This is not a partisan post. I’m not a cheerleader for Brett Kavanaugh, and I have no idea if he’s guilty of any of the things he’s been accused of.
My mission is to examine the woeful state of American journalism. The culprit this week is the New York Times, but they’re far from alone.
After the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, many observers felt that the Supreme Court confirmation process couldn’t get much worse. They were wrong.
On July 9 of last year, President Trump appointed Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat held by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. After graduating from Yale Law School, Kavanaugh clerked for Judge Ken Starr; when Starr was appointed head of the Office of Independent Counsel, Kavanaugh followed him and worked on the impeachment investigation against President Clinton. He served as Staff Secretary for President George W. Bush, who appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2003. That appointment languished for three years as a result of a partisan struggle, and Kavanaugh was finally confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 2006. He still served in that position at the time of his Supreme Court nomination.
Upon hearing that Kavanaugh was on the short list for the Supreme Court, a woman named Christine Blasey Ford contacted the Washington Post with allegations that the judge had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were in high school. Two other women also leveled accusations at him. In September, the New York Times reported that there were seven witnesses who knew about the incident described by the second accuser (Deborah Ramirez).
The Kavanaugh hearings dragged on for nearly three months, and included both testimony by Ford and a vehement, emotional denial by Kavanaugh. He was finally confirmed and assumed office on October 6. Both sides were bitter after the outcome, and probably still are.
The Background To The Background
When he was nominated, Kavanaugh had probably the most consistently conservative record of any judge on the bench. Numerous media outlets reported that organizations bankrolled by George Soros had earmarked $5 million for the purpose of destroying Kavanaugh and defeating his nomination.
What were people afraid of? Kavanaugh would be replacing Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, and he was significantly to the right of Kennedy on many issues. For those on the left, the most troubling issue was choice. Many were convinced that a Justice Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, one of President Trump’s stated objections with his judicial appointments.
During the hearings Kavanaugh consistently refused to reveal how he might vote on cases that could come before the Court, so it was impossible to determine if this fear was real.
The Latest Allegations
Over the weekend, the Times’ opinion section ran a story based on allegations that appear in a new book by two of its reporters. They claim that Kavanaugh got drunk at a college party and pushed his penis into the hands of a female student, in a manner that “echoed” his alleged assault on Ms. Ramirez.
They neglected to mention that the woman in question declined to be interviewed, and that friends say she doesn’t remember the incident. The alleged incident also resembled the Ramirez assault, since Ms. Ramirez now says she doesn’t remember it either. This information was added to the story only after howls of indignation flooded the internet and airwaves.
To be fair, the Times now says that the story was initially pitched to the news side and rejected for lack of corroboration, which is how it ended up in the opinion section. The reality is that many people will remember the original allegations and not the correction: that’s just the way these things go, and the paper is aware of that.
Not a word has been heard from Christine Blasey Ford since the hearings. We have to assume that she agonized over her decision to come forward and was quite sincere in her motivations, considering what she went through (death threats, character attacks, being forced to move out of her house, etc.). She did not profit from her testimony in any way—if anything, it almost destroyed her life as well as Kavanaugh’s.
The Bottom Line
Where is the truth here, and who is telling it? Ford seemed like a very credible witness, yet the incident occurred decades ago and there were holes in her story. My college background was similar to Kavanaugh’s, so my gut tells me that he probably engaged in some pretty raunchy behavior.
Here’s the problem, though: this doesn’t have anything to do with my gut, or yours, or anyone else’s. It all comes down to facts, and the facts appear to be inconclusive. The classic American supposition of “innocent until proven guilty” has been reversed, and we’re now left with a situation in which everyone is enraged.
On top of all the rage, the situation couldn’t be much sadder. The principals in this drama have all been marked for life. Ms. Ramirez will be remembered (if at all) as someone who had a penis thrust in her face at a drunken party. Mrs. Ford, an accomplished professional woman (she’s a Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University) will go down as a person who claimed to be sexually assaulted in high school. And Justice Kavanaugh, regardless of how lofty his legal attainments turn out to be, has made Clarence Thomas look like the leader of your local Boy Scout troop.
And what of the New York Times?
“…to give the news impartially, without fear or favor…”
We’ve come a long way since Adolph Ochs laid down his credo for the paper in 1896. Journalists are trained to be objective, or at least to strive for it; at the same time, with a wink and a nod, we know this is impossible. And while even the most naïve member of the reading public understands that publications have agendas, passion has spilled truth over the line. As a journalist, I am ashamed, but it’s not my place to apologize for the New York Times.
I have never seen this level of hatred in America, and I grew up in an era filled with prejudice and discrimination. And hatred is the worst emotion you can indulge in: it twists and distorts someone’s character until they are no better than the people they despise.
Wow, talk about irresponsible reporting! How did/do you approach situations like this as a reporter? How do you corroborate witnesses for your articles?
Very interesting coming from someone in the industry. Thank you for sharing!
Well, we all know what the standard is supposed to be (two independently corroborated sources), but of course there are ways to fake that, and my suspicion is that very few reporters out there are even pretending to do it anymore—in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, they probably don’t have the time. But we’re not even talking about corroboration here, just the disclosure that the alleged victims didn’t remember the attacks and that witnesses weren’t coming forward.
As mentioned, the worst part of this is that the attacks settle in the public mind and become reality. The retractions (if they ever occur) aren’t as loud or as memorable.
I am very afraid for this nation. It seems like everyone is circling the wagons and preparing for battle. No matter what your belief, it is now us against them. And all are girding for war. I foresee this all coming to a head in a manner not unlike it did in 1861. There will be blood. We are too violent of a country not to come to blows. I pray I’m wrong.
Hmm…sounds like the plot line for your next dystopian horror novel.