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.

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