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I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

Two years ago the worldwide media furore over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court was at its height. Every second story in the British press seemed to be about Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Some may find it difficult to cast their minds back to the fevered atmosphere of that time. In these enlightened days of 2020 we rest secure in the knowledge that American politicians of all sides respect the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is why a TV report about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden is only being shown in Australia.

The Times of London is the Times. It has been the voice of the British establishment for over two centuries. It is seen by many, including itself, as the standard bearer for serious journalism on serious issues for serious people. I have been a Times subscriber for many years, as my parents were before me. At several points over that time my faith in the paper wavered, but never enough to make me switch to another paper. Which one would be better? The Guardian? The Telegraph? The Daily Mail? So ingrained is my own habit of regarding the Times as at bottom a responsible newspaper that I had to spend some time checking that its coverage of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh really was as bad as I remembered.

It was. I have spent the afternoon proving it to myself. A book could be made of the reports and articles I read, but to save myself the trouble of writing and you the trouble of reading such a depressing tome, in this post I will for the most part restrict myself to quoting a few of the Times’s regular opinion columnists, the men and women who give “the Thunderer” its distinctive voice.

Example No. 1:


Kavanaugh v Ford is litmus test of our times

Janice Turner, Friday September 28 2018

Why would she put herself through this if it wasn’t true? This is what women in offices and on school runs across America and far beyond were thinking. Why stand quivering in your blue suit, chosen to look professional but not ball-breaking, feminine but not slutty, to recall the disgusting thing a drunken boy did to you long ago? Why risk your privacy, professional standing, income, dignity, children’s safety, your sanity and — worst of all — not being believed?

Ms Turner asks this with a fine rhetorical flourish as if false memories and false accusations and the general phenomenon of the “October surprise” were things quite unknown in human history.

Dr Ford recalls being pulled into a room by Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, both drunk; pushed on to a bed, the future Supreme Court justice nominee on top of her, grinding, trying to get inside her clothes, covering her mouth when she screamed, making her fear suffocation as well as rape. What do you remember most, the Senate hearing asked? “The laughter between the two,” Ford said. “Them having fun at my expense.”

Is this why Kavanaugh doesn’t remember?

Another rhetorical question. I can think of another reason why Kavanaugh does not remember this event. It is the same reason I don’t remember it myself.

The assault was not about 15-year-old Christine.

In the old days the Times would have inserted the word “alleged” before the word “assault”.

It was the Amazing Adventures of Brett and Mark: the swotty Catholic virgin and his bad-boy, hard-living friend. She was

allegedly

just the girl who happened by the bedroom after they’d hatched their “prank”. She was

alleg… ah, forget it.

a frisbee chucked between them. Would they have remembered her face one year later, let alone 36?

Ms Turner then goes on to discuss memory:

That this ordinary evening is seared into Dr Ford’s memory but not Judge Kavanaugh’s is no surprise. The guy who violently grabbed my crotch on the Tube years ago, the man who assaulted my friend in a lift, the student who committed a 1970s date rape . . . what would they recall? Memory is founded upon what matters. Maybe Judge Kavanaugh did not remember assaulting some girl in a swimsuit. Because it had no possible ill consequences for him. It didn’t matter.

Janice Turner might have asked herself why the searing of this event into Dr Ford’s memory did not extend to the place or even the year in which it happened. Or why the seared-in memory took thirty-six years to surface. My criticism of Ms Turner is not that there are no possible answers to these questions that would support Christine Blasey Ford’s account; it is that she does not even consider the questions.

*

Example No.2 was published three days later:

The powerful can’t just whitewash their pasts

Hugo Rifkind, Monday October 01 2018

Youthful misdeeds were irrelevant for a Prince Hal or Churchill but the Kavanaugh saga proves those days are over

Besides the red face, and the shouting, and the hurt indignation, and the mad howls about still liking beer, one thing was very obvious last week about the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With a litany of legal achievements behind him, this was not a man who had expected, at 53, to be answering for his behaviour as a teenager.

