The Corner

Law & the Courts

On The New Yorker’s Grossly Irresponsible Story

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, July 10, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Judge Kavanaugh labels The New Yorker’s report a “smear, plain and simple.” He should be applauded for his restraint. I am struggling to remember reading a less responsible piece of “journalism” in a major outlet.

The piece starts out not with a summary of the story, but with the news that Democrats in Washington are taking it seriously — a weaselly attempt to pass the buck if I ever saw one (“People are saying!”). After that throat clearing, it is acknowledged that the person making the accusation around which the piece revolves had not mentioned it until Kavanaugh was nominated, “was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty,” and agreed to make the charge on the record only after she had spent “six days [] carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”

There are no corroborating witnesses. None. Of the “dozens” of classmates The New Yorker contacted, all either failed “to respond to interview requests . . . declined to comment, or said they did not attend or remember the party.” Indeed, we learn late in the piece that the authors could not establish that Kavanaugh was even there. “The New Yorker,” the tenth paragraph begins, “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” The only “evidence” provided comes from a “classmate” who was not at the party, but is certain he heard about the incident, and from “another classmate” who thinks he heard about an incident that could vaguely resemble the one alleged, but doesn’t know to whom it was done, or by whom. Or, as we would traditionally put it: The only proof provided is rumor.

There are a few quotes from figures who attest to the accuser’s character. And, cutting in the other direction, there is a classmate who suggest that the accuser’s accusation “may have been politically motivated.” But these contributions are so much gossip and should be treated as such. What matters is that there is no scaffolding beneath this story. As the New York Times reports:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

Which is to say that there is as much corroboration behind this accusation as there was behind the last one: None. In and of itself, this makes The New Yorker’s story irresponsible, albeit not out of character for Jane Mayer. But when one considers that the forces arrayed against Kavanaugh’s nomination have taken to arguing that the mere existence of an unsubstantiated allegation should be sufficient to cause a withdrawal . . . well, it looks reckless beyond all reason.

Which may, of course, have been exactly the point.

Most Popular

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Brace for Impact

There are many, many ways to try to measure the 2020 presidential race. How well is Donald Trump doing in the states he needs to win compared with Joe Biden, such as Arizona and Michigan? (Not well.) How well is Donald Trump doing with the demographic groups he needs to retain, such as suburban moms and the ... Read More

Brace for Impact

There are many, many ways to try to measure the 2020 presidential race. How well is Donald Trump doing in the states he needs to win compared with Joe Biden, such as Arizona and Michigan? (Not well.) How well is Donald Trump doing with the demographic groups he needs to retain, such as suburban moms and the ... Read More