National media on the campaign trail and in faraway places such as Washington, D.C., and New York City want to know: How did local media in Alabama miss former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s alleged escapades for more than three decades?
Earlier this month The Washington Post reported that Moore engaged in inappropriate behavior and/or sexual misconduct with teenage girls. The allegations set in motion a chain reaction, with a number of other women claiming to have similar experiences with Moore when they were young.
Somehow, these Roy Moore tidbits have gone unreported in the local media until now. Moore’s shenanigans as chief justice and even as a circuit court judge in Etowah County received a lot of local coverage. But there was little knowledge in political circles, at least outside of Gadsden, about his penchant for women on the cusp of legality.
The answer is pretty straightforward: The local media over the last few decades was more interested in branding Moore as an amusing religious zealot than doing any sort of deep dive.
And why should they have? Aside from his initial run for chief justice in 2000, Moore was never considered a threat for higher office. After being kicked off the bench for the much-publicized Ten Commandments monument controversy, Moore made two runs for governor, in 2006 and 2010, and a run for chief justice once again in 2012, a race he narrowly won by four points in a down-ballot election with a presidential race at the top of the ticket.
Then the perfect storm happened. Donald Trump pulled off an upset in the 2016 presidential election. Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General, and for the first time since the 1990s, Alabama had an open U.S. Senate seat.
The Republican establishment in Washington, D.C., rushed to get a campaign infrastructure in place and tapped Luther Strange as their guy. The problem was, much like Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election GOP primary, Strange was destined for failure in a low-turnout election.
The experts would always say Roy Moore had a ceiling given his past performances. After a nasty primary that saw Strange and his allies use scorched-earth tactics against all his competitors, the last two standing were Strange and Moore.
The problem was, that path of destruction left Moore’s ceiling shattered because suddenly he was the de facto anti-establishment guy running against Strange, the establishment guy. There was a reason to take Moore seriously. But with barely over a month between the primary and the runoff, there wasn’t enough time to do the deep dive on Roy Moore to benefit Strange.
That is not to say Strange’s campaign did not try.
“We did a lot of research. We tried and tried and tried,” an unnamed source told the Washington Examiner for a story last week. “I think if we were able to find the names out, we probably would have passed it along to a reporter to track down … We just weren’t able.”
If this was indeed a plot by the so-called liberal media, and many think it is, there probably wasn’t much of an incentive to rush the story out in time for the primary or the runoff election. With a potential career-ending scoop, having Moore on a general election ballot would make it easier for the Democrats to pick up a seat in the unlikeliest of all places.
That’s now. But, what the heck, local media?
In a nutshell, we never found out about Moore because the media never took him seriously. Being a candidate for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice was not a high enough office for a significant investigation — not when governor, lieutenant governor and state attorney general were on the ballot.
Furthermore, the Roy Moore stories wrote themselves. To most reporters, Moore, as a religious zealot, is a walking cartoon character — you’ve got your scandal, mayhem, and outcry, without ever needing to scratch the surface — and that was all the media elite in Alabama needed to know.
“He’s so dumb that he doesn’t understand the boundaries of church and state. But why can’t these ignorant rubes take a break from the Alabama and Auburn box scores and read our stories about Roy Moore? Then they’ll understand he’s not smart enough to hold office! Let’s keep driving that point!”
The media culture in Alabama has always been a problem for the state. Even if you think “liberal media bias” is an overused conservative trope, there is a broad gulf between the politics of Alabama journalists and Alabama media consumers. That gulf is likely wider in the Yellowhammer State than most others.
For a lot of reporters covering politics here, the Alabama media markets are just a stop along the way for their careers, and understanding what is important to the news consumers of the state isn’t high on their list of priorities.
Attacking Moore’s mix of God and politics, which they probably see as abhorrent, was the story and his Etowah County past could not possibly be as intriguing.
And that’s how they missed this scoop for nearly four decades.