GOP candidate blasts AP ‘hit piece’ as ‘debunked’ after adult website founder calls alleged profile a ‘prank’

Republican Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno is blasting the Associated Press after a story published days before the primary election linking him to an adult online dating site, which a former intern has taken credit for creating, was called into question by the dating site’s founder.On Friday, a post on X from one of the founders of the online site Adult Friend Finder, who says he wrote “most of the early code,” seemingly rejected a key aspect of an Associated Press report days earlier that suggested “geolocation data,” which is commonly understood as involving an IP address or GPS, linked the account to the area of a Moreno family home.”I reviewed all the available information and it showed that the account had only a single visit, no activity, no profile photo, consistent with a prank or someone just checking out the site,” Andrew Conru, the engineer who founded Adult Friend Finder, wrote on social media. “That’s it.””The AP report seeming to claim that the available data proves the account was created in Florida is inaccurate, as location information is manually entered during the signup (sic) process. In reality, there appears to be no public geolocation data tied to the account.”OHIO REPUBLICAN US SENATE CANDIDATE BERNIE MORENO HAS SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR GOP MEMBERS WHO ‘DON’T LIKE’ TRUMPConru continued, “It’s important to recognize that even temporary access to an email account is sufficient to create a fake dating profile in someone else’s name. My sincere apologies to Bernie and anyone similarly affected by the 2016 data incident.”The Associated Press reported on Thursday, days before Tuesday’s primary, that Moreno’s work email address registered on Adult Friend Finder 16 years ago with an account with a caption that said, “looking for young guys to have fun with while traveling.” The Associated Press reported that “geolocation data” it gathered from a 2016 data leak from Adult Friend Finder showed that the account “was set up for use in a part of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where property records show Moreno’s parents owned a home at the time.””Beyond the work email, the profile lists Moreno’s correct date of birth, while geolocation data indicates that the account was set up for use in a part of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where property records show Moreno’s parents owned a home at the time,” the story said.TRUMP-BACKED GOP CANDIDATE RIPS ‘SICK’ REPORT TYING HIM TO GAY HOOKUP WEBSITE: ‘DESPERATE PEOPLE’The Associated Press story did not confirm that Moreno created the account.The Moreno campaign denied that he had anything to do with the account, and a campaign lawyer provided a statement from a former intern who knew Moreno’s personal information and claimed responsibility, saying the incident was a “juvenile prank.”Moreno, his family and supporters quickly labeled the Associated Press story as “debunked” and a “vile hit piece” following Conru’s social media posts that explained how his website tracked location by the zip code entered in 2008, not using an IP address that would provide specific geolocation data.”My husband and I have known Matt Dolan and his family for years. For him to stoop this low, simply because he’s losing this race is disgusting, disgraceful, and he should be embarrassed,” Moreno’s wife, Bridget, said in a statement, pointing the finger at Moreno’s opponent, Republican state Sen. Matt Dolan, whose super PAC released an ad hitting Moreno over the report less than 24 hours after publication.TRUMP REVEALS ‘VERY FIRST ACTIONS’ HE’LL TAKE AS PRESIDENT DURING OHIO RALLY, HAMMERS BIDEN’S BORDER POLICIES”If he’s willing to slander my husband simply to win a political election, he doesn’t belong anywhere near elected office,” she continued. “I know family values might not mean much to Matt Dolan, but they mean a lot to this family. His desperate attempts will backfire, and I have full confidence that Ohioans will see through his dirty tricks and elect an actual conservative to the U.S. Senate. Now that this story has proven to be 100% false, if Matt even has an ounce of integrity left in him, he will publicly disavow this slime coming from his family-funded Super PAC.”The Dolan campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.On Friday, Moreno rejected the report as a “sick, last-minute attack by desperate people.”Ohio Republican Sen. JD Vance, who has endorsed Moreno, wrote on X that Conru’s post showed the story was “verifiably false,” and Ohio Republican Attorney General Dave Yost, also a Moreno endorser, wrote on X that the AP story was “falling apart.”In a statement to Fox News Digital, Associated Press Vice President of Corporate Communications Lauren Easton defended the story.”This is a deeply reported piece of accountability journalism in an election year. We stand by the story,” Easton said. “We did not report the location where the account was created.”Easton also pointed to a follow-up tweet from Conru in which he said he “clarified his response” but which also appeared to show that the “geolocation data” AP had was based on a zip code that was entered by the user who could have registered from anywhere.”Ah, just noticed what people are calling geolocation,” Conru wrote. “In 2008, when someone entered any zip code during signum (sic), we just had a lookup table to map it to latitude and longitude. Geolocation today means to deduce someone’s location based on the browser’s IP address which isn’t the case here.”Geolocation, the term used by AP, is currently defined as “the process of determining the location of an electronic device, as a computer, [cellphone], satellite, etc.””My review was looking for ‘geolocation’ and there is none,” Conru wrote in another X post. “In 2008, when someone entered any zip code during signum , we just had a lookup table to map it to latitude and longitude. Geolocation today means to deduce someone’s location based on the browser’s IP address which isn’t the case here. As I have been building websites since 1993, I was being too technical in my post.”Fox News Digital followed up with the Associated Press and asked whether they possessed any data showing the location of the device consistent with the current definition of “geolocation” or if their data was simply the longitude and latitude of the zip code entered at the time of sign-up.Easton’s response said, “We stand by the reporting, including that geolocation information showed the account was set up for use in the Ft. Lauderdale area.””In defense of your story, you point to a thread that explicitly shows the opposite of what you claim,” Vance wrote on X in response to the AP’s defense. “‘Geolocation data’ is a term with a specific meaning. Your reporter misused that term, and I demand a correction.”Vance also pointed to AP’s own style guide on geolocation and argued it is not consistent with the use of the word in the story.Fox News Digital reviewed an analysis from the cybersecurity firm CTC International, which registered an account on Adult Friend Finder using two different methods, including one it says was “used by the AP reporter,” and pulled the data from those accounts. In both cases, the latitude and longitude in the data shows up as being in the submitted Washington, D.C., zip code even though the VPN was locked to Mississippi. “There is a possibility of a lawsuit by GOP candidate Bernie Moreno over what is being denounced as a ‘hit piece’ by AP on the eve of the Ohio primary,” George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley wrote on X. “If Moreno sues and gains access to discovery, this could prove costly and embarrassing for the company.”
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