Conservatives have had a hell of a time getting on the same page to defend Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. After the allegations surfaced that Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape Christine Ford in high school, the defenses from most of his conservative defenders didn’t match his unequivocal denial. As I wrote in the wake of their defenses of “well he was just 17,” not all youthful indiscretions are created equal, and besides, Brett Kavanaugh did not take the easy “I was young and stupid” defense sitting right in front of him. He has essentially called Dr. Ford a liar.
Last night, Kavanaugh took the extraordinary step of doing an interview on Fox News. This is what politicians do, not judges. The opening line set to dramatic music highlights Kavanaugh’s response to most of the questioning directed at him: “I am looking for a fair process, a process where I can defend my integrity and clear my name, and all I’m asking for is fairness and that I be heard in this process.”
Kavanaugh equates fairness with him being heard, as if there isn’t a multi-million (billion?) dollar infrastructure that has sprang up to protect him and try to sell his side of the story. Not to mention, he’s released statements along the way pushing back against the allegations. He has very clearly been able to defend himself and any suggestions to the contrary stand opposite reality. As a judge, he should know that “being heard” isn’t about going on Fox News. The reality is that he went on Fox News in order to get his talking points to the people defending him.
Donald Trump’s White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications is Bill Shine, who spent an entire career covering up sexual abuse at Fox News. We have no evidence that Trump’s Communication Director had a hand in this, but since it falls under the purview of his job and the interview was with his last employer, Shine simply cannot be divorced from this interview with Kavanaugh, and the robotic regurgitation of talking points by Kavanaugh sure looks like he’s playing from the standard Fox News sexual harassment playbook of denying everything while painting yourself as the victim. Call it the Bill O’Reilly defense.
I do need to point out that Martha MaCcallum did a good job with her pointed questions towards Kavanaugh, and she certainly did not come off as complicit in this farce, just powerless. The problem is that Kavanaugh didn’t answer her specifics (“Why would Dr. Ford make this up?”), and instead pushed his set of talking points in response: “I never did any such thing,” “I just want to be heard,” “I am looking for a fair process,” “I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect,” “65 women signed a letter.”
The fact that MaCcallum didn’t press him on his vagueness points to an agreement around the structure of the interview (likely little to no follow-ups allowed), and again, it’s hard to not point the finger at Bill Shine orchestrating all this given his history with Fox News and his, well, expertise at covering up sexual assault allegations. We’ve seen this play before.
Kavanaugh was certainly coached on his responses, since there is a gigantic right-wing infrastructure dependent on him getting on the Supreme Court, and despite MaCcallum’s specific questioning, this interview comes off like a PR piece. The only new information that Kavanaugh offered is that he was a virgin past college, which has nothing to do with whether he was able to sexually assault someone. Kavanaugh is trying to get through this process while saying as little as possible, while at the same time, asserting that he’s desperately trying to get reams of information to the public in order to clear his name. I mean, look at this sentence that Kavanaugh uttered in response to “what is happening?”
“I have faith in God and I have faith in the American people. America’s about fairness, and hearing from both sides and I didn’t do this or anything resembling this. These are…this is wrong.”
Again, he’s talking about fairness and hearing from both sides, yet he ends it with “this is wrong.” He’s the victim here, not Dr. Ford, and he’s cloaking his victimhood in a veneer of standard American jingoism designed to get people to equate his innocence with fairness. That sentence reads like it comes from a lifelong politician, not a judge.
MaCcallum then asked the exact question we should all be asking of Brett Kavanaugh’s “fairness” trope: “Do you believe there should be an FBI investigation into these allegations and that a pause should happen—and, you know, sort it all out—if there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to hide, why not have that process?”
Here is Kavanaugh’s response:
“I mean I, yeah I’ve said all along and Ashley too, I want to be heard, I was first to interview, last Monday, the day of the allegation appeared, by the committee staff, uh, under penalty of felony, and I denied this categorically and unequivocally, and I said twice during that