Would You Report On A Rumor?

David Beard at Poynter has some thoughts – and facts – on this topic in this morning’s column.

Why did one media company secretly pay out $30,000 for a rumor, which it later quashed, that President Trump fathered a child with an employee? Why has that company gone to such lengths to keep others silent about their associations with Trump?

Those questions, set off by reports in the New Yorker and the Associated Press, roiled reporters on Thursday, prompting cautious what-we-know-now reporting and the most qualified of extrapolations.

“If nothing else, the newest example builds the circumstantial case that something was afoot as Trump was trying to win the presidency,” wrote the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake.

Here’s the AP lede:

“Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she’d had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid’s parent made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual: a former doorman at one of the real estate mogul’s New York City buildings.

“As it did with the ex-Playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-doorman to a contract that effectively prevented him from going public with a juicy tale that might hurt Trump’s campaign for president.”

The contract’s penalty, according to the AP and the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow: The doorman would have to pay $1 million if he breathed a word about this rumor.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the pre-election hush payments, including $130,000 to a Trump-affiliated porn star, to see if they violated campaign laws.

Publishing a rumor — or the quashing of a rumor — brings out journalistic and ethical queasiness. The New Yorker took pains to note it had uncovered no evidence that Trump fathered the child in the 1980s. The alleged daughter wouldn’t answer questions, and the father of the family said the claim was false and that the National Enquirer had put the family in a difficult situation.

Farrow quoted him as saying: “I don’t understand what they had to pay this guy for.”

The ex-doorman defended the veracity of his story to the Post’s Carol Leonnig on Thursday. “You know, I took a polygraph test.”

During the AP’s reporting, the Enquirer’s parent company threatened to sue and hired the New York law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, which challenged the accuracy of the AP’s reporting. The AP acknowledged spiking the story in August and later reviving it, Politico’s Michael Calderone reports. BTW, David Boies was also involved in Harvey Weinstein’s attempt to muzzle reporting of decades of the Hollywood mogul’s sexual harassment and abuse.

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Posted by Tim Morrissey