A viral counter-sting story reminds us that ‘old fashioned journalism’ and its stripped-back-to-basic techniques still have value in today’s digital market, says Stephanie McCrummen, journalist, Washington Post, speaking at the Conspiracy Logan Symposium (19 October).

Back in November, the Washington Post published an article exposing a failed attempt to fool the publication. A woman called Jaime Phillips had lied to reporters, providing false allegations that she had been impregnated by US Senate Roger Moore, before being driven by him to an abortion clinic.

She had taken advantage of the initial sexual allegations surrounding Moore, hoping to fool reporters and embarrass the publication as part of an undercover sting operation.

“People were contacting us with tips after the first story ran, many of them panned out as good tips, many more as fishy,” explained McCrummen.

“The biggest red flag of all was that Jaime Phillips had a GoFundMe page on the internet, that she described that she wanted to work in the conservative media event to expose the lies of mainstream media,” she said, noting that she agreed to meet Phillips to comb through the details.

“We decided that we were going to turn all of our old-fashioned reporting powers on this woman and figure out who she was working for. I would wear a wire and agreed to meet her in Virginia with a video team in toe, incognito of course.”

The Washington Post later confirmed that Phillips worked for Project Veritas — a non-profit organisation that use stings, false stories and covert videos to try and expose bias in mainstream media. They also confirmed that none of Phillips’ work references that she gave during the interview checked out.

The video the news outlet published racked up over two million views, and saw Phillips retract her story and pull out of the interview.

“There were many reasons it went viral, one reason unbeknownst to us is this video ended up serving as an act of transparency. It is obviously not glamourous, there is nothing high-tech about it, it just shows a reporter at work asking questions.

“All of this is just old fashioned journalism, it was questions, a notepad and a pen. I think we are in a moment in the US and maybe elsewhere where people have lost touch with what journalism is.

“Journalism isn’t just a talking head on cable TV telling you what to think, but it is people who have questions and trying to get answers to those questions.”

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