Hating Kavanaugh, Killing Journalism

The New York Times took its best shot at Justice Kavanaugh -- and destroyed itself.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.

Robin Pogrebin, a culture reporter for The New York Times, and Kate Kelly, a Wall Street reporter for the same paper, got together to write The Education of Brett Kavanaugh despite being curiously unqualified.

In sharp contrast to Carrie Severino, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, who co-authored Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation, neither Pogrebin nor Kelly are especially familiar with the world they’re writing about.

And it shows.

Why send a business journalist and a culture reporter to write a book about a legal battle in Washington D.C.? There are two answers. The Education of Brett Kavanaugh is being published by Penguin Random House. Pogrebin is the daughter of leftist feminist author Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Pogrebin’s books, including her last major book Deborah, Golda and Me (Pogrebin has turned on Israel, allying with anti-Israel groups and endorsing boycotts of parts of Israel) have tended to be published by Penguin.

That’s the less cynical answer. The more cynical answer is that nobody actually cared.

The only kind of Kavanaugh book that there would be a market for in the environs of the New York Times would be a sore loser text providing ammunition for impeaching and removing Kavanaugh. It’s no coincidence that shortly after Pogrebin and Kelly debuted an article promoting their book with another freshman year sexual allegation against Kavanaugh, three 2020 Democrats called for his impeachment.

That’s not good timing. It’s a campaign.

Just to drive the point home, Kelly retweeted a reply from a media figure declaring, “He can be impeached by the house.”

Pogrebin and Kelly’s New York Times piece neglected to inform readers that the allegation had been brushed away by their supposed victim and that their source, Max Stier, had been Bill Clinton’s lawyer. Kavanaugh had worked for Ken Starr on impeachment while Stier had worked to defend Clinton against impeachment. Reporting that the accusation isn’t new, that it was not backed up by the victim and that the accuser had once fought on the opposite side of Kavanaugh in one of the country’s biggest legal battles were pieces of information that The Times thought readers shouldn’t be distracted by.

Instead, the Times tried promoting the attack on Kavanaugh with a tweet which read, “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun…” The Times was then forced to apologize for the “inappropriate and offensive” tweet, whose existence, like a Rorschach inkblot, revealed far more about the inappropriate behavior at the Old Gray Lady than of Justice Kavanaugh.

The presence of one of Clinton’s impeachment lackeys was a helpful reminder that there has always been a measure of payback in the sexual misconduct smears of Kavanaugh. It’s also why the media hasn’t played up Kavanaugh’s role in the Starr investigation nearly as much as it would have. Most of the country may have moved on from impeachment, but there’s a coterie of Democrat operatives in D.C. who keep score cards almost as wide and deep as the legendary Clinton lists of political enemies.

But the New York Times also had more conventional conflicts when it came to The Education of Brett Kavanaugh. The paper had done more than run a misleading piece by its authors. It had promoted their tract in its list of books to watch and run a favorable review. The book was one of several being put out by Times reporters. The reporters promoted each other’s books and The Times promoted them.

That commonplace chicanery became a problem once the New York Times wasn’t just promoting a book, but also reporting on it, treating it not just as a way for some of its writers to get paid, but as an actual news story that it was writing about, while holding back crucial pieces of information.

But the Washington Post was determined not to let the New York Times grab all the media shame.

The Post’s laudatory book review of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh was authored by Jill Filipovic. Filipovic, a professional feminist, had urged women, “Divorce your Republican husbands.” In a previous Post column, she had insisted that, “Young women don’t care about Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds.”

It doesn’t matter whether Governor Bill Clinton sexually assaulted women while in office, but what Kavanaugh did at a party as a freshman is somehow grounds for impeachment. 

"Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached," Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted.

Like the Times tweet, Warren’s missive is inappropriately revealing. The real reason for impeaching Justice Kavanaugh is the campaign against President Trump.  The manufactured Kavanaugh scandals are subsidiary to the manufactured Trump scandals.

And Kavanaugh remains a tempting target because he never stopped clinging to his decency.

The Left is still grappling with how to cope with a new breed of conservatives who treat accusations with a disdainful shrug. That’s why the Access Hollywood tape, despite the expectations and assumptions of everyone in media and government, didn’t stop Trump. But it knows exactly how to go after men who react by insisting that they are good and decent people.

The distinction between Trump and Kavanaugh, between the two dramatically different approaches to the culture war, lies in the belief by men like Kavanaugh that people are basically good and life is fair. The latest episode in the campaign against Kavanaugh is a painful reminder that whether or not most people are good, the other side is playing by rules which leave little room for goodness or fairness.

The real question raised by the Kavanaugh case is not what he was doing as a freshman, an absurd smear campaign even by political standards, but how to deal with a bad and an unfair system whose elements operate as a political insurgency determined to destroy the opposition at any cost.

The destruction of institutional standards is a two-way street. When the media, academia or the judiciary throw away the rulebook in their determination to win, they abandon the sources of their power.

People took the media seriously as a professional class. They haven’t in a long time. And, increasingly, the media isn’t even taking itself too seriously. The Education of Brett Kavanaugh fiasco happened because even the New York Times no longer really understand how journalism works or what it does.

The loss of institutional standards also leads to a loss of professionalism. And then competence. The more partisan institutions become, the less competent they are. They make easily avoidable mistakes because they have forgotten the tools of their trade and view life through an ideological lens. The familiar phenomenon that brought down the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is at work on the Left.

People trust two kinds of institutions: objective and partisan. Objective institutions are expected to be professional and competent. Partisan institutions are meant to win at all costs. The New York Times used to be a partisan institution that pretended to be objective. Like the rest of the media, it’s not pretending anymore. Its newfound profitability comes from the perception that it’s taking down Trump.

So does its malicious incompetence.

Like MSNBC’s Maddow and other members of the #resistance journalism club, the New York Times is under pressure to keep inventing fake news scoops to maintain its partisan support. If it can’t do that, its readers will find someone on Twitter or MSNBC who will. All it has to give up is its credibility.

The New York Times took its best shot at Justice Kavanaugh and destroyed itself.

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