There are plenty of reasons to be critical of President Donald Trump, from valid critiques of his policies to the disappointment we should all feel for how he comports himself while holding our most prominent elected office.
Unfortunately, valid criticism of Trump very often gets undermined by shoddy reporting and vapid sensationalism.
We had another bout of it over the weekend. The New York Times published an excerpt of an upcoming book about the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The excerpt included a bombshell allegation against Kavanaugh which, as it was written, seemed to back up a lot of the other claims against the man: “We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student,” the book’s authors wrote.
What wasn’t included in this excerpt, but is apparently in the book, is that Mr. Stier is the only person claiming this happened. The student in question has refused to talk about the incident, while her friends say she doesn’t actually remember it happening. Meanwhile, Stier’s credibility isn’t helped by his ties to the Clintons.
The Times has now had to add this their original article (emphasis mine):
An earlier version of this article, which was adapted from a forthcoming book, did not include one element of the book’s account regarding an assertion by a Yale classmate that friends of Brett Kavanaugh pushed his penis into the hand of a female student at a drunken dorm party. The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article.
None of that means the incident didn’t happen, but it does make the allegation far less believable. In his column today, National Review’s Jim Geraghty writes about a post-9/11 phenomenon which had many, many people thinking they saw hijacker Mohammad Atta in all sorts of places. He includes this quote from L.A. Times reporter Terry McDermott: “I think Atta entered an American psyche desperate for a name and face and an explanation. He came complete with what has become one of the iconic images of 9/11 — his Florida DMV mug shot, an image so memorable, so powerful and perfect for the moment that it allowed people to see in it whatever they needed to see. I think people subsequently, subconsciously placed that face where it made sense to them.”
Geraghty thinks that’s what is happening with Kavanaugh. His confirmation process was so high-profile, and his appointment to the Supreme Court so odious to the American left, that he’s become something of a boogeyman who has infiltrated their memories.
It makes sense, and it’s not an uncommon phenomenon even in eras when media scrutiny was less intense. I was listening to a podcast recently about Norwegian-American serial killer Belle Gunness. She was declared dead in a fire, but few have seen that conclusion as definitive, and her crimes were so sensational that for years afterward alleged sightings of her (most deeply implausible) continued to make headlines.
Democratic presidential candidates, though, have gone all-in on these latest allegations against Kavanaugh. They’re calling for him to resign or be impeached, and it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to be able to walk about those demands even in light of the additional information the Times has released.
Meanwhile those who support Trump – a gamut running from enthusiastic fans to those who merely see him as the less-bad option compared to Democrats – are only going to get further entrenched in their positions by this sort of irresponsible reporting.
When Trump bellows about “fake news” the news media take offense, but with stories like this they perpetrate fake news which makes it seem like the President sort of has a point.