Many of us wondered what the usually reliable Ed Whelan had up his sleeve the last few days, as he hinted that information would emerge that would force Dianne Feinstein to apologize to Brett Kavanaugh. Last night, as John reported, Whelan finally delivered — with a speculative and unsubstantiated theory of mistaken identity. More shockingly, Whelan named the person who might have conducted an assault on Christine Blasey Ford, without any evidence or corroboration.
After reading it myself, I thought: Ed must have something more than this, right? As it turns out … nope. This morning, Whelan deleted the tweets and issued an abject apology:
I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh's Georgetown Prep classmate. I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.
— Ed Whelan (@EdWhelanEPPC) September 21, 2018
Good for Whelan for stepping up and apologizing, but he’s right — that doesn’t undo the mistake. In attempting to defend Kavanaugh, Whelan essentially doxxed someone who wasn’t involved in the story, someone outside of the public debate, and besmirched his reputation by speculating without evidence. That’s what Kavanaugh’s defenders have accused Senate Democrats of doing to Kavanaugh.
It’s only mitigated to some extent by Ford’s response, which excludes Chris Garrett from her accusation:
Christine Blasey Ford shoots down the Whelan conspiracy theory to WaPo: "I knew them both, and socialized with Chris Garrett. I even visited Chris Garrett when he was in the hospital. There is zero chance that I would confuse them." https://t.co/E6NzU6Gp5T
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 21, 2018
Unfortunately, Fox & Friends compounded the damage by amplifying Whelan’s speculation this morning, shortly before Whelan retracted his theory:
Fox and Friends is spreading Ed Whelan’s smear of Kavanaugh’s classmate. Totally irresponsible. pic.twitter.com/mrK1ZqtV9J
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) September 21, 2018
If we’re going to complain about NBC News’ appalling judgment in publishing Facebook fanfic as news — and we should — then we should also slam Fox News for picking up this highly speculative thread from Whelan and reporting it, too. It was never anything more than a hypothesis built on vague reporting from an ambiguous allegation. It certainly wasn’t news, and it wasn’t really argument or analysis either. Whelan is normally reliable, it’s true, but the problems with his tweetstorm were fairly apparent last night, let alone after Ford’s statement rebutting it within a couple of hours. Fox should never have touched this, and should address its retraction as soon as possible.
The problem facing both sides of this dilemma is that there won’t be any silver bullet for either side. The allegation is so vague and so old as to be unprovable and unfalsifiable. People want to solve a Gordian knot by simply hacking through it with one swift chop, but that usually only works in mythology. Unless there is an actual attacker other than Kavanaugh who steps forward to admit it, we have to rely on common sense and our principles of justice to find our way out of the thicket.
Meanwhile, Ed Whelan has learned a hard lesson and apologized for it, so perhaps the rest of us can learn it the easy way. If people really do have information that’s germane to this Senate Judiciary Committee probe, send it along to Chuck Grassley courtesy of the US Senate. Speculative theories should otherwise be saved for cocktail parties, if even there.