Journalists peddle baseless smears and are rewarded

Journalists peddle baseless smears and are rewarded
U.S. Supreme Court

Journalists sometimes ignore facts and evidence in order to promote an ideological narrative. For example, journalists peddled the Duke Lacrosse and University of Virginia gang rape hoaxes even after they were debunked. They also continue to distort the facts about a 1991 Supreme Court nomination, in which the FBI and members of the U.S. Senate rejected as unfounded claims that Judge Clarence Thomas said sexually offensive things to Anita Hill.

Shamefully, newspapers reward such contempt for facts and evidence. As a lawyer noted at this blog, the New York Times recently put on its editorial board a woman who “expressed rage after a few good journalists exposed a rape hoax at the University of Virginia. There, a fraternity was falsely accused of committing gang rape by a complainant who told a story that was full of inconsistencies and details that seemed physically impossible. The complainant claimed assault by a person who doesn’t exist, at a party that never occurred. Even after Rolling Stone retracted its defamatory story of the alleged rape, [she] peddled the UVa. rape hoax.”

She also called for the banning of a writer who exposed violations of the due process rights of college students accused of sexual assault.

In the Duke lacrosse case, the defendants were charged with an interracial rape but vindicated by DNA evidence and declared innocent by North Carolina’s state attorney general, Roy Cooper (D). Even after the prosecutor was disbarred for misconduct and trying to frame the defendants, left-leaning journalists sought to rehabilitate him.

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Amanda Marcotte, who has written for Slate, the Guardian, and other leading progressive publications, defended the hoax and the baseless prosecution even after ethics charges were brought against the prosecutor. She wrote that “people who defended the wrongly accused Duke students were ‘rape-loving scum.'” She complained about the charges being “thrown out,” sarcastically asking, “Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it?”

There was never any real evidence of the alleged offense, but the New York Times’s Duff Wilson falsely claimed there was a considerable “body of evidence” against the accused players. The Durham Herald-Sun made the pernicious, racially-prejudiced claim that the accuser’s claim should be given special weight because she was black and the accused were white. It allowed me to publish a letter taking issue with that claim, titled, “Leave Race Out of It.” But neither it nor any of the other newspapers that implied that the accused were guilty ever apologized for leaving a misleading impression or jumping to conclusions.

Journalists also, disgustingly, continue to smear Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and make false claims about the Senate hearings that led to his confirmation. As lawyer Adam White notes in the Weekly Standard, the evidence overwhelmingly supported Thomas’s innocence of claims that he said sexually offensive things to Professor Anita Hill. Moreover,

Not a single colleague of Hill’s came forward to support her allegations. In stark contrast, the very last panel heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee featured eight women, seven of whom had worked with Thomas at the EEOC, the Department of Education, and in Senator John Danforth’s office. …

Each was given three minutes to speak, and each of them forcefully rejected the charges. Johnson, herself the victim of sexual harassment at a previous job, offered the most powerful testimony.

In her initial meeting with FBI agents, she omitted many of the salacious details that later exploded in the Senate confirmation hearings. As Hill presented a much more scandalous story to the Senate Judiciary Committee, senators Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, and Arlen Specter had questions about why her story had changed so dramatically. “I did not tell the FBI all of the information,” Hill replied to Specter, because the “FBI agent made clear that if I were embarrassed about talking about something, that I could decline to discuss things that were too embarrassing, but that I could provide as much information as I felt comfortable with at that time.”

But her account was immediately disputed by both of the FBI agents who had interviewed her, Special Agents Jolene Smith Jameson and John B. Luton, who observed her Senate testimony and then filed statements detailing what they described as Hill’s untruthfulness.

Ignoring all this evidence, ABC News’s chief political analyst Matthew Dowd recently branded Justice Thomas a “sexual predator.” He made this inflammatory accusation even though Thomas has served on the Supreme Court for over a quarter century, without the slightest hint of misconduct and has a well-deserved reputation for treating Supreme Court staff well. Even a liberal NPR reporter once admitted that Thomas was the “most well-liked” justice among court employees.

Dowd justified treating Supreme Court nominees accused of misconduct as presumptively guilty, as a way of atoning for America’s “250 years” of institutional sexism. Other journalists agreed with his perverse advocacy of a presumption of guilt. This is the mindset of the media gatekeepers who decide based on their narrow ideology, what news is fit to print and what information to disclose to the American public.

You would never learn of the evidence in Thomas’s favor from watching CNN or reading recent articles in the Washington Post or New York Times. These articles are little more than propaganda in favor of Hill.

Even back in 1991 and 1992, the media were hopelessly biased. Lost in a sea of articles slanted against Thomas was the fact that the FBI had concluded that Hill’s charges were “unfounded.” As a lawyer put it, “Most Senators rejected Hill’s charges — for good reason — when the Democratic-controlled Senate voted narrowly to confirm Thomas. Hill’s allegations were hard to square with the fact that she followed him from job to job.” Moreover, White notes, there was no “corroborating” evidence for the charges against Thomas.

But in the year after Thomas was confirmed, America’s newspapers ran an endless series of fact-free diatribes against him by progressive columnists claiming his confirmation showed powerful men could get away with anything and claiming that accusers risk everything and have nothing to gain by bringing charges in high-profile cases (even though accusations in high-profile cases can lead to lucrative book and movie deals).

To this very day, media entities such as CNN and the Associated Press continue to peddle factually false claims about the Hill-Thomas hearings, in an attempt to delegitimize Thomas’s presence on the Supreme Court. As a lawyer earlier noted:

Senators recognized that Hill had a potential motive to lie, such as the enormous amount of money in book and movie deals that an accuser can make by cashing in on her story. Hoping to defuse this, Alabama Democrat Howell Heflin asked Hill, “Are you interested in writing a book?” Hill answered, falsely, that she was not.

CNN’s Poppy Harlow and the AP’s Pace criticize Heflin for this, falsely making it sound like Heflin was attacking Hill, rather than trying to help her dispel a supposed “myth.” In reality, Tim Graham notes, “Hill did exactly what she denied she would, and accepted a million-dollar advance for two books.” Evidence of a potential motive to lie is critical evidence in any case, and a refusal to allow questioning about it is a violation of due process.

Certainly Anita Hill had a potential 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 a non-prestigious institution.

But after accusing Thomas of sexually offensive remarks, Hill received a “well-paid” position at “a prestigious university” and reaped “hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from left-leaning colleges and other institutions.” When she is quoted by journalists, it is almost always by progressive journalists; they treat her as a “revered icon” based on her accusation against Thomas, who is perhaps the most conservative member of the Supreme Court.

Innumerable media reports falsely claimed Anita Hill was a conservative, when in fact she was left-leaning by 1991. She had promoted a campus speech code at the University of Oklahoma, a classic left-wing cause. Hill displays a double standard in favor of 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 Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “has the burden” of proving himself innocent of charges against him.

Media coverage of Republican Supreme Court nominees like Thomas is often biased against them. This may reflect the fact that journalists overwhelmingly are left-leaning. The Washington Post, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since 1952, conceded last year that “most newsrooms tilt liberal/Democratic.” This partisan slant may harm journalists’ perception of the integrity of Republicans and conservatives accused of wrongdoing. Former New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal claimed it was difficult to find qualified conservative writers because so many are liars. He said that the “problem with conservative columnists is that many of them lie in print.”

Not surprisingly, media entities like the New York Times and NBC display an ideological double standard when it comes to sexual misconduct allegations, treating them much less seriously when the accused is a liberal politician or judge than a conservative one.

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Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. Hans also writes for CNS News and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”


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