Establishment media outlets repeatedly bungled their coverage of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, spreading misinformation as a result.
Here are nine instances in which media outlets pushed misinformation about Kavanaugh.
1. “Devil’s Triangle”
Multiple media outlets accused Kavanaugh of lying about the term “devil’s triangle” in his high school yearbook, which Democrats claimed was a reference to a group sex act. When asked by Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Kavanaugh said that “devil’s triangle” was a drinking game played with quarters and three cups. The Huffington Post called Kavanaugh’s explanation a “lie.” Seven witnesses — including the classmate credited in the yearbook for inventing the game — have corroborated Kavanaugh’s account of “devil’s triangle.” Politico on Thursday published a video that cited the website Urban Dictionary to suggest Kavanaugh was lying. Politico later deleted the video and issued an apology for its “outdated information.”
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) October 4, 2018
2. Media outlets claim Kavanaugh described birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs”
Multiple media outlets claimed Kavanaugh described some forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” HuffPost’s article, “Brett Kavanaugh Refers To Birth Control As ‘Abortion-Inducing Drugs’ At Confirmation Hearing,” has been shared 110,000 times. The Cut (a New York Magazine website) titled its article: “Brett Kavanaugh Calls Birth Control ‘Abortion Inducing Drugs.’” In fact, Kavanaugh was citing the defendant’s description while explaining his dissent in the case, which went against the plaintiff. PolitiFact rated “false” Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris’s claim echoing the misleading reporting.
3. New Yorker’s first-hand source knocks down its second-hand source on second accuser
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow have faced criticism over their sourcing in reporting on the second allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez accused him of drunkenly displaying his penis in her face at a party. Neither she nor the New Yorker included any other attendee at the party who could corroborate her story. The New York Times later reported that Ramirez herself had told classmates she wasn’t sure if Kavanaugh was the one who had exposed himself. The only corroborating witness in the story was a former Yale classmate who told the New Yorker that he remembered hearing about Kavanaugh’s exposure from a party attendee. The classmate, who remained anonymous in that story, said he was “100 percent sure” that he had been told of Kavanaugh exposing himself to Ramirez, he told the New Yorker. Mayer repeatedly touted the unnamed source — later revealed to be current Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenneth Appold — in defending the story’s accuracy. When the New Yorker got in contact with the attendee Appold said told him about the incident, that person had no recollection of the event ever occurring. “No one made Farrow hitch his wagon to these deeply embarrassing and wildly irresponsible Kavanaugh hit jobs,” the Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams wrote in a column. “No one forced Farrow to treat Appold as a serious and credible source. This is all of Farrow’s own choosing.”
4. NYMag spreads Avenatti’s gang rape claim, not it falling apart
New York Magazine spread Michael Avenatti’s claim to have “significant evidence” that Kavanaugh was involved in drugging and gang-raping girls during high school. The magazine published a series of articles on the topic including, “New Accuser Says Kavanaugh Was Present When She Was Gang-Raped in High School,” “Michael Avenatti Implicates Kavanaugh in Pattern of Teenage Sexual Assault” and “Julie Swetnick’s Allegations Likely to Finish Off Brett Kavanaugh.” Avenatti has yet to produce any evidence, and Democrats have distanced themselves from Avenatti’s claim. Avenatti’s client, Julie Swetnick, contradicted her sworn statement in an interview with NBC News, which could not find any corroborating witnesses or evidence to support her claim. Swetnick was also revealed to have made dubious claims in a 1994 lawsuit, reportedly had a restraining order filed against her by an ex-boyfriend and was sued for sexual harassment. But those facts undermining Swetnick and Avenatti’s credibility have yet to make it into NYMag’s coverage. When Avenatti produced an anonymous second “witness” — who produced no evidence — NYMag covered it, without mentioning Swetnick’s credibility issues. The magazine did not return an email seeking comment.
