Call this a subgenre of the Republicans Pounce!™ media narrative. After the New York Times’ dishonest rehash of the Brett Kavanaugh smear fell apart, media outlets such as the Washington Post made the GOP’s pouncing over a “journalistic mishap” the story, rather than the egregious violations of journalistic norms by the NYT. Today, Politico makes Donald Trump’s “harping” on the smear for political gain their focus:
President Donald Trump, like most of the conservative sphere, is riled up about the treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh a year after the judge’s hyper-polarizing confirmation hearings.
And he’s channeling that energy into his key 2020 tactic of leaning heavily on political grievances and divisive moments to excite his base.
In both public and in private this week, the president has been harping on a recent New York Times piece, drawn from a book that contains new allegations of sexual misconduct by the judge who Trump feels has been falsely accused.
Note well all of the loaded language that Politico crams into its first three paragraphs. Trump is described as “riled up,” promoting “grievances” and being “divisive,” “harping,” because he “feels” Kavanaugh has been falsely accused. Note also that use of the plural in “new allegations,” because that’s not just loaded but flat-out wrong. There was only one “new” allegation in the New York Times piece, and the original version of the piece failed to mention that the authors never talked to the person who alleged it. Nor did they mention that the supposed victim has no recollection of the incident and has no interest in discussing it with reporters, which the book’s authors note in the book itself but got left out of their NYT “adaptation.”
This loaded language, by the way, appears to be running in Politico’s “news” section. Did they ever use “harping” in a news report to describe Democratic presidential candidates talking about Kavanaugh following the NYT piece? “Grievances”? “Divisive”? I’d call that doubtful.
Why would Trump continue “harping” on the NYT’s yellow-journalism hit piece? For one thing, it supports his argument that media organizations, including supposed straight-news platforms, are cooking stories to attack Trump and his administration. For another, the kangaroo-court attacks on Kavanaugh united the Right last year in indignation over the destruction of norms and the use of character assassination to derail legitimate conservative jurists from advancement. CNN noted the political damage Democrats did to themselves by enraging the fractious coalition within the GOP umbrella last year, and why it matters for 2020:
Polling models produced by now Washington Post analyst David Byler, FiveThirtyEight and I found that the Democrats chance of winning the Senate was slashed from 30%-40% in mid-to-late September (during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings) to 10%-20% by Election Day. In terms of raw seats, each model had the Democrats winning two to three more seats in late September than they eventually won. Now, some of this may have been natural movement toward the partisan baseline in red states like Missouri and Indiana, but these forecast models are supposed to take into these baselines.
Indeed, the 2018 exit polls suggest that Kavanaugh was a net negative for Democrats across the Senate landscape. One question on some state exit polls asked voters whether a senator’s Kavanaugh nomination vote was important to them. In every state but one (Florida) where the Republican senator voted for Kavanaugh or the Democratic senator voted against him, it was a net negative for the Democratic Senate nominee. …
Democrats do need to win red states to take back the Senate. Democrats need a pickup of at least three seats in 2020. Only two Republican held seats up are in states Clinton won in 2016. There’s also the one Democratic held seat up for reelection in deeply red Alabama. Put together, Democrats will need to win at least two Senate seats in Trump won states to take back the Senate.
All told, relitigating Kavanaugh may be good politics for a Democratic presidential primary where Kavanaugh is hated. It may even be a wash for Democrats in a presidential general election. It’s likely bad politics for Democrats when trying to take back the Senate.
In other words, reminding voters of how Democrats and the media treated Kavanaugh turns out to be pretty good politics. Moreover, Trump didn’t just pull this topic out of a hat for no good reason. He’s “harping” on it now because Democrats are still “harping” on it a year later, and media outlets like the NYT are trying their best to repackage the same old horsepuckey into a New And Improved Product to give Democrats that opportunity.
The story isn’t about Trump’s “grievances.” As Kathleen Parker — not exactly a Trumperoo — accurately put it yesterday at the Washington Post, the real story is “a monument to hearsay and a travesty of journalistic ethics.”
The fact that the alleged victim refused to be interviewed by the authors, and apparently told friends that she doesn’t recall any such incident, amount to the very definition of a non-story. For the record, The Post learned of the accusation last year but declined to publish it because the alleged witnesses weren’t identified and the woman said to be involved refused to comment.
Indeed, the authors’ only sources for the claim were two unnamed officials who spoke to Washington attorney Max Stier, who last year apparently told the FBI and various senators that he witnessed the alleged incident. But Stier refused to talk to the Times writers himself. …
The truth is, Kavanaugh has been the target of a media siege since his name was announced for consideration for the high court. Ramirez’s story was first reported by the New Yorker just days before Ford’s congressional testimony, which, frankly, was flimsy at best. None of the other four people Ford named as attending the high school party where she claimed Kavanaugh groped her recalled any such gathering. One of them, a close friend of Ford and the only other female, Leland Keyser , not only doesn’t remember the party but also says she’s never even met Kavanaugh.
What’s all too clear is that America’s privileged youth had a serious drinking problem in the early 1980s, and boozy memories from high school and young adulthood are unreliable. Far more troubling is that several presidential candidates seemingly would impeach a Supreme Court justice on nothing more than hearsay — and impeachable journalism.
Update: Speaking of impeachable journalism, here’s another nugget left out of the NYT story about the person who originated the “new allegation” on which their article was based.