In the latest episode of the lurid reality TV series/peep show that passes for politics in this country, the news-channel chyrons and 24/7 talking-head panel are buzzing with yet another belated allegation of sexual harassment/assault against would-be Justice of the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh. This new one harks back his freshman year at Yale—so it’s been moldering for a mere 35 years, not the ancient 36 years of the first accusation. In this latest revelation, first reported in The New Yorker,he is alleged to have dangled his unsheathed manhood in the face of a woman at a fraternity party at which everyone was admittedly quite hammered, including Kavanaugh and his accuser.
But this one even further blurs the increasingly fuzzy boundary between legitimate grievance and partisan trolling; the latest complainant, Deborah Ramirez, at first wasn’t sure of her own memories of the party. According to The New Yorkerstory, coauthored by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, the Inspector Javert of the neoliberal metoo journalistic establishment, “She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker,she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty.”
But . . . now get this: “After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney[emphasis added], Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. ‘I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,’ she said.” If there is a classic case study in getting lawyered up, this is it: someone has no firm or recollections of an incident until she spends six days with her lawyer, after which, as if struck by lightning, she careens from utter confusion to photographic recall.
Carefully scrutinize the rest of the article: there is not one person who recalls being present at the party who verifies Ramirez’s version of events—in other words, no independent eyewitnesses. Hence yet another uncorroborated allegation. Given this difficulty, the dogged Farrow does not hesitate, in the manner of an overcaffienated hair salon manicurist, to retail every tattered thread of hearsay and innuendo he can scrape together to foster a semblance of “journalism” about something other than a politically motivated woman with a foggy, drunken memory suddenly sprouting into a marvel of near-supercognitive recall. Here’s one such morsel:
“Another classmate, Richard Oh, an emergency-room doctor in California, recalled overhearing, soon after the party, a female student tearfully recounting to another student an incident at a party involving a gag with a fake penis, followed by a male student exposing himself. Oh is not certain of the identity of the female student. . . .” In brief, someone who was not there, who was not even certain of the identity of the accused orthe accuser, is deemed worthy of quotation as a legitimate journalistic source, presumably because he went to Yaleand is a doctor; given The New Yorker’s weakness for the elite-college demographic, most likely the janitor at that same doctor’s office would have been deemed a less quote-worthy gossip on a subject of which he too claimed to have no direct knowledge. (Some of the other hearsay cited is more specific, but none of it is eyewitness evidence.) One can scarcely believe that this parody of the game of rumor found its way into the pages of The New Yorker.
As for the people who wereat the party, all dispute Ramirez’s account. I’m going to quote this section at length:
“In a statement, two of those male classmates who Ramirez alleged were involved in the incident, the wife of a third male student she said was involved, and three other classmates, Dino Ewing, Louisa Garry, and Dan Murphy, disputed Ramirez’s account of events: “We were the people closest to Brett Kavanaugh during his first year at Yale. He was a roommate to some of us, and we spent a great deal of time with him, including in the dorm where this incident allegedly took place. Some of us were also friends with Debbie Ramirez during and after her time at Yale. We can say with confidence that if the incident Debbie alleges ever occurred, we would have seen or heard about it—and we did not. The behavior she describes would be completely out of character for Brett. In addition, some of us knew Debbie long after Yale, and she never described this incident until Brett’s Supreme Court nomination was pending. Editors from The New Yorkercontacted some of us because we are the people who would know the truth, and we told them that we never saw or heard about this.”
“The former friend who was married to the male classmate alleged to be involved, and who signed the statement, said of Ramirez, “This is a woman I was best friends with. We shared intimate details of our lives. And I was never told this story by her, or by anyone else. It never came up. I didn’t see it; I never heard of it happening.” She said she hadn’t spoken with Ramirez for about ten years, but that the two women had been close all through college, and Kavanaugh had remained part of what she called their “larger social circle.” In an initial conversation with The New Yorker,she suggested that Ramirez may have been politically motivated. Later, she said that she did not know if this was the case.”
The New York Times had also looked into Ramirez’s allegations and declined to publish the story for lack of first-hand corroboration. In a September 23 story, Times reporters Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos write, “The Timeshad interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.” Even the normally DNC-friendly stalwarts of CBS This Morning could not restrain their doubts about this flimsy reporting when interviewing Mayer on the air. Yet none of these red flags deterred Farrow and Mayer from plunging ahead with what emerges as a nonstory by standards of responsibly sourced journalism.
