Did the NYT stealth-edit an article to downplay a Dem activist source?

Maaaaayyyyybeee, but not the article that some initially thought, and not in the same way either. At first, several people accused the New York Times of removing a reference to Deborah Ramirez’ admission that she had no clear recollection of Brett Kavanaugh being the one that allegedly abused her at a party where she had been drinking heavily. Radio host Michael Smerconish first raised the question, which was immediately picked up on social media.


Leon Wolf, however, pointed out that people had compared two different NYT articles. The passage on Ramirez’ memory remains in the original, he noted (see update):

Leon’s right about these being two different articles. The first, which was centered on negotiations with Christine Blasey Ford, included the passage several paragraphs into the story. The second article focuses on Kavanaugh’s assertive denial of wrongdoing and Senate Republican efforts to defend him by attacking Democrats and the media rather than the accusers. That article notes that Republicans have made use of the Times’ acknowledgment that it could find no corroboration for Ramirez’ allegation, but pushed back against claims that the Times had “rebut[ted] her account, noting that “unlike the New Yorker,” they couldn’t get an interview with Ramirez.

Smerconish promptly acknowledged the response on Twitter, although some pointed out that the same passage did appear in the second article at one time too. If it did get removed from that article, it’s a notable editing decision — but its continued existence in the first article (where it was noticed most anyway) shows that the intent wasn’t to bury it or to ignore that issue. The second article was heavily edited to account for Kavanaugh’s interview last night and for the reaction to it. Much, if not all, of the excised material still exists in other Times reporting.


But did the Paper of Record make other stealth edits to other Kavanaugh reporting? At The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway spots some differences between the versions of their reporting on Kavanaugh’s high-school yearbook entries, which appears to have dropped the names of a key source for its claims of relevance. Hemingway explains the provenance of the apparently deleted sources in the NYT story, and how their disappearance changes the narrative:

The original article published online on Monday night was quickly scrubbed of a reference to a “Mr. Madaleno.” The Times uses full names on first references to sources and titles on second references, though it was the first time his name was mentioned in the article. The claim of sexual braggadocio is sourced earlier in the article to one named and one anonymous individual who claims to fear retribution. NewsDiffs, a site that tracks changes to articles at the New York Times, caught the rapid deletion of his name. Reporters Kate Kelly and David Enrich did not explain why it was removed.

Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Prep, is a state senator in Maryland who recently lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. He garnered headlines for a campaign ad that featured him kissing his male spouse as a rebuke of Trump. The 30-second spot has him telling viewers he seeks to “deliver progressive results and stand up to Donald Trump” before listing things he’s done “that already infuriate” Trump.

As he announces his progressive results — protecting the country’s largest abortion corporation, fighting gun rights, and opposing vouchers for schools — people he’s pictured with say “Take that, Trump!” Madaleno ends with a video of him and his partner Mark Hodge. “What’s the number one way I piss off Donald Trump and the Republicans?” Madaleno asks. After kissing his partner, he says “Take that, Trump!” The Madaleno campaign said it hoped Trump himself would view the ad and that it would set him off.

Another source for the article, Georgetown Prep classmate William Fishburne, was a campaign surrogate for Madaleno. He implored classmates to vote in the June 26 primary. The “staunch liberal” finished fifth in a crowded primary.


Fishburne actually remains in the article, however, although the article doesn’t mention his political activism. Perhaps that’s because his testimony isn’t all that damning anyway. His reaction? High-school kids were acting like, well … high-school kids everywhere:

“People claiming that they had sex with other people was not terribly unusual, and it was not terribly believable,” said William Fishburne, who was in Judge Kavanaugh’s graduating class and was a manager for the football team. “Not just Brett Kavanaugh and his particular group, but all the classmates in general. People would claim things they hadn’t done to sort of seem bigger than they were, older than they were.”

Madaleno’s name has disappeared, however, without any editorial note. That does seem a little odd, given his initial inclusion in the story (sans first name) as their one named source confirming that each student wrote and designed their own personal pages. Mollie’s right to flag this as a questionable practice, especially given the toxically politicized this confirmation process has become.

However, this only matters if one believes that this line of reporting means a damned thing in the first place. The New York Times would have us believe that a high-school yearbook entry perhaps referencing teenage sexual obsession (other alums deny that interpretation) has any bearing at all on the fitness of a man for public service 36 years after the fact. The Times spent 1600 words analyzing this as somehow relevant information, as though no time at all had passed since 1982 and Kavanaugh had not demonstrated maturity, professionalism, and courtesy throughout his adult career in the law.


The shame involved here isn’t that the Times removed the name of a source whose presence might call into questions the motives of those pushing the “Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook makes him unfit” narrative. It’s that the Times hasn’t deleted the entire article yet. It’s a shameful exercise, setting up a standard for character that’s not only impossible to meet but so clearly wrong as to be painfully obvious outside the editorial halls of the Paper of Record. Who among us remains exactly as mature as they were at 17? Do we even know anyone who hasn’t grown since that time with age and experience? Good Lord, literally no one would qualify for public service under this standard.

Can we get back to discussing Kavanaugh’s work on the bench now? Please?

Update: Leon’s now recognizing that the paragraph was in both pieces, as I noted.

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