller story is true. The debunking of the Daily Caller story could be, as the phrase goes, “fake but accurate.”
UPDATE x2: Twitchy.com raises some interesting questions about this whole thing, suggesting that perhaps the Caller did interview the woman that the WaPo interviewed, but that she used a different name. It would seem that the Caller would know, at a minimum, if the woman who calls herself “Michelle” in this Brian Ross report is the same “Michelle” the Caller interviewed. If it is, they should say so, no? (And if it isn’t, they should say so.)
None of this excuses taking an affidavit from “Nexis de los Santos Santana” as gospel, if it turns out to be fake. It does suggest that the whole thing is quite murky and deserves some light, no matter where that light points. Journalism must be about the truth, no matter what the truth reveals.
UPDATE x3: Final word on this for now: ABC News’s conclusion rests on two basic points: 1) the women’s stories seemed rehearsed, and 2) “A Dominican official familiar with the case” claims that the woman interviewed by ABC News (and presumably the Caller) is the same woman in the affidavit.
Point #1 is subjective. Point #2 sort of depends on the credibility of the “Dominican official familiar with the case,” doesn’t it? So who is that?