My new Slate piece looks at the “sex scandal” involving Sen. Bob Menendez, which is turning out to look more like a thrilling conspiracy, by opening the Pandorica of conservative media. The most salacious allegations have started to fall apart, after ABC News revealed that it got the stories before the election, never trusted them, and then obtained affidavits that walk back the accusations. But the adage/cliche/lazy-ism that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” doesn’t work if people are only glancingly familiar with reporting standards, and set on “advancing” a story by hyping unrelated details.
The result of this well-earned paranoia is a deductive, prove-this-wrong-why-don’t-you theory of the scoop. The Daily Caller noted that “one of the clues that Weiner wasn’t telling the truth was that he was following a lot of young girls on Twitter,” and—hey! —Menendez was following “a very young-looking Dominican girl on Twitter.” It turned out that the girl lived in New Jersey and had appeared in a Menendez campaign ad. Another site attempted to advance the story by pointing out that Menendez’s adult daughter was a political strategist and HuffPost Live host: “His daughter’s past views and writings on sexuality and gender issues are in conflict with the senator’s actions in the Dominican Republic.”
Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s terrific media scold, has pronounced the Menendez scandal over after the ABC News scoops. But if this ends up the way Menendez has been saying it would—as a crazed gaslighting operation aimed at destroying his reputation—it’s a better story than some picayune hooker scandal.