5. NBC’s “fourth allegation” crumbles
NBC faced scrutiny after reporting the Senate was pursuing an investigation on a “fourth allegation” of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The allegation in question was an anonymous letter allegedly from a woman who claimed to have heard that Kavanaugh pushed his girlfriend “up against the wall very aggressively and sexually” as they left a bar in 1998. The letter cited no evidence and provided the names of zero witnesses and was among multiple claims about which Senate Judiciary Committee investigators asked Kavanaugh as part their due diligence. NBC entitled its original story: “Senate probing new allegation of misconduct against Kavanaugh.” Kavanaugh’s 1998 girlfriend, now a federal judge, wrote a signed letter to the judiciary committee the same day as the NBC story. She disputed that Kavanaugh ever treated her the way the letter described. “To the extent the attached letter is referring to me as the ‘friend who was dating him,’ the allegations it makes are both offensive and absurd,” Judge Dabney Friedrich wrote in the letter, which was first obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. NBC has not yet updated its story to note Freidrich’s signed statement challenging the anonymous, evidence-free letter as of publication.
6. “Fifth accuser” recants
Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, in the course of doing their due diligence, also asked Kavanaugh about a Rhode Island man’s claim that Kavanaugh and Judge sexually assaulted his friend on a boat in 1985. Like NBC’s “fourth allegation,” the man presented no evidence for his claim. Senate investigators noted several tweets from the man’s Twitter account, allowing reporters to identify him on Twitter as “Jeffrey Catalan.” The man recanted his accusation and said he “made a mistake.” CNN and The Hill’s initial coverage reported on the allegation without noting that the man leveling it had recanted. The New York Daily News hasn’t updated its story treating the recanted allegation more seriously. “Brett Kavanaugh questioned about alleged sexual assault on Rhode Island boat in 1985,” is how the paper titled its coverage. The paper has not covered the man’s retraction as of publication.
7. NBC’s perjury prayer
NBC published an article Monday night that challenged Kavanaugh’s testimony under oath that he hadn’t heard of former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez’s accusation against him before a Sept. 23 article in The New Yorker. Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly exposing himself to her at a party during college, though she herself was reportedly unsure if Kavanaugh was indeed the alleged flasher. NBC cited text messages showing members of Kavanaugh’s team working to prepare a response to the unproven allegation before The New Yorker published its article. NBC presented the texts as evidence that Kavanaugh misled the public in his testimony. But the article, which has since been updated, was misleading for two reasons. First, the network’s original story left out part of Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony in which he said he had heard Ramirez was “calling around to classmates” to ask if they remembered the details of her allegation. (To date, none of the attendees from the alleged party have yet corroborated Ramirez’s account.) “They couldn’t — the New York Times couldn’t corroborate this story and found that she was calling around to classmates trying to see if they remembered it. And I, at least — and I, myself, heard about that — that she was doing that,” Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 25. Second, NBC’s portrayal of Kavanaugh’s comments — that he swore to have heard nothing of the story before it was published on Sept. 23 — clashed with the fact that Kavanaugh was quoted in that same Sept. 23 New Yorker article.
8. Kavanaugh’s excessive drinking
Kavanaugh conceded in his sworn testimony that he sometimes drank too much alcohol during high school. “I spent most of my time in high school focused on academics, sports, church and service. But I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today,” Kavanaugh said. “I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many,” Kavanaugh said. But media outlets at times represented his testimony to indicate that Kavanaugh testified that he hadn’t drank excessively, even though he confirmed that he did. TheNYT corrected a story that claimed Kavanaugh “said he did not drink to excess.” HuffPost, which did not return a request for comment, claimed “former Kavanaugh acquaintances” have “publicly refuted his claims that he did not drink excessively, one of several lies he may have told during his Senate testimony last week.” Another HuffPost article claimed that during Kavanaugh’s testimony, “he lied under oath — a lot — especially about his excessive drinking.” Those articles left out Kavanaugh’s admission that he did indeed drink excessively in high school.
9. Brian Karem’s scoop that wasn’t
CNN contributor Brian Karem claimed in the local paper he runs, The Montgomery Sentinel, that investigators in Montgomery County, Maryland, were probing another “allegation” against Kavanaugh. Local police denied any such investigation.
Bonus: The New York Times issued an apology after a writer who previously stated her opposition to Kavanaugh reported that Kavanaugh once was accused of throwing ice across a college bar.
The FBI investigation found no corroborating evidence for either Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez’s allegations against Kavanaugh, according to a report released by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley.
Follow Hasson on Twitter @PeterJHasson