The Great Oversight in the NY Times Kavanaugh Smear

New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly have had a deservedly rough week.  The summary of their new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, published in the Times last Saturday, has not been well received, even on the left.

The criticisms have focused on two major oversights in the Times' reporting on Judge Kavanaugh's freshman year at Yale.  One, of course, is that the "victim" of his alleged penis-waving has no memory of it.  The second is that the sole "witness" just happens to be a Democratic attorney who defended Bill Clinton during the period when Clinton was being rightly accused of exposing himself to women and worse.

What has gotten less attention is the book's great oversight, and that has to do with Christine Blasey Ford.  In the Times article, the reporters note that "we found Dr. Ford's allegations credible during a 10-month investigation."  The reporters have blamed their editors for the article's shortcomings.  For the book, however, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Throughout the book, in fact, the reporters would assign the word "credibility" to Ford as though her story was unimpeachable.  It wasn't.  Pogrebin and Kelly simply chose not to look at the evidence.  It stared them in the face.

On July 6, 2018, as Pogrebin and Kelly report, Ford contacted the Washington Post tip line with this message, "Potential Supreme Court nominee with assistance from his friend assaulted me in mid 1980s in Maryland.  Have therapy records talking about it."

It was not until September 16 that the Washington Post reported Ford's allegations in full.  The Post's Emma Brown wrote, "Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both stumbling drunk, Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County."

Pogrebin and Kelly choose not to cite this quote and for good reason.  It makes the heroine of their story look like a con artist.  In July, Ford was telling Brown that the incident took place in the "mid 1980s."  By September, Ford had moved the time of the attack up to the "early 1980s."  The timing mattered.

Brown had no excuse for not reporting this discrepancy.  It was she who first responded to Ford's tip in July.  Pogrebin and Kelly had even less of an excuse.  They had a whole year to review the timeline.

Deep in the article, Brown referenced the therapist's notes, some of which Ford shared with the Post.  The notes, however, speak of "four" boys in on the attack, all of whom went on to become "highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington."  Brown questioned Ford about the obvious discrepancy in the number of attackers but accepted Ford's explanation of an "error" in the therapist's notes.

Brown, however, did not question Ford about a more obvious discrepancy.  The therapist's notes, reported Brown, "show Ford described a 'rape attempt' in her late teens."  During her senate testimony, Ford insisted she was 15 at the time of the attack, which she now specifically placed in 1982.

Brown, at least, laid the facts out there.  Unforgivably, Pogrebin and Kelly do not.  They make no reference to the therapist's notes that put Ford in her "late teens" when the attack occurred.  They make no reference to Ford's claim there were four attackers and no reference to the fact that these attackers were now "highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington."  They do quote Brown on Ford's original "mid 1980s" timeline, but they make no note of the discrepancy between "mid 1980s" and 1982 and none between "late teens" and 15.  In fact, the word "discrepancy" does not appear in their book.

Kavanaugh's running mate, Mark Judge, has his virtues — he is an excellent writer — but no one has accused him of being a "highly respected and high-ranking member" of Washington society.  Peripheral as he was to the story, however, I am convinced that Judge's 1997 book Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk provided Ford and her allies with her timeline and her accusation that her two attackers were "stumbling drunk."

Early in her questioning by attorney Rachel Mitchell, Ford said of Judge, "I did see Mark Judge once at the Potomac Village Safeway after the time of the attack.  And it would be helpful with anyone's resources if — to figure out when he worked there."  What blather.  Ford and her allies knew when Judge worked there.  It was the summer of 1982, when Ford was 15.  Judge says as much in his book.

"It was the summer before senior year," Judge wrote of his time at Safeway.  His job at Safeway was to manage the "grocery baskets" that people would leave in front of the store.  "Invariably I would be hungover — or still drunk — when I got to work at seven in the morning," Judge added, "and I spent most of the first hour just trying to hold myself together."

Later, Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin asked Ford, "Would you please describe that [post-attack] encounter at the Safeway with Mark Judge and what led you to believe he was uncomfortable?" 

Ford answered Durbin's question with a suspicious amount of detail. She told of how she went with her mother to "the Potomac Village Safeway ... on the corner of Falls and River Road."  Embarrassed to be seen with one's mom at that age, she went in a separate door and there saw Judge "arranging the shopping carts."  Ford said hello to him, and his face was "white and very uncomfortable."  She added later, "He looked a little bit ill."

Again, it was Judge himself who provided the "looked a little bit ill" detail.  This is not something Ford would have remembered 35 years later.  If the Senate Democrats had the book — Sen. Leahy read a quote directly from it — how could Ford and her allies not have read it?  Wasted provided them all the details they needed to narrow the timeframe.

The one hole in Ford's testimony that troubled most observers, even friendly ones, was her failure to recall how she got home from a distant suburban neighborhood in the era before cell phones.  "I do not remember," she told Mitchell, "other than I did not drive home."

For Pogrebin and Kelly, this detail was of little consequence.  "[Ford] suspects that she grabbed [Leland Ingham Keyser] who probably drove her home," they write.  "The details of that hasty departure are no longer clear."  They are not clear at all.  Keyser doubts that the incident ever occurred, let alone the drive home.

Ford knew she did not drive home because in the summer of 1982, the summer Judge worked at Safeway, she was too young.  "I did not drive home from that party or to that party, and once I did have my driver's license, I liked to drive myself," she added later.

Drive herself — that is almost assuredly what 18-year-old Christine Blasey did on that mid-1980s day when four boys, all of whom now highly respected, did something that obviously upset her.  Those four boys, however, did not include Judge or Kavanaugh.

This book is an embarrassment.

If you experience technical problems, please write to