How the Media Already Have Twisted the Meaning of the Alabama Election

In their elation over Doug Jones having prevailed in the Alabama Senate race to fill the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the media are now trying to position the election as a referendum on President Trump.

Take a recent New York Times article, for example, which cites “4 Takeaways from Doug Jones’s Alabama Victory.” 

Doug Jones’s win in the “reddest of red states,” the article suggests, signifies that Alabama’s “highly educated and high-income voters, while often open to supporting Republicans, are uneasy with the hard-edged politics of President Trump.”  Simply put, this is meant to suggest that the race was a referendum on President Trump’s politics, and specifically, that Moore’s loss was not a reaction to the “claims of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore.” After all, the voting results in the suburbs of Alabama “mirror” the voting pattern of “well-heeled suburbanites” in Virginia last month -- a comparison which I cannot imagine the article’s authors could have typed with a straight face.  Comparing the voting impulses of D.C. suburbanites in Virginia to Alabama’s suburbanites is about as apples-and-oranges of a comparison as one might get.

But here’s the interesting thing.  Anyone who’s honest knows that the media centerpiece of the Alabama election was the troubling allegations of child molestation and sexual assault against Roy Moore, and the scandal which followed.  However, the only other mention of the prominent scandal in the New York Times piece is that that “some of Moore’s allies placed the blame for the loss on [Mitch] McConnell, who withdrew his support after the allegations first emerged that Mr. Moore had pursued teenage girls sexually or romantically.”

Do you notice the sleight-of-hand in the language and messaging here?  On the one hand, “claims” of “sexual misconduct” were not the reason Moore lost suburbanites, and therefore the election.  It was because Trump’s “hard-edged policies” were rebuked.  On the other, “allegations” that Moore had “pursued teenage girls sexually or romantically” is what Roy Moore’s defenders are claiming was the real reason he lost.  But that’s simply not true, the Times now insists.

To prove just how disingenuous this is, let’s try a thought experiment.  Had Roy Moore won the election, would the media narrative be about how Alabamans had the audacity to vote for a candidate who supports Trump’s “hard-edged” policies?  Or would it be about how deeply-red, backward Alabamans had the questionable moral proclivities which allowed them to elect an accused child predator? 

You know the answer, and if the media were more honest than opportunistic, they would, too.  The media narrative prior to the election was not an effort to suggest that Alabama voters were wrong to agree with Trump’s desire to cut taxes, curtail illegal immigration, or repeal and/or replace Obamacare.  The loudest cries from the media ramparts were that Roy Moore winning the seat in Alabama would be a travesty because he was a suspected child predator.

Yet interestingly, nowhere in the Times “takeaways” article is there a reference to the single, many decades-old, but extremely timely allegation of child molestation made by then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman.  Nor was there a reference to the single (and similarly old and timely) allegation of sexual assault made by Beverly Young Nelson, whose credibility has been verifiably called into question with her conflicting claims about the yearbook that Moore allegedly signed and inscribed in 1977.    

Contrast this to any similar article published prior to the election.  Invariably, it was routinely touted that nine accusations were made against Moore, all of which signified that he was a child predator, though the other seven claims were nowhere in the realm of the aforementioned two.  The other seven claims ranged from a relationship between a 32-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl, for which the girl’s parents offered consent and that “never went beyond a kiss,” to a claim by then-18-year-old Gena Richardson, who said she agreed to date Moore, and that he ended the date with an “unwanted forceful kiss.”

Now that Roy Moore has lost the election and Democrat Doug Jones will be seated, however, the most damning two allegations of child molestation and sexual assault are fading into the background, and inversely, references to the mildest accusations are being amplified.  “Sexual misconduct” and Moore’s pursuance of “teenage girls sexually or romantically” don’t have the same headline cachet that would have been needed in the past months to have destroyed Roy Moore’s political future.  The former is vague charge, and nowhere near as damning as an allegation of sexual assault or child molestation.  And while the latter may be antiquated, it was not then, and is not now, a crime, if said teenage girls are of the legal age of consent.

There is a distinct reason for this dramatic shift in narrative.  There is little value in painting the defeated and now-irrelevant Roy Moore as a child predator to destroy his political future, as the media unquestionably and tirelessly worked toward before the election.  The Alabama election results have made him toxic.  His political future has been destroyed.

There is value, however, in painting Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race as something other than a peculiar microcosm involving only Roy Moore, in which a spectacularly flawed candidate was ultimately destroyed by a media-driven effort designed to do just that.  There’s far more value to be had, today, in tying this loss to President Trump.

But do you know who recognized that Roy Moore might have a difficult time winning the general election against a Democrat in Alabama, long before the allegations of teenager-chasing, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or child molestation arose?  Donald Trump did.

As The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles reminds us, on September 22nd, Trump appealed:

I have to say this, and you understand this and just look at the polls.  Luther [Strange] will definitely win.  Roy has a very good chance of not winning in the general election.  It’s all about the general… You’ve got to beat a Democrat.  Luther is going to win easily and Roy’s going to have a hard time winning.    

This seems incredibly prescient now.  But Trump made an equally smart move by offering congratulations to Doug Jones for the victory, tweeting:

Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory.  The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win.  The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time.  It never ends!

Roy Moore is, as of this writing, yet to concede.  Yet more evidence as to why he was a uniquely bad candidate.  And yes, the seat in Alabama is a loss for Republicans.  But let’s not pretend that Roy Moore’s loss signifies anything broader than the peculiar microcosm that it was, and that you’ll remember for years, if only for the media-driven hysteria around it.

Because, as any fool should plainly see, this election wasn’t about Donald Trump.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

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