The Corner

Law & the Courts

How Did the Media Miss the Rape Gangs?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh listens at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, September 4, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In response to Seven Questions about the Avenatti/Swetnick Story

Charlie asks some important questions below. I want to focus on one particular point. Charlie writes:

Where are the witnesses? The charge is of gang rape. Leave aside the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh was involved — and forget for a moment that we’re debating whether he should be on the Supreme Court — surely there are a whole host of victims, perpetrators, and witnesses to this monstrous crime. Where are they?

At this stage I think it is a sure bet that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets have talked to, or tried to talk to, every single person of consequence in Brett Kavanaugh’s high-school and college life. And yet, until celebrity porn lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client went public with these charges, not a single news outlet had found — or at least reported — any hint that it was just about an open secret that Kavanaugh was part of a crowd where organized rape gangs acted with impunity.

If we must believe Ms. Swetnick, we must also believe that the best journalistic outlets in America completely missed this story. (We also must believe that the FBI as well as the Democratic party’s best opposition researchers missed it too.)

If all this is true, what an unbelievable example of collective incompetence. (Or I suppose, it’s theoretically possible that all of these outlets knew about all of this and refused to report on it because they’re in on the conspiracy).

In my column today, I write about how what we are seeing is a real-time example of a witch-hunt atmosphere, where every rumor and accusation is immediately assumed to be true and every inconvenient fact or contrary statement is further proof of the depth of the conspiracy.

No doubt in part because in-house lawyers are screaming, “Be careful!” most networks and newspapers are at least doing the bare minimum to call these mere allegations and are stopping short of claiming these are facts. But the same outlets are contributing to an atmosphere that gives these allegations the widest scope of plausibility and frames them as essentially politically true if not necessarily factually true.

Democratic politicians are constantly saying that Kavanaugh deserves no presumption of innocence and that they already believe the accusations with remarkably little or no pushback from interviewers (Jake Tapper a notable exception). The pundit panels and talking heads are heavily loaded with people who insist it is up to Kavanaugh to disprove these charges. Politically that may be true, but that’s in part because the people shaping the conventional wisdom keep putting the burden of proof on the accused.

One of the most clichéd and self-serving adages in journalism is “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” Well, if the mainstream media wants to claim that is not getting swept up in this hysteria, they should be sprinting like O. J. through an airport across suburban D.C. to try to verify or debunk Swetnick’s story. And if it turns out to be true, all the reporters who’ve been covering this story should hang their heads in shame that it took a celebrity porn lawyer to discover what they could not. And if it turns out to be false, they should be every bit as eager to say so as they would be if it were true. I do not expect any such enthusiasm.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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