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Law & the Courts

In The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow Disgraces Himself Once Again

Ronan Farrow (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

At The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow ties himself and his reputation to another preposterous Jane Mayer effort, and thereby continues what has been a baffling self-immolation. One might have thought that, after the rank embarrassment that was the pair’s last foray into this topic, Mayer’s editors would have insisted upon some new standards. Alas, there are none to be seen within a mile of this story. As was the case last time around, Mayer and Farrow tell an interesting tale, and then admit openly that there is no evidence for it. Typically, I’d ask why it was published at all, but having watched the behavior of the press over the last fortnight or so, we know the answer to that.

The basic thesis of the piece is that the FBI is ignoring important witnesses to Brett Kavanaugh’s perfidy:

Frustrated potential witnesses who have been unable to speak with the F.B.I agents conducting the investigation into sexual-assault allegations against Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, have been resorting to sending statements, unsolicited, to the Bureau and to senators, in hopes that they would be seen before the inquiry concluded. On Monday, President Trump said that the Bureau should be able to interview “anybody they want within reason,” but the extent of the constraints placed on the investigating agents by the White House remained unclear. Late Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the F.B.I. probe was over and cleared the way for an important procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to take place on Friday. NBC News reported that dozens of people who said that they had information about Kavanaugh had contacted F.B.I. field offices, but agents had not been permitted to talk to many of them. Several people interested in speaking to the F.B.I. expressed exasperation in interviews with The New Yorker at what they perceived to be a lack of interest in their accounts.

One of those “witnesses” is a man named Kenneth G. Appold, a “a suitemate of Kavanaugh’s at the time of the alleged incident.” Appold is the guy in the previous Mayer–Farrow story who said that he is “‘one-hundred-per-cent certain’ that he was told that Kavanaugh was the male student who exposed himself to Ramirez.” In the traditional sense of the word, Appold is not actually a “witness”; rather, he’s best described as a “guy who once heard a rumor.” And, indeed, he seems to know that. Initially, Mayer and Farrow confirm, Appold had “asked to remain anonymous because he hoped to make contact first with the classmate who, to the best of his recollection, told him about the party and was an eyewitness to the incident.” Now, though, he wants his name out there — and he wants to talk to the FBI on the record — because . . . well, actually, I have absolutely no idea why, because he has still “not been able to get any response from that person,” and so knows no more than he did before.

Do you know who does know more than Appold, though? That’s right: Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, who confirm in their story that:

The New Yorker reached the classmate, but he said that he had no memory of the incident.

Usually, this would be the end of the inquiry. In fact, if there is any story to tell here, it is that a guy whose claims were marshaled in support of Ramirez’s charge turned out to be completely unsupported. In any usual journalistic environment, Appold would be deemed useless as a result of this. Appold’s original testimony was that he had heard from a guy that something happened; subsequent investigation has confirmed that, like everyone else named as a witness, the guy that Appold said he heard it from denies remembering anything like it; and thus we reach the end of the road. Typically, this would be it. Typically, Appold’s involvement in any subsequent story would be nil. Typically, he would be regarded as unreliable, and his other claims would be treated accordingly. But for Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, the collapse of Appold’s story serves as an excuse to repeat their original charges in lurid detail, and to add some other swipes at Kavanaugh for good measure. In so doing they bring to mind the dishonest politician who uses preterition to spread his innuendos: “Given that he was cleared, I shall not mention that my opponent was accused of embezzlement.”

As if to add insult to injury, Farrow and Mayer then descend into lazy high-school gossip-mongering. Having left Appold behind, they quote “two high-school acquaintances of Kavanaugh’s,” whose anonymous case against the judge seems to have been that he was a football jock. (How far we have come from the topic of sexual assault.) Throughout, the words of the acquaintances are couched in cop-out phrases such as “the impression I formed” and “seemed to be,” while Farrow and Mayer’s descriptions carry heavy caveats such as “while he might not be remembering the rhyme word-for-word.” The accusations, likewise, are heavy on implication and light on detail. “He said that he never witnessed Kavanaugh physically attacking another student,” one reads, “but he recalled him doing” nothing to stop it. He also may have laughed once when someone around him said words.

And therefore . . . what? Oh, yes. Therefore it is a disgrace that the FBI is not rushing to get these oracles onto the record.


Even as an immigrant, I had heard of The New Yorker’s supposedly famous “fact-checking” process. Seven years into my time in America, I must finally conclude that is a myth. This isn’t a story; it’s a page from the National Enquirer. Every morning I get absurd e-mails from two-bit opposition research firms. As my coffee ritual, I delete them one by one. Farrow and Mayer’s latest deserves the same fate.


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