Let’s be honest: irrespective your political outlook or views about Kavanaugh’s politics, which I find repugnant, and about his personal character, which no doubt harbors the same blotches of darkness as any other right-wing asshole, as any other nominee to the Supreme Court whom Trump will nominate if Kavanaugh’s name is withdrawn: If it were yourcareer and reputation and livelihood that were on the line, would you want your fate decided on the basis of a series of unvetted, uncorroborated accusations about events at a drunken party that took place nearly four decades ago? Are you ready to vouch for the probity and impeccable good taste of everything you ever did at a high school or college party? Do you think the decades-old frat-party gossip of the kind retailed in this story ought to determine the outcome of any decision on the governance of the country, or should we rely rather on principled argument?
Of course serious criminal charges of rape, pedophilia, or work- or academic-related sexual harassment by superiors should be prosecuted vigorously. But it is unlikely that any court of law, guided by the rules of evidence and due process, would find criminality in either of these alleged incidents. And there is no doubt, that if left unchecked, the spray of unvetted innuendo and allegation over more venial or noncriminal sexual crudities will one day be turned against the left—the real left, not just the establishment Franken types—with even more dire consequences than are now being felt by the Republicans in their partisan food fights with their fellow corporate servants in the neoliberal establishment and its pseudo-progressive followers.
The political and journalistic elites of this country, notwithstanding their orchestrated soap operas of partisan feuds and personal acrimony, together preside over a babel of lies and cheesy gossip and crackpot xenophobic conspiracy theories—this is the entirety of our public discourse nowadays, a mad cacophony that drowns out even the barest mention of the grave economic and environmental/climate emergencies besetting our planet and our species. It’s as though the entire country has yet to graduate from high school. I guess that’s why it finds tales of that milieu so compelling while taking so little interest in more serious matters.
And what are the consequences of marauding Supreme Court nominees over distant, unprovable drunken sexual trespasses from high school or college as opposed to pressing them on critical political issues? If Kavanaugh had turned out to be a spotless model of chivalry and erotic decorum, would the neoliberal blowhards among the Senate Democrats then have given him a pass on posing a grave threat to abortion rights, the environment and climate, and labor unions? Given their shameful record in such matters, this would be precisely the case: Democrats have provided the margin of victory needed for nearly every right-wing Republican appointee who now sits on the Supreme Court, even when they had the votes to mount a blocking filibuster.*
Breast-beating about issues of identity politics provides the ideal cover for a Democratic elite that colludes with the Republicans on nearly every issue of corporate dominance of the polity (both major parties oppose public financing of elections), coddling of the corrupt financial elites, job-draining investor-rights (“trade”) pacts like WTO/NAFTA, the omnivorous national security state, the bloated military, and disastrous imperialist aggressions abroad. Frantically wave the distracting handkerchief of concern over a high school party in 1983, and then hope that the electorate won’t notice your treachery on every other issue that affects their economic and ecological well-being.
Pseudo-progressive apologists for the Democrats in the MSM and social media might be reveling in this roar of distraction as long as it targets their partisan foes and fosters a nice salacious narrative to whip up the base for the midterm elections, but eventually this chronic din of inanity and mendacity will drown out the last hoarse cry of truth, with grim consequences for us all.
William Kaufmanis an educational writer who lives in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Samuel Alito: Cloture vote: 74–25 (19 Democrats voting for cloture, i.e., allowing a final vote on Alito and thus stopping a filibuster [60 votes are needed to impose cloture]). Confirmed: 58–42 on January 31, 2006. (The cloture vote was the pivotal vote since the final vote was a foregone conclusion; once the Democrats conspired with the Republicans to invoke cloture, any subsequent Democratic “nay” votes on confirmation were purely symbolic and meaningless.)
John Roberts: No roll call vote on cloture so voice vote or unanimous consent. Confirmed: 78–22 on September 29, 2005 (22 of 44 Democrats voted to confirm).
Clarence Thomas: No roll call vote on cloture so voice vote or unanimous consent. Confirmed 52–48 on October 15, 1991(11 of 57 Democrats voted to confirm—but again—there were more than enough Democratic votes to sustain a filibuster, but none was attempted).
Antonin Scalia: No roll call vote on cloture so voice vote or unanimous consent. Confirmed: 98–0 on September 17, 1986 (All 47 Democrats voted for Scalia—the 2 “not present” votes were Republicans).