Please don’t think Mr Rifkind does not acknowledge the possibility that Kavanaugh might be innocent. He acknowledges it right here:

Even if Ford’s accusations remain unproven, Kavanaugh’s mere presence in this gross, fratboy milieu ought to be enough to bar him from spending the rest of his life as a wise elder of America.

And in similar vein:

Clearly Kavanaugh thought he had moved on, too. Ford is a reminder that his version of his past is not the only one that exists, even if he and everybody around him have spent a lifetime behaving as if it were.

What is this, a science fiction story where we can hop between every conceivable timeline? There can be many claimed versions of the past, but they do not have equal status. Only one of them is true.

In a sense the entire MeToo movement has been a fight against the ability of powerful men to do just that: to unilaterally dictate their histories and to ignore the alternate histories of women they have slapped, groped, raped or bought off into silence.

Should you look Hugo Rifkind up on Wikipedia and see no mention of the alternate histories of women he has slapped, groped, raped and bought off, bear in mind that a Cambridge-educated son of a cabinet minister who now writes for the most prestigious newspaper in the world is a powerful person himself. He has power to unilaterally dictate his own history. When you think about it that way, the very absence of these alternate versions of Hugo Rifkind from the public record is suspicious. (While it is theoretically possible that no such women exist, the entire MeToo movement has become a fight against the ability of men, powerful or not, to use outmoded concepts like “truth” as a defence.)

*

There was one Times opinion piece that explicitly talked about the presumption of innocence, and which instead of focusing on which of the accuser or the accused had the better demeanour asked how much evidence there was behind the accusation. Example No. 3 had appeared on 26 September and was by Gerard Baker:

Kavanaugh’s accusers are political puppets

Gerard Baker, Wednesday September 26 2018

I’ve never met President Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, whose nomination has run into serious headwinds. But from what I’ve seen and read of him, he looks just like the kind of privileged, over-entitled rich white kid who was quite capable as a teenager nearly 40 years ago of sexually assaulting a girl while out of his mind on vodka, beer and God knows what else.

Fair? No. But it’s roughly the point we’ve reached in the “debate” on Mr Kavanaugh, which will have its denouement in a Capitol Hill committee room today. In a broader, depressing sense, the Kavanaugh affair is a parable about the depths to which national political debate in the US has fallen. We used to need evidence to make an argument or a case. Now we simply allege, slipping effortlessly down the evidentiary curve, to make a case we want to believe.

I remember being hugely relieved that there was one Times regular opinion writer who saw the question in those terms rather than being as about whether one was “for” or “against” Kavanaugh or Ford or women or something. But there was only one. It is true that Niall Ferguson wrote a powerful piece called “Christine Blasey Ford v Brett Kavanaugh: whoever wins a show trial, the rule of law loses”, but that was for the editorially independent Sunday Times.

Returning to the Times proper, disappointing though the average output of its opinion columnists on the topic of Kavanaugh’s nomination was, at least that was avowedly opinion writing. I expect to disagree with some of it. I want to disagree with some of it. What really got me down was to see a hit-piece masquerading as straight explanatory reportage. Example No. 4:

Supreme Court will suffer from the Brett Kavanaugh affair

Giles Whittell, Friday October 05 2018

To many outsiders it beggars belief that in a nation of 330 million souls the Trump administration has not been able to find a candidate for the Supreme Court who, besides being conservative, is not burdened with a thick file of evidence that he was once a hard-drinking, unthinking, misogynistic jock.

To President Trump the case of Brett Kavanaugh looks rather different. It is about a man who has become a totem of White House executive power, a litmus test of Republican loyalty and a symbol of male vulnerability to women drunk on #MeToo tweets.

