How did the Daily Caller end up landing its big, dubiously verified scoop about New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez consorting with prostitutes? Turns out it may have had less to do with dogged reporting than the ability to ignore what now at least three other media outlets that passed on the story say they could not: serious credibility problems.
Earlier this week, ABC News' Brian Ross — who's had a few misses himself over time — reported that ABC had itself investigated claims made by three women in the Dominican Republic that they'd been paid to have sex with the senator. The network ultimately didn't run the story because the women refused to provide identification and told stories so similar that the network believed they'd been coached. Late last week, that impression seemed to be confirmed by the Washington Post, which reported that one of the women admitted to being paid to tell the story.
The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone fleshed out the story substantially today, suggesting that two other media outlets passed on the Menendez story before it filtered through to the Daily Caller.
The New York Post’s Josh Margolin and Newark-based Star-Ledger’s Ted Sherman were each contacted last summer with the claims that Menendez had sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic and investigated them, according to sources familiar with the matter. Neither reporter found enough credible evidence to publish a story based on the claims.
It is extremely safe to assume that the New York Post would have been thrilled to have a scoop focused on a Democratic senator paying for sex, had it believed the story held up.
Calderone also provides more insight into how the story was pitched to the media. As early as last April, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington got an email tip about the claims. "My duty as a US citizen," it begins, "obligates me to report what I consider to be a grave violation of the most fundamental codes of conduct that a politician of my country must follow." CREW brought ABC into the story, Calderone writes, because it believed ABC would have the resources to travel to the Dominican and investigate.
That didn't happen. In October, someone contacted ABC offering Skype interviews; those interviews occurred on October 31 — the same day that the Daily Caller's Matt Boyle spoke with the women, and less than a week before Menendez was reelected to his position. Before dawn the next day, the Daily Caller story was up.
Yesterday afternoon, the site explained why it alone ran with the story:
Before publishing the story, TheDC independently corroborated some elements of the women’s claims, including Menendez’s nonexistent public schedule and the flight records of the private jet he was likely on during the weekend the women claimed their sexual encounters occurred. TheDC also vetted the source who brought the women forward, and reconfirmed details with that source after The Washington Post’s story broke Monday.
The article also criticizes ABC News' decision-making. The Post and Star-Ledger aren't mentioned.