The Corner

Politics & Policy

That’s Not How Evidence Works

Over at the Washington Post, “Right Turn” columnist Jennifer Rubin has a short column warning the GOP that Christine Blasey Ford “has options” if she testifies. Essentially, Rubin’s mapping out all the ways she believes Blasey Ford’s testimony could be “more dangerous” to the GOP than an FBI investigation. On that point, we agree. Everyone who remembers the Anita Hill hearings remembers that the FBI investigation was an asterisk to the proceedings. The fundamental main event — the core of the entire controversy — was the testimony of the two principals in the case.

If Christine Blasey Ford testifies, credibly answers all questions, and appears sincere and truthful, it may well change the dynamic of the entire controversy. In fact, it would likely change the dynamic. That’s what live testimony does. That’s why live testimony is so important. But it’s also important to think through how we evaluate that testimony. And on that score, Rubin raises two points that are, quite frankly, puzzling. She says that Ford should “remind the country” of the following:

• Republicans’ insistence that Ford provide even more detail is hypocritical (since they don’t want an FBI investigation) and misguided, given the large body of research concerning memories of victims of sexual assault (e.g., gaps in memory are common).

• If Kavanaugh was an excessive drinker in high school, as has been alleged, he’s in no position to testify accurately as to what he did and didn’t do.

Wait. Did she just say that it was “misguided” to ask for more detail from the accuser in the case? And the reason is likely “gaps in memory”? This is exactly backwards. Any competent proceeding always must press an accuser to disclose as much information as she can, regardless of gaps in memory. In fact, finding those gaps isn’t misguided, it’s directly relevant to the accuracy of the underlying claim. Those gaps have to be identified and defined.

But then, in the next bullet point, Rubin seems to reverse course. She questions the worth of Kavanaugh’s testimony if he “was an excessive drinker in high school.” In other words, if he has problems with his memory, then “he’s in no position to testify accurately as to what he did and didn’t do.” This is “heads I win, tails you lose” analysis.

That’s not how evidence works. That’s how bias works. In reality, gaps in memory weaken accusations and defenses. Depending on the nature of the gaps, they can rightfully cast doubt on the credibility of claims, and they can undermine confidence in denials.

If Ford shows up at a public hearing and testifies, it’s not “misguided” to press her for more detail. It’s mandatory. And if she testifies, there is no presumption that Ford’s memory is less important than Kavanaugh’s. Accusations require evidence, and evidence requires memory. No one gets a pass on their “gaps.”

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