That power has been demonstrated in the narrowness of the FBI investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Mr Kavanaugh. At the administration’s direction, only a handful of people have been interviewed. They do not include his principal accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, or any of the people her lawyers asked to be added to the list. Early reports indicate that nothing new has been turned up. Mr Kavanaugh has not been caught in any lies big enough to derail a process controlled by his allies.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose wobble triggered the investigation in the first place, is therefore likely to vote to confirm. The party loyalty test is hard to duck and dangerous to fail for a senator still on the upswing of his career. The only Republican who could be relied on to vote with his conscience, John McCain, is dead.

13 comments to I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

  • Lee Moore

    This pompous bilge from Hugo Rifkind stands out nicely :

    Kavanaugh’s mere presence in this gross, fratboy milieu ought to be enough to bar him from spending the rest of his life as a wise elder of America

    Stipulating, for the sake of argument, that the milieu in which the 17 year old Kavanaugh moved was sufficiently gross and fratboyard as to bar him lifelong, by reason of his mere presence therein, from American elderdom; what have we got left to say about two sitting Senators (age 53 and 41) whose idea of fun was to get drunk and make waitress sandwiches – not merely by their presence-in-the-milieu, but as the the actual slices of lard-covered Senator ?

  • Lee Moore

    Also good to see newshound Giles Whittell fully up to speed on the ins and outs of American politics :

    Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose wobble triggered the investigation in the first place, is therefore likely to vote to confirm. The party loyalty test is hard to duck and dangerous to fail for a senator still on the upswing of his career.

    Flake, after carving an approval record in his one and only term as a Senator in the 20-30% range, had announced a whole year before Mr Whittell’s article that he was not going to seek re-election. If Flake’s career was on an upswing, I dread to think what a terminal downswing woud look like.

  • Flubber

    If you listen to Blasey Ford’s actual allegation, she says that while sitting on a bed at a party she got bundled by Kavanagh and another boy.

    Even if it happened, so what? Its the rough and tumble of silly boys and girls, nothing more.

  • bobby b

    The best headline the day after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg was something along the lines of “Democrat women anxiously waiting to discover who raped them in high school.”

  • Fraser Orr

    The only Republican who could be relied on to vote with his conscience, John McCain, is dead.

    By “vote with his conscience” they mean “vote the way I want them too.” John McCain was a horrible political hack more interested in his own aggrandizement and the settling scores than much else.

    Nonetheless, their protestations about Kavanagh would ring a lot less hollow today were the Times also aggressively pursuing the charges by Tara Reid against Biden. Her charges have the advantage of actually having some (if limited) supporting evidence. I don’t read the Times but I a guessing that the investigation is on page 26, if there at all.

    And perhaps the most galling of all in this whole matter is the fact that Biden’s running mate has claimed that Biden is both a racist and a rapist, yet apparently still feels delighted to be on the ticket. She has specifically said she believes Reid, which is to say she believes Biden raped her. The arrogance and hypocrisy of this is at a level of chutzpah never before summited by our politicians. And the dereliction of duty of our press in not pointing out this very obvious outrage just goes to show how far they have fallen, and certainly robs them of their self crowned title of “defenders of democracy”.

  • asiaseen

    The Times was the paper of record in its Printing House Square days. The rot set in when Murdoch acquired it. Sure, the move to Wapping was a good one because previously the printers had the hearts and minds of the management firmly in their grip but Murdoch signally failed to preserve the reputation.

    As for the Sunday Times, the performance of the much-vaunted Insight team lost me with an amazingly inaccurate piece on US bombing in Vietnam which was so riddled with errors as to be laughable.

    Disclaimer: at the time of the ST Vietnam story I was a military aviator with a bit of technical knowledge. Subsequently, in 1994 I was a side player in a hostage story that gave me a valuable insight into the MSM (and incidentally Scotland Yard and the Britisg Piplomatic service). For the record, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday came way down at the bottom of my rankings. Toilet paper quality, those two, ‘fraid not.

