Law & the Courts

The Ongoing Smear Campaign against Brett Kavanaugh

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The New York Times had a significant story to tell about Brett Kavanaugh. It’s this: In a new book, the Times reporters produced new evidence that profoundly undermined the central claims against Kavanaugh. Leland Keyser — Christine Blasey Ford’s friend and the person Ford herself testified was also at the party where Ford claimed Kavanaugh assaulted her — has stated on the record that she doesn’t have “any confidence” in Ford’s story.

Not only does she not recall the specific party at issue, she doesn’t recall “any others like it.” Moreover, Keyser maintains this recollection in spite of a determined effort by old friends to get her to change her testimony — a pressure campaign that Keyser admirably resisted.

But that’s not the story the New York Times chose to tell. Instead, this weekend it ran an extended piece that breathlessly asserts that there exists a new claim against Kavanaugh. The original story reported that a man named Max Stier alleged that “friends” pushed Kavanaugh’s penis into the hand of a female student. Hours later — only after Democrats issued furious denunciations of Kavanaugh — did the Times add a rather significant editor’s note. The female student “declined to be interviewed,” and her “friends say that she does not recall the incident.”

In other words, “Never mind.” But even that editor’s note is incomplete. It turns out that Max Stier served as one of Bill Clinton’s lawyers during the Starr investigation, a fact that’s at least relevant to the existence of partisan bias.

The New York Times’s disgraceful weekend performance is a reminder that the media performed abysmally during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Ronan Farrow had accumulated an enormous amount of capital reporting thoroughly researched and well-corroborated claims of sexual abuse that helped launch the #MeToo movement. He squandered that reputation for scrupulosity by reporting Deborah Ramirez’s claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself in spite of the total absence of corroborating evidence and in spite of evidence that Ramirez herself was unsure of her memories.

But for sheer malice nothing can match the speed and ferocity with which reporters accepted the facially ludicrous rape story pushed by Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick. She claimed that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for a gang rape and spiking punch to facilitate gang rapes. The story was never remotely plausible, but that didn’t stop media figures from shaming anyone who expressed public doubts on Twitter.

Perhaps the nadir of the whole affair is when Vox helped “explain the news” by publishing a piece arguing that the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles provided “important context” for the Kavanaugh allegations. In the 1980s, you see, there was a different “cultural understanding” about gang rape.

No, there wasn’t. Gang rape was a terrible crime then, just as it is a terrible crime now. Notably, when Julie Swetnick’s claims collapsed during an MSNBC interview, many of the same media figures who trumpeted the claims and scorned all doubts fell silent. They felt no need to retract their outrage or to apologize for their scorn. Instead, they shifted their fire to claiming that Brett Kavanaugh was just too angry when he was accused of gang rape, sexual assault, and indecent exposure.

Against this backdrop, the Democrats calling for impeaching Kavanaugh — including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris — are disgracing themselves. The claims against Kavanaugh never stood up to scrutiny, and the evidence that has emerged since the hearings last fall has only served to undercut further the claims against him.

In a speech earlier this year, Ford’s attorney Debra Katz admitted to the partisanship that at least in part motivated her client: They wanted to put an “asterisk” next to his name. “When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade,” she said, “we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him, and that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine.”

The key word there is Roe. The fierce progressive dedication to abortion rights hovers over this entire affair. And so, instead of engaging in a necessary bout of soul-searching after their abysmal performance last year, the media continue their search-and-destroy mission. Last year, they tried to block Brett Kavanaugh. Now they try to bully him. The Times should be ashamed.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular


Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More