The Washington Post has published a detailed account of allegations that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter and pursued a relationship with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.
As politicians — and most Republicans — responded to the shocking story of underage sexual abuse, a problematic theme emerged. Each statement relied on the phrase "if proven true," or a variation of that.
That might sound logical on its face — the allegations against Moore, now 70, haven't been adjudicated in a court of law — but the phrase allows the commenting politician to have it both ways while relying on negative stereotypes about survivors of abuse. Sex abuse is objectively bad, "if proven true" seems to say, but let's not forget that these women could be lying.
Here's an idea that you'd think we might have learned after the flood of disturbing allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — instead of relying on milquetoast statements that inherently blame victims, believe women.
The Post's report also details the accounts of three additional women who allege inappropriate relationships initiated by the former judge when they were teenagers. The Post's reporters wrote that they talked to 30 different sources before publishing the accounts. A statement from the Moore campaign called the allegations “completely false and a desperate political attack.”
Few public figures are taking a hard line against Moore and his alleged predatory behavior — most are instead opting for the most non-committal of condemnations while saving themselves a politically advantageous out.
It's beyond pervasive — take a look at the tweets and statements that came in all day Thursday:
From PENCE's press sect. on Moore: "The Vice President found the allegations in the story disturbing and believes, if true, this would disqualify anyone from serving in office."
— Matthew Nussbaum (@MatthewNussbaum) November 10, 2017
JUST NOW: @lisamurkowski on WaPo Report on Roy Moore: “I’m horrified and if it’s true he should step down immediately.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) November 9, 2017
Sen. Toomey: “All I️ can say is, if there’s a shred of truth to it, then he needs to step aside.”
— Lissandra Villa (@LissandraVilla) November 9, 2017
Sen. Jeff Flake says "of course" he's concerned about the Roy Moore story in WaPo. Asked if Moore should withdraw, Flake said: "if these prove true, yes."
— Emma Loop (@LoopEmma) November 9, 2017
STATEMENT ON ROY MOORE:
“If the deeply disturbing allegations in the Washington Post are true, Senator Hatch believes that Judge Moore should step aside immediately.”
Attributable to me (Matt Whitlock, Hatch Spokesman)
— Matt Whitlock 🇺🇸 (@mattdizwhitlock) November 9, 2017
If there is any truth at all to these horrific allegations, Roy Moore should immediately step aside as a Senate candidate.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) November 9, 2017
The allegations in the Washington Post story are deeply disturbing, and if proven true, Judge Moore should immediately step aside
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) November 9, 2017
Statement from Sen. Cruz on Roy Moore: "These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations"
— Abby Livingston (@TexasTribAbby) November 9, 2017
SEN. LEE, who endorsed Roy Moore, said he should step aside if allegations are true.
— Marianna Sotomayor (@MariannaNBCNews) November 9, 2017
JUST IN: Sen @SteveDaines , who endorsed Roy Moore: “These are very serious allegations and if true he should step down”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) November 9, 2017
Rob Portman on Roy Moore:
"I think if what we read is true, and people are on the record so I assume it is, then he should step aside."
— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) November 9, 2017
WH director of legislative affairs Marc Short on @CNNSitRoom says if accusations against Roy Moore are proven to be true he should step aside - but says process needs to play out
— Cassie Spodak (@CassieSpodak) November 9, 2017
Senate Leadership Fund statement pic.twitter.com/IEBwMPDiH3
— Daniel Strauss (@DanielStrauss4) November 9, 2017
Some Democrats fell into the same problematic language:
These sexual acts against underage girls by Roy Moore would upset God. Also, his alleged acts violate criminal law. If true, he needs to withdraw from the Senate race. https://t.co/LFm4ZNYeFn
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) November 9, 2017
Today’s allegations against Roy Moore are deeply troubling. If true, Moore should step aside from his campaign immediately. Alabama voters deserve a candidate they can trust and who represents decency.
— Rep. Terri A. Sewell (@RepTerriSewell) November 9, 2017
To Republican Sen. John McCain's credit, he went all in and called for Moore to end his campaign, no qualifying statements needed. Others followed suit, like Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat from Nevada.
The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) November 9, 2017
Roy Moore always has been and always will be unqualified to serve. https://t.co/cI0Kx3jkyN
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) November 9, 2017
The "if proven true" statements are bad, but other responses were, shockingly, far worse. Take this defense citing the Biblical story of Joseph and Mary to justify underage molestation.
Wow. This defense of Roy Moore from AL state Auditor Jim Ziegler:
"Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”https://t.co/IhaWiCEFmq
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) November 9, 2017
The same politician, Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler, also made this ridiculous statement defending Moore: "It's much ado about very little."
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) November 9, 2017
Moore too posted about the article and blamed the "Obama-Clinton Machine's liberal media lapdogs" without outright denying any of the allegations.
The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I’ve EVER faced!
We are are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message. (1/4) #ALSen
— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) November 9, 2017
Other terrible responses skirted around the issue by attacking the quality of the reporting and motivations of the Washington Post.
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) November 9, 2017
After a long pause, Alabama Bibb County Republican chairman Jerry Pow tells me he'd vote for Roy Moore even if Moore did commit a sex crime against a girl.
"I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn't want to vote for Doug," he says. "I'm not saying I support what he did."
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
Still others went all in on the time-honored tradition of victim blaming.
Alabama Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener, who called me back, says he doesn't believe the allegations are true, but if they're true he won't support him - but, at the same time, it's not "forcible rape."
"I know that 14-year-olds don't make good decisions," he adds.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 10, 2017
Breitbart and Drudge Report were unsurprisingly reluctant to report straightforwardly about the allegations against Moore. Breitbart relied on some, um, creative, defenses, such as nitpicking about the alleged victims' ages and Moore's marital status at the time (single). In an interview on MSNBC the ridiculous defenses came pouring in.
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) November 9, 2017
Moore, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, doesn't look like he's going anywhere. A fundraising email sent shortly after the story published quoted the former judge as saying, “I refuse to stand down." Further, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a minor is three years in the state of Alabama. It's been 38 years.
Moore's up for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a special election in Alabama on Dec. 12.