  • staghounds

    Asiaseen, don’t feel lonely. Every national level publication has Gell-Manned me too.

  • Mr Ed

    The Times long since lost any weight or credibility, its editor used to be nationally-known figure (when people still paid for newspapers in meaningful numbers), the last one of note that i can recall was (later Lord) William Rees-Mogg, The very last one I remember was some Scottish chap, surname Wilson iirc, who was striking for his lack of gravitas. I can’t imagine why it’s taken you so long Natalie to notice how The Times has degenerated, I’ve seen slower sunsets fading into night. It is really a daily version of the Economist. What really baffles me is how it makes any money, advertisers taking their clients for a ride seems the most likely explanation.

    What struck me about the Gorsuch confirmation was how low-key it was, true he wasn’t going to change the balance of the court, and he was obviously of such character that any personal attacks on him would seem preposterous even to a Democrat Senator. Thank you bobby b for that telling observation. Perhaps some weird bloke out there is being prepped by the Dems to claim that the current nominee abused him when he was a freshman student or younger?

  • Paul Marks

    Although owned by Rupert Murdoch the London “Times” is very much an establishment newspaper – the sort of thing that the charming people of “Central Office” would like. It is not true that is as leftist as the New York Times – but the London Times would tend to just repeat, as truth, whatever smears the American “mainstream” media are pushing. Most British media are the same.

    Partly it is leftism – but it also just laziness. To repeat the lies and smears of the American “mainstream” media is easy – to actually find out the truth involves HARD WORK, and that is not a very fashionable thing in British establishment circles.

    Lastly it must not be assumed that the lies and smears of the “mainstream” media have no effect – even though they often utterly absurd. Indeed the election will be won for Biden/Harris by YEARS of lies and smears by the media. President Trump is a sort of Emmanuelle Goldstein figure (Orwell – 1984) figure – with the media leading the population (or much of it) into a frenzy of hatred of him over years. Anyone who is seen as a supporter of President Trump is also savagely and insanely attacked “rapist!” “racist”, “white supremacist”, “kill!, kill!, kill!”.

    Bizarrely this Marxism is called “liberalism” in the United States and is supported by much of Big Business. For example the leftist Tech Giant “Google” (which RIGS search results to support Democrats) financed the “liberal” groups in San Francisco who called for the destruction of Google and all other capitalist-running-dog business enterprises. The motto of Google has changed from “do not be evil” to “be good” – and “be good” appears to mean “support Marxism – even if this means the confiscation of our the wealth of Google bigwigs and, indeed, the execution of said bigwigs and their families”. Almost needless to say Google always loved Bay Area K. Harris – soon to be the Collectivist Vice President of the United States. Although the senior managers may be thinking “she is too moderate – why has she not executed us all and confiscated our wealth, we want to be robbed and murdered NOW!” The same is true for many other other Big Business enterprises – with their expensively “educated” Corporate Managers.

    Most people do not the have the time or the inclination for political research – so they accept the lies and smears of the “mainstream” media as truth, or at least they partly accept it. And it does not occur to them that the very internet Search Engine they use is systematically rigged.

    “Education” is the gateway to all this – the schools (even for the youngest children) seek to lie as much as possible and to twist young minds as much as they can, the universities finish the process. Many of the universities are so dominated by evil they are almost Satanic – and the British ones are not much better.

    “But Paul – many people go through the entire education process un brainwashed, and they do not believe the lies of the mainstream-media either”.

    True – but even if vast numbers of people resist the evil, in a democracy what matters is the MAJORITY.

    If the MAJORITY are corrupted (or even partly corrupted – corrupted enough so the vote for the left hand path, and where it leads) then the society is doomed.

