Views on the News: New York Times Kavanaugh Coverage
Last Sunday, The New York Times published an essay based on an upcoming book written by two of its writers that includes a new allegation of sexual assault against United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The piece details alleged misconduct by Kavanaugh during a residence hall party at Yale University — though the alleged victim declined to comment and later said that she did not remember the incident, which The Times did not report. Some Democratic representatives are calling for Kavanaugh to be impeached, while other senior Democrats have pushed back against the idea. Do you think the Times was right to publish this allegation in the way it did? How should the government respond to these allegations?
There are many issues to be found with the Times piece, namely its conflation of elitism with debauchery and the seemingly endless distractions from Justice Kavanaugh’s legal fitness. While convincing, the most credible and public accounts of the Justice’s alleged sexual assaults from Dr. Blasey Ford failed to motivate the Senate (and, on its own behalf, the FBI) to block his nomination. In this, many (myself included) see a degree of moral error. Many dogmatic conservative judges are available for the president to nominate to our highest court, thus why support such a deeply flawed candidate? Absurdly enough, this is a war of morality. The Religious Right, fueled in part by landmark cases including Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, are on the cusp of redefining civil liberties in America as we know them, and the immorality of the president and his nominees are inconsequential obstacles to this end. While The Times dutifully points towards flaws in this cognitive dissonance by lambasting morally corrupt leaders, chasing weak allegations distracts from both honest reporting and a thorough analysis of conservative grand strategy in the Supreme Court. If Democrats are seriously concerned with Justice Kavanaugh’s fitness for office, pursuing a dismissed claim is likely the wrong move.
Daniel Ruggles is a PhD candidate in the Politics department at Brandeis.
Prof. Zachary Albert (POL)
The political response to this new allegation is entirely unsurprising. As with most scandals, the parties have circled the wagons, attacking either the ethics and veracity of the allegation or the integrity and potential removal of the newest Supreme Court member. The topic of the Supreme Court — as if we needed more evidence — has become a politicized issue. We have already seen several Democratic presidential candidates calling for the addition of Supreme Court members. Impeachment of Kavanaugh seems a remote possibility at this time, but his controversial presence on the Court might make calls for structural changes increasingly popular among Democratic voters. More generally, a discussion about how we select justices — for life, at random intervals, and in increasingly partisan ways — seems warranted, especially in light of the process that brought us Kavanaugh in the first place and that make the stakes of his removal so high for both parties.
Zachary Albert is an Assistant Professor in the Politics Department at Brandeis.
Prof. Maura Jane Farrelly (AMST)
First, the New York Times did report it. The original version of the piece did not mention that the alleged victim’s friends said she didn’t recall the incident. The Times, however, not only updated the piece, it published a correction, drawing readers’ attention to the omission. If your standard for judging a news outlet as “credible” is that it has never made any mistakes, you will never find credibility anywhere. What matters is how a newspaper makes mistakes — and how it handles the mistakes it makes. That being said, the omission was unfortunate, given the scrutiny the Times is under right now — and, of course, the obvious political implications of the story. I have no definitive thoughts on how the government should respond. But certainly no one at the Times should resign, nor should the Times be sued over it, both of which the president has called for.
Maura Jane Farrelly is an Associate Professor of American Studies specializing in religion in America and American Journalism.