WASHINGTON (JTA) — A made-up reporter named “Bernie Bernstein” called an Alabama pastor searching for women to provide “damaging remarks” against Roy Moore.
In what sounded like a robocall, the man left a voicemail message with Pastor Al Moore claiming to be a reporter for the Washington Post newspaper. He offered women money in exchange for allegations, which he said would not be well vetted, the local CBS affiliate WKRG-TV reported Tuesday.
The voicemail was an apparent bid to discredit allegations that the Republican Senate candidate had sexual contact with minors many years ago. Given the caller’s Jewish-sounding name and strong, nasally Northeastern accent, many saw the message as anti-Semitic.
“Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein, I’m a reporter for the Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000,” the man said.
“We will not be fully investigating these claims, however we will make a written report. I can be reached by email at albernstein@. Thank you.”
Marty Baron, the Washington Post’s executive editor, who is Jewish, issued a statement to WKRG-TV criticizing the call as an attempt to undermine his newspaper. It is not known who made the call. But no staffer at the Washington Post is named Bernie Bernstein or Al Bernstein.
“The call’s description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality,” Baron said. “We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism.”
Last week, the Washington Post reported allegations by four women that Roy Moore made romantic or sexual overtures to them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One woman said Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979 when she was 14 years old and he was 32.
On Monday, another woman accused Moore of sexually assaulting her in the late 1970s when she was 16. She showed reporters what appeared to be a flattering message from Moore in her high school yearbook. That night, The New Yorker reported that many people in Moore’s hometown, Gadsden, Alabama, recalled him being barred from the local mall for bothering young women, though no direct evidence has been found.
Moore, 70, a former prosecutor and judge, has denied the allegations. He and his supporters have sought to discredit both his accusers and the Washington Post.
Moore told the crowd at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Sunday that the Washington Post was attacking him for political reasons and threatened to sue the newspaper. His wife has claimed on Facebook that the women were paid by her husband’s critics to accuse him and posted false news reports as purported evidence.
Many observers condemned the call by the invented Jewish reporter as playing on anti-Semitic stereotypes and canards of Jewish conspiracies and media control. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt suggested it was an attack both on journalism and Jews.
Atlantic magazine editor Adam Serwer said a Moore supporter seemed to be pinning the blame for his political problems on a “Jewish conspiracy.”
Others, including Toronto Star Washington correspondent Daniel Dale and the New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum, found humor in the blatant nature of the call.
The made-up name recalls two prominent Jews: Bernie Sanders was the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests last year when he ran in the Democratic presidential primaries, and Carl Bernstein was part of the Washington Post team that exposed the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.