In the wake of the recent spate of sexual offense allegations, particularly against politicians such as Roy Moore, “credible” and “credibly” have become the latest buzzwords.

Take this Politico piece, for example, written by a former Bush speechwriter named Matt Latimer [emphasis mine]:

In the wake of the Roy Moore fiasco, a number of “hot takes” have made their rounds in the media. How obviously hypocritical it is, for example, for evangelical leaders to stand behind a man credibly accused of sexually assaulting a minor…

…How have we reached a point in this country when nearly half the voters of a U.S. state so mistrust, and even revile, major media outlets that they are willing to brush aside credible evidence and elect an accused sexual predator simply out of spite? …

…[We live in an] an era where some 50 people can credibly report sexual misconduct allegations about a Senate candidate to a major newspaper and yet that candidate still has a chance to win…

Why the emphasis on “credible,” as though if something is credible it must be believed?

And what is Latimer talking about when he writes that “50 people” have “credibly report[ed] sexual misconduct allegations” about Moore? I’ve never seen anything approaching the number 50 in connection with that story. But Latimer puts that number out without explanation or details or names or even a link so that we could assess their “credibility.” The closest I can find to what he might be referring is the following, and it really doesn’t seem to fit. It’s from the WaPo article in which the Moore accuser stories originally broke:

This account is based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982, when he served as an assistant district attorney for Etowah County in northern Alabama, where he grew up.

Are these 30 people credible? How can we know? Except for the named accusers, who don’t number anywhere near 50 (or 30, for that matter), we don’t know their names, we don’t know what they’re saying, we don’t know who they are, we don’t even know whether they really did know Moore or are actually accusing him of anything at all. We have no way whatsoever to access their credibility except the word of the WaPo.

The word “credible” is ordinarily defined this way:

1. capable of being believed; believable:

2. worthy of belief or confidence; trustworthy:

Those two definitions are quite different. The first definition describes a possibility, the second a likelihood. Definition number one fits the accusations against Moore. They certainly might be believed. They’re not fantastical, and they might be true. I won’t go into the reasons to disbelieve them—there are many, some of which have been discussed previously on this blog and others—but suffice to say that reasonable people can differ on that issue.

That brings us to definition number two. Are the accusers (particularly the two with the more serious allegations) worthy of belief or confidence? There seems to be no particular reason to invest that sort of special trust in them, due mostly to a host of glitches in their stories and the politically sensitive timing of their accusations.

But according to the current PC belief system, women are credible merely on account of being women. We are supposed to believe women without serious challenge to their stories or even any careful fact-checking or questioning, which is often defined as “attacking” them. This is a dangerous sort of reasoning that can lead to miscarriages of justice both in the legal system and outside of it. Failing to try to authenticate their stories makes it impossible—literally impossible—to separate the wheat from the chaff, truth from fiction. It allows anyone with a political agenda and the will to create a good story to destroy a political or other public figure.

“Believe the women” is meant, however, to correct a different sort of injustice: that of letting sexual assaulters/harassers go free because the allegations against them can’t be proven. In the past, that was the more likely scenario. But now that’s been turned on its head.

Sometimes even the simplest of fact-checking fails to take place (attempting to perform expert authentication of the yearbook inscription allegedly penned by Moore, for example). This leaves much of the perception of credibility as an emotional reaction to the accuser’s tale. But before believing or disbelieving, why not ask the hard questions and demand answers?

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]