Commentary

'New York Times' Arms Critics With Bungled Kavanaugh Report

The New York Times this week gave its critics, including President Trump, an unnecessary amount of ammunition to attack its editorial judgment.

The newspaper undermined a bombshell report about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct when he was a student at Yale by burying the story on its op-ed page, omitting key information and highlighting the piece with a brazenly offensive tweet.

The NYT’s blunders managed to unify Kavanaugh’s supporters and detractors in a chorus of execration about its editorial shortcomings.

NYT reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly yesterday explained in televised interviews why their Sept. 14 essay, which was adapted from a book they published this week about Kavanaugh, didn't mention that the alleged victim couldn’t recall an incident from 30 years earlier. 

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Speaking on MSNBC, Pogrebin said her editors had removed that information because the NYT has a policy against naming victims of sexual misconduct. The omitted section described how Kavanaugh's "friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student" who didn’t want to be interviewed and didn’t remember the incident, according to her friends.

“I think what happened actually was that we had her name and, you know, the Times doesn’t usually include the name of the victim," Pogrebin said. "So I think in this case, the editors felt it was better to remove it, and in removing her name, they removed the other reference to the fact that she didn’t remember it.”

The NYT cites two people who heard about the incident from Max Stier, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, who now runs a nonprofit organization in Washington. He also declined to discuss the incident publicly, complicating the sourcing for the report. The newspaper later printed a clarification with more details and added the information into the article.

The key detail that emerged from Pogrebin and Kelly's reporting was that Stier had notified senators and the FBI about the alleged incident during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing last year, but the FBI didn't investigate the claim. The NYT essay mostly focused on Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's who last year accused him of a separate incident of alleged sexual misconduct.  

The NYT also damaged its credibility with a now-deleted tweet promoting the essay that read: “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.”

Harmless fun? I’d love to know what else the NYT’s "Opinion" editors consider to be harmless fun at a drunken dorm party. A game of Russian roulette? Spiking drinks with fentanyl?

A more sober-minded — or perhaps just plain sober — person at the NYT deleted the tweet and posted a public apology that read: “A tweet that went out from the @NYTOpinion account yesterday was clearly inappropriate and offensive. We apologize for it, and are reviewing the decision-making with those involved.”

While it’s reviewing that decision-making, the NYT should also re-examine how it handles reporting that could have significant potential consequences, like a protracted impeachment battle over a Supreme Court Justice.

Politico yesterday reported that senior Democrats aren’t willing to undertake another divisive impeachment while they’re focused on winning back the presidency next year.

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