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Clemons: Moore story has me questioning past work
David Clemons

The work of three Washington Post reporters led to revelations that have shaken a Senate race.

Their story detailed allegations former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore had sexual contact with young women while he was a prosecutor in the 1970s. Moore is now the Republican nominee in a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions ascended to attorney general.

I’ve long had an interest in Moore, and not just because he is a fascinating fellow — veteran nearly fragged by his own men in Vietnam, Australian-trained kickboxer, Ten Commandments judge and twice-removed jurist in the state where I was raised.

Moore was born and came to prominence in Etowah County, where I had my first job out of college as the City Hall reporter for The Gadsden Times. I started during the final months Moore was in his first term as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, before he lost his job the first time for failure to follow a court order.

My time continued through Moore’s failed bid for governor, when he lost the 2006 Republican primary in a landslide to incumbent Gov. Bob Riley — a man who just three years earlier had proposed the biggest tax package in state history in a constitutional amendment that failed at the ballot box.

Moore didn’t even carry his home county and his election night party was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever covered.

I wrote a story about Moore’s exploration for the 2006 bid months before he made it, but actually spent more time with Riley during that campaign. It seemed like he campaigned in Moore’s home county harder than Moore did, although the governor laughed when I asked him if that was by design.

My sense from a lot of people in and around Gadsden was that Moore was not quite a serious candidate — maybe a caricature is a good word? I thought that was because many people had grown tired of the Ten Commandments spectacle.

I’ve since learned there might have been a more cynical problem behind Moore’s lack of appeal back home.

The media spectacle of the past week really has left me wondering, what did I miss when I covered the city where Moore first found the spotlight — and, if stories are to be believed, where he allegedly trolled the mall with an eye ?

Despite what people close to the Moore campaign will tell you, The Washington Post didn’t get these stories by offering cash. It just listened to whispers and then engaged in dogged reporting.

I know this: It’s embarrassing to get beaten on one of the biggest stories of the year in a town I once covered, even if I haven’t covered it in more than a decade. It makes me want to work harder not for the sake of finding “bad” news, but to listen more, to victims and to the stories behind what’s the official party line.

Journalists — real journalists — take pride in finding the truth and turning on the light for their communities. My colleagues in Alabama have attempted to do that when it comes to Moore, and not just about his alleged dalliances with minor girls in the 1970s and ’80s, but on all the issues in the race. His campaign never wanted to talk about the issues until now, when suddenly fiscal policy seems a welcome distraction.

We have to keep pressing. Our readers deserve better, and if we don’t do it, who will?

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. He was a staff writer for The Gadsden Times in Alabama from 2003 to 2006. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.