Well, this would be quite a development, wouldn't it?
A top Dominican law enforcement official said Friday that a local lawyer has reported being paid by someone claiming to work for the conservative Web site the Daily Caller to find prostitutes who would lie and say they had sex for money with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The local lawyer told Dominican investigators that a foreign man, who identified himself as "Carlos," had offered him $5,000 to find and pay women in the Caribbean nation willing to make the claims about Menendez, according to Jose Antonio Polanco, district attorney for the La Romana region, where the investigation is being conducted.
To briefly recap for those who haven't been following this story, the Daily Caller reported shortly before the 2012 elections that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) allegedly paid for sex in the Dominican Republic. The article appeared to be based on largely non-existent evidence, and it wasn't long before the allegations unraveled completely -- three Dominican escorts recently admitted they were paid to lie.
It has not been clear who, exactly, paid the escorts for the falsehoods, but according to Dominican lawyer Melanio Figueroa, it was the Daily Caller itself financing -- and then publishing -- the deliberate falsehoods.
If true, it would be a genuine media scandal from which there is no recovery. It's difficult to even imagine a more serious breach of journalistic ethics and standards than a news outlet publishing a bogus smear that the outlet itself paid prostitutes to manufacture. Menendez would probably even have a credible libel case to pursue.
But I'd recommend some caution here.
The Daily Caller's denial included a legitimate point.
The Daily Caller said: "At no point did any money change hands between The Daily Caller and any sources or individuals connected with this investigation, nor did anyone named Carlos travel to the Dominican Republic on behalf of The Daily Caller. As recently as two weeks ago, Figueroa was on record with another news outlet as saying the women he represented were telling the truth about their initial allegations against Senator Mendendez."
Tucker Carlson, who runs the Web site, said in a statement provided through his spokesman that the Daily Caller "never paid anyone, was never asked to pay anyone and of course never would pay anyone for this story."
To believe the allegations against the Daily Caller, you'd need to find Figueroa credible, and the truth is, he has changed his story rather dramatically. What's more, at least for now, we've seen no additional evidence -- Figueroa has made unsubstantiated claims the Daily Caller paid someone, who paid him, who then paid the Dominican escorts to lie. But other than Figueroa's word, there's nothing else to go on.
I can understand why Tucker Carlson's critics may be eager to believe the worst, just as I can understand why Bob Menendez's critics may have been eager to believe the worst. But when it comes to dubious allegations, the phrase "caveat emptor" comes to mind. If the charges against the Daily Caller are true, the fallout would be devastating, but there's ample reason for skepticism.
What do we know? First, Menendez is facing a series of allegations, but the accusations raised by the Daily Caller in November appear to have been a work of fiction. Second, the Daily Caller really should have known better than to publish those reports in the first place.
And third, the Daily Caller is now facing serious but unproven accusations of its own, for which there is not yet any credible evidence.