    And not just American society – many other Western countries are corrupted as well. And even if they were not – when (and it is clear it is “when” now) the United States falls, the rest of the West can not survive.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – I am well aware that some of the Corporate Collectivists do NOT support Marxism. They support a strange return to the Collectivism of Saint-Simon (active two centuries ago) where the Big Business types would NOT be executed – but would in fact be IN CHARGE of the Collectivist society, where there would be no free competition or freedom for ordinary people.

    Some people call this proposed system “Technocracy” (after the ideas Saint-Simon, or even Sir Francis Bacon four centuries ago) – others call it “Stakeholder Capitalism” after the mastermind Klaus Schwab (a Gentleman who appears to have escaped from mid 20th century adventure story – the mastermind out to control the world, by any means necessary, crushing freedom FOR YOUR OWN GOOD – as he sees it).

    Klaus Schwab published his book and founded what was later to be called the World Economic Forum in 1971 – and he is determined that victory for his dreams will occur in 2021 (the 50 Anniversary).

    In an adventure story Dick Barton (or whoever the hero happened to be) would be working to get his arm clear of the ropes, while Klaus Schwab explained his evil “Sustainable Development”, “Build Back Better”, “Stakeholder Capitalism” Saint-Simon type plan (in detail – taking lots of time) – just a bit more now and I can get my arm free of the ropes and give the “mastermind” a sock on a jaw that will knock him out, then I can free Jock and Snowy…..

    In real life there is no Dick Barton (or any other hero) – there are just the evil “masterminds” (there are many of them – K.S. is just one example of the Legion) with their plans to crush the face of humanity under the jackboot (for ever).

    Oh well, can not be helped. “Build Back Better”, “Agenda 21, Agenda 2030”, “Sustainable Development”, “Great Reset” and back to “Build Back Better”, “Stakeholder Capitalism”.

    Still one can but dream – in the days when Hollywood made films that were entertaining (not so long ago – say 2014) Captain America and his friends would defeat the “Mastermind” and his “benevolent” tyranny – and the unmasked baddy would die muttering “Hail Hydra”. Perhaps “Hail Hydra” will be the slogan after “Build Back Better” gets boring for the various Collectivists in the world.

    However, Capitan America is DEAD – and not just in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

  • The thing I’ve noticed about the Times recently is that they really like Starmer, the SW1 remoaner establishment figure par excellence. Like nevertrumpers voting for Hillary and for Biden, the Times seems to be transforming into a Labour paper. Starmer’s true nature and affiliation is an obstacle to his regaining the former ‘red wall’ seats that Boris took, but it’s jam to the Times.

    Two years ago the Times did not like Corbyn (for being lukewarm about the EU as well as other things) but had been going downhill rapidly for a long time. The utter insolent falsity of Ford emerged very strongly from the Kavanaugh farrago. Only by studiedly doing no investigation at all could the Times writers have remained unaware of her several informative tergiversations.

    That the Times was Sir Humphrey Appleby’s paper – and aimed to be – was known back in Margaret Thatcher’s day.

    Of course, back then, I thought Sir Humphrey Appleby was better than this – and back then, I think he was.

  • Marius

    The Times is The Guardian for higher rate taxpayers.

  • Katy Hibbert

    The Times has been rubbish for a while now, with the honourable exceptions of Quentin Letts and Melanie Phillips. The Sunday Times, with the honourable exception of Rod Liddle, is a cesspit of wokeness, thanks to a new, Boris-bashing, Remoaning minnie of an editoress.

    Should you look Hugo Rifkind up on Wikipedia and see no mention of the alternate histories of women he has slapped, groped, raped and bought off, bear in mind that a Cambridge-educated son of a cabinet minister who now writes for the most prestigious newspaper in the world is a powerful person himself. He has power to unilaterally dictate his own history.

    Hugo Rifkind has no talent at all, and, like Giles Coren, got the gig because of his famous dad.

    It was mighty convenient that Ms Creaky Voice only made her complaint when the Democrats wanted to oppose a Republican nominee. No corroboration at all – even her “best friend” couldn’t corroborate her non-story.

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