The Daily Caller may have been duped by the Cuban government when they published a series of stories accusing Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) of allegedly patronizing prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, according to new allegations. The Daily Caller previously came under fire for not sufficiently scrutinizing the story before running with it on their front page.
The Washington Post reported on July 7 that Menendez's lawyer sent a letter to the Justice Department asserting that Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence pushed the false claims in an unsuccessful effort to derail Menendez's reelection campaign. The senator is "one of Washington's most ardent critics of the Castro regime," according to the Post.
A former U.S. official also told the Post that the CIA has "obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims." According to the intelligence information, the Cuban agents helped create a fake tipster named "Pete Williams," who told FBI agents and others that Menendez had solicited prostitutes while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. The Post noted, however, that there "was no indication that the information gathered by U.S. intelligence officials alleging Cuba's role in the Menendez case had been fully investigated or proved."
The charges against Menendez were first touted by The Daily Caller in November 2012, which relied on the testimony of two alleged Dominican prostitutes who claimed Menendez had paid them. Matt Boyle, the reporter behind the first Daily Caller story, now writes for Breitbart News.
Fox News aggressively hyped the uncorroborated allegations during at least 22 segments in the following months, according to a search of the Nexis database.
The story began to disintegrate, however, when the Post reported that one of the women had recanted her story and claimed in an affidavit that she was paid to lie about the senator. The FBI has also reportedly found no evidence backing up the tipster's claims, or even linking his emails "back to a real person."
As Media Matters previously noted, other news organizations -- including ABC News, The Star Ledger, and The New York Post -- had interviewed the same Dominican women and been directed to the story by Republican operatives but did not find the allegations credible. The Daily Caller, on the other hand, apparently accepted the women's testimony based simply on brief Skype interviews and did not demand proof of identity before launching the accusations against Menendez. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple called the news that ABC had declined to run the story based on concerns about the sources' legitimacy a "game ender" for The Daily Caller.
Despite the mounting evidence that The Daily Caller did not hold their sources to basic levels of journalistic scrutiny, editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson has repeatedly stood by the claims. Carlson previously dodged the question of whether the women interviewed by The Daily Caller might have been paid by political operatives, instead insisting that the man who brought the story to the Caller "received no money from anyone."
When asked about the latest report that the Cuban government may have planted the story, Carlson told the Post that:
[I]t would be a major shock to him if the Cuban government spooled out a story that his reporters ran with -- but that it's also a hard claim for him to verify.
"I really can't assess it without more information," Carlson said. "It's bizarre on its face, but also fascinating."
Carlson also told Business Insider, "I guess this means Menendez no longer thinks the story is part of a racist plot against him, as he initially suggested. But Cuban intelligence? It's a bizarre claim, and self-serving, and they've produced no evidence of any kind to prove it. Obviously we're skeptical, but we're making calls right now to see what we can dig up."