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The New York Times and Justice Kavanaugh: News as real as margarine

Written By | Sep 22, 2019
New York Times, Kavanaugh, Fake News

WASHINGTON: The New York Times published a News Analysis last week that contains new allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Published in the Times’ Sunday Review, The article has raised a number of questions. Why was the article under the heading of ‘News Analysis’, versus news? Knowing fully that the “victim” in the story neither remembered the events or wanted to press charges, shouldn’t the Times have provided some corroborating information? 

And why is Max Stier, a former defense attorney for Clinton, the only witness to come forth? Of the Clinton – Kaine 2016 ticket Stier said:

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which has been running a Center for Presidential Transition. “The task of managing our federal government is large and complex, and it is encouraging that the presidential candidates are preparing to govern even while they vigorously campaign,” he said in a statement. “Secretary Clinton’s commitment to establishing the Clinton-Kaine Transition Project signals that she understands the enormous responsibility a president assumes on Day 1 in the Oval Office.” – Clinton Names Familiar Figures to Lead Her Presidential Transition Team – August 16, 2016

Stier is now President & CEO of the Non-Profit Partnership for Public Service (Max Stier: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know)

The New York Times faithful News Analysis

So why did the New York Times news analysis of this event include this passage?

A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier …

But not this one, which authors Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly mentioned in the book on which they based their analysis:

The female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode.


After heavy criticism, the Times edited the article to include that important bit of information.  

Yellow Journalism to Fake News: Media lies against Justice Kavanaugh
The Times responds to its critics, sort of

The Times did publish an interview with its editorial page editor, James Dao, on September 16. In that interview, Dao responds to reader questions about his decision to publish the Pogrebin-Kelly essay. He points out that the Times did, in fact, run a news story the day after it ran the essay.

That story, however, was in large part the reactions of Democratic presidential candidates to the essay. It mentioned the new allegation, but with no additional, corroborating evidence. 

That is, any news that it contained had nothing to do with the nature and strength of the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Dao’s interview is itself newsworthy.

While it says nothing new about the Kavanaugh allegations, it provides solid corroborating evidence about the way news stories are manufactured at the New York Times:

The essay included a previously unreported claim that friends pushed Mr. Kavanaugh’s penis into the hand of a female Yale student during a dorm party with drunken classmates. During the authors’ investigation, they learned that a classmate, Max Stier, witnessed the event and later reported it to senators and to the F.B.I. The authors corroborated his story with two government officials, who said they found it credible. Based on that corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted.

That word corroboration doesn’t mean what you think it means, Mr. Dao

Dao’s statement is remarkable. When journalists and their editors corroborate news stories, they show that the primary witness’s report is supported by the reports of other, independently reliable witnesses. Do their stories reinforce each other? Do they provide additional details that support the story of the primary witness?

Corroboration involves finding additional evidence in police reports. It involves finding solid support for the story you’re about to report.  A corroborated story is not a fairy tale based on simple hearsay.

The Times didn’t corroborate the allegation against Kavanaugh.

It reported hearsay. It corroborated that Max Stier made an allegation against Kavanaugh and that two anonymous government officials found Stier credible. But it did not corroborate the event itself.

In fact, the young woman into whose hand Kavanaugh’s penis was allegedly pushed by his friends doesn’t recall the event, an event that most of us would find hard to forget.

And that, according to Dao, merited “mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay”.

All the fake news that’s fit to print, and then some

President Trump often rails against the New York Times as a purveyor of “fake news.” The charge raises the hackles of journalists across the mainstream media. They view it as an attack on the profession. Journalism itself is held up for ridicule, threatening the very foundations of our republic.

And yet, the journalists of the New York Times are too often careless with the truth. The editorial page editor has defined “corroboration” so far downward that any story at all can be corroborated.

The quavering voice of Blasey Ford and the railroading of Brett Kavanaugh

Another question worth asking: Why did Pogrebin and Kelly report this incident in the first place? Spend time writing a book about fanciful tales? Without the corroborating memories of the young woman in question much less Kavanaugh’s friends. Privileged white boys who were wildly casual about handing around deeply personal pieces of Kavanaugh’s anatomy. Why oh why would they report the story in their book or essay?

Pogrebin answered this question herself in a radio interview: “We decided to go with it because obviously it is of a piece with a kind of behavior.”  Which deserves a quizzical huh?  Pouring through the AP Stylebook, using a “kind of behavior” as the basis to corroborate a story is not mentioned as a teller of fact.

Biases confirmed: The news as performance art

But what Pogrebin is saying is that they reported it as truth because that’s the way they believe Kavanaugh behaved. They believe it without any corroborating stories that would stand up in court, stories whose principals don’t fully remember the details.

One doesn’t remember the incident at all. Deborah Ramirez, the hero of the Pogrebin-Kelly essay, had to shop her memories around in order to determine that they were real.  Of Ramierez, neither her or Christine Blasey Ford were able to provide evidence that College Student Brett Kavanaugh was a sexual predator.  
In October 2018, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court after the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that there was “no corroboration of the allegations” made by Ford and Ramirez. But after a ten-month investigation, New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly were able to find several people who could corroborate Ramirez’s account.”

So New York Times report Pogrebin and Kelly have the ability to do a more in-depth analysis on who Brett Kavanaugh.  More in-depth than the six background checks conducted by the FBI that never gave them a reason to pause, or investigate further.

So why did Pogregin and Kelly take another blade to Justice Kavanaugh?

Pogrebin admits that she and Kelly reported an incident that is consistent with who they believe Kavanaugh to be. Hence reinforcing their beliefs about him. Despite not having any proof, or to use Dao’s word, corroboration that it happened.

And that we can bet dollars to donuts helped Stier put aside his non-partisan leanings to attack a Justice on the Supreme Court.

Kyle Smith, writing for the National Review, further presses the issue of corroboration. He points out that what Pogrebin and Kelly have done is…

… to whip up a smokescreen of random hearsay and vague allegations of bad behavior unconnected to Kavanaugh in any way, such as Ramirez’s mother’s recollection that her daughter once said “Something happened at Yale.” Pogrebin and Kelly call all of this “corroboration” of the Ramirez allegation (never mind the lack of contemporaneous hard evidence). This is outlandishly bad journalism. Something happened at Yale — that’s it, that is absolutely all Ramirez’s mother heard over the course of 35 years — somehow backs up this story?

There’s a good, two-word description of what’s going on at the Times: Fake news.

Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.