Gutter journalism shifts public opinion against Kavanaugh

Gutter journalism shifts public opinion against Kavanaugh
NYT video, YouTube

It is no surprise that media coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is slanted against him. Journalists overwhelmingly are progressives, not moderates or conservatives, and they dislike even mainstream, establishment Republicans like Kavanaugh. The Washington Post, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since 1952, admits that “studies show that most newsrooms tilt liberal/Democratic.” This ideological tilt has a negative effect on journalists’ perception of the integrity and intelligence of conservatives in general. New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal claimed that it was hard to find conservatives worth hiring because so many conservatives are liars. As he put it, “The problem with conservative columnists is that many of them lie in print.”

Some journalists assume the same thing about conservative judges, readily viewing them as liars. This is true even when a judge has been rated “well-qualified” by the liberal-leaning American Bar Association (as Kavanaugh has been) after a review of his temperament and ethics. Many journalists have treated Republican Supreme Court nominees as guilty until proven innocent. That includes Clarence Thomas, who was almost certainly falsely accused of verbal sexual harassment in 1991, and Brett Kavanaugh, who was recently accused of sexual misconduct as a teenager more than 35 years ago.

ABC News’s chief political analyst declared both Thomas and Kavanaugh guilty, not based on any corroborating evidence, but based on a presumption that accusations are true. He justified treating them as guilty, as a way of atoning for America’s “250 years” of institutional sexism. Other journalists agreed with him, effectively endorsing a presumption of guilt.

But this is an ideological double standard, because journalists don’t apply this presumption of guilt to their fellow liberals. Journalists were dismissive of sexual harassment and rape claims against former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, even though Clinton was forced to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him for $850,000. They gave their fellow liberal the benefit of the doubt. They only began to take Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegation against Clinton seriously long after Clinton left office and defending him was no longer politically necessary for liberal journalists.

The allegations against Kavanaugh are unfair because they lack basic details, such as the date and place they allegedly occurred. An innocent person cannot provide an alibi defense without knowing the date and location in which he is accused of committing wrongdoing. The Duke Lacrosse rape hoax was debunked — and the accused players later declared “innocent” by the state attorney general — in part due to an alibi defense, a defense the innocent person could make only because the date and location of the alleged offense were given. How is Kavanaugh supposed to prove himself innocent 35 years after the fact? Stale allegations are inherently less reliable than timely ones, which is why statutes of limitations exist.

Judge Thomas was accused, very likely falsely, of saying sexually offensive things to Anita Hill. These claims were hard to square with the fact that Hill followed Thomas from job to job, rather than being averse to his company, and Thomas had a history of treating female employees with respect, as many women attested. Moreover, Thomas emphatically denied the charges, with an outraged demeanor that seemed trustworthy. Most senators believed him, and he was confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate. The hearings that aired Hill’s charges were watched by much of America. At their conclusion, after weighing the evidence, most Americans believed Thomas, not Hill — by a 2-to-1 margin.

But many in America’s liberal newsrooms were enraged. Newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Globe responded by running an endless series of articles by angry journalists — mostly liberal women — claiming that Thomas’s confirmation proved that powerful men can get away with anything. This crude propaganda campaign was effective. Within a year after Thomas’s confirmation, more people believed Hill’s charges than Thomas’s denials, a dramatic shift from a year earlier when most Americans believed Thomas.

Media organs like the Washington Post are now full of slanted articles implying that Kavanaugh is guilty. Read media coverage of the unproven accusation against Kavanaugh, and you will find an endless stream of commentary and “perspective” pieces claiming that “nothing has changed” since the Hill-Thomas hearings, because, supposedly, powerful men can get away with anything. Most of these pieces do not discuss any of the inconvenient facts that undermine their assumption of guilt. The implication is that we should assume Kavanaugh guilty because of power relationships, rather than conduct an objective evaluation of the evidence in his specific case.

This propaganda has been effective. A poll shows that 46% believe the accusations against Kavanaugh, and only 19% disbelieve them. Even if Kavanaugh is potentially innocent, it may become politically necessary for the White House to withdraw the Kavanaugh nomination to avert serious political damage.

Proving Kavanaugh’s innocence could require probing the accuser’s claims in ways that may make the public uncomfortable or provoke outrage among left-leaning journalists. Even media organs that recognize that the charges may turn out to be false don’t want to allow Kavanaugh’s defenders to prove their falsity in ways that might be uncomfortable for the accuser.

In court, lawyers use cross-examination — which the Supreme Court has called the “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth” — to debunk allegations in he-said, she-said situations, by revealing every inconsistency in the accuser’s story, highlighting every lapse in memory, and raising every possible motive to lie. This kind of probing examination is what senators used to show that Anita Hill’s charges were likely false. A journalist who admits that the charges against Kavanaugh may be false nevertheless frets that senators may do “what they did to Anita Hill when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. They turned the hearing into an inquisition on national TV, grilling her on every minor inconsistency, questioning every trivial lapse of memory, and impugning her motives.” But how else were the senators supposed to get at the truth, if they couldn’t ask probing questions?

Certainly Anita Hill had a motive to lie. Accusing Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment made her an instant celebrity among progressives, especially among academics, and transformed her life for the better. Before her accusations, she had been a professor at an obscure backwater institution. After making her allegations, she received a well-paid “tenured sinecure” from a prestigious university despite “not publishing anything of consequence.” And she received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from left-leaning colleges and other institutions. And she was treated as a revered oracle by liberal journalists on the subject of anything related to gender or sexual harassment.

Journalists falsely claimed she was a conservative, when in fact she had a liberal outlook. She had pressed for a campus speech code at the University of Oklahoma, a sign of left-wing activism. Hill exhibited a pronounced double standard in favor of her fellow liberals. She defended Democratic President Bill Clinton, who was accused of sexually harassing Paula Jones and raping Juanita Broaddrick, advocating that Clinton be given the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, she said that Kavanaugh “has the burden” of proving himself innocent.

Residents of progressive enclaves may see themselves as having a lot to gain from accusing a Republican Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct, if it will block his confirmation. Kavanaugh has been accused of misconduct 35 years ago by a resident of liberal Palo Alto, Calif. The accusations have enhanced the accuser’s reputation locally.

Palo Alto Online has lionized her as a “heroine,” and like Anita Hill, Kavanaugh’s accuser had potentially a lot to gain financially by accusing him of wrongdoing, in terms of future speaking fees, book advances, and other sources of income. There is also the obvious benefit to a progressive accuser of blocking a Republican president from appointing a justice who could be the deciding vote on a Supreme Court that is currently split 4-to-4 on many issues. If Kavanaugh withdraws, it is probably too late for the Senate to confirm a replacement prior to the November election. The Senate may change hands as a result of the November election, and GOP losses in Senate races in Nevada, Arizona, or Tennessee. A Democratic Senate would likely refuse to confirm any GOP nominee to the Supreme Court for the next two years.

Some liberal journalists will go to almost any length to preserve a liberal Supreme Court or key liberal court rulings. Time magazine correspondent Nina Burleigh once said she would gladly give former president Bill Clinton oral sex in exchange for preserving the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions. As she put it in July 1998, “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.” She also said, “I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”

TV networks such as NBC have been frankly deceptive in much of their reporting on the Kavanaugh allegations. Kavanaugh’s accuser did not disclose her alleged victimization to anyone prior to 2012, three decades after it allegedly occurred — in an account to her therapist that differs in some important details from the allegations subsequently leveled against Kavanaugh. (The therapist’s notes don’t list Kavanaugh as the perpetrator, although Kavanaugh had already been touted by 2012 as a potential Supreme Court pick in a Republican administration, by liberals such as the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin).

But NBC, relying on a Facebook post that had already been taken down at the time it ran its story, ran a story that falsely made it sound like the incident involving Kavanaugh had been the talk of their school at the time. Since the Facebook rumor NBC relied upon conflicted with Kavanaugh’s accuser’s own admission that she never told anyone of her alleged victimization back in the 1980’s, NBC simply omitted that key admission by the accuser in its story, in order to try to make Kavanaugh look guilty, by hiding these inconsistencies.

As the Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier noted, that was very misleading on the part of NBC. Wrote Bier: “By the time @NBCNews posted this, the schoolmate took down her post, admitted no first hand knowledge of the incident that Ford mentions, and said she’ll do no interviews; yet NBC headlines: ‘Accuser’s schoolmate says she recalls hearing of alleged Kavanaugh incident.'” This was truly gutter journalism.

The fact that Senate Democrats suddenly suddenly seized on these allegations against Kavanaugh at the last minute is suspicious. This was an allegation they privately thought so little of that they had sat on it for months, without disclosing its existence to Kavanaugh so he could rebut it. The Democratic senator who originally received the allegation, Dianne Feinstein, never confronted Kavanaugh about it, or even disclosed the allegation’s existence, when she met with him weeks earlier.

Obviously, she harbored her own doubts about whether the allegation was true. Moreover, notes the liberal New Yorker, Feinstein’s staff had “once conveyed to other Democratic members’ offices that the incident was too distant in the past to merit public discussion.” But once it became apparent that Kavanaugh would otherwise be confirmed, things suddenly changed. Senate Democrats, in a eleventh-hour tactic, seized on this allegation they once found suspect, in order to peddle a last-minute smear against the judge.

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle is a retired attorney and author, who writes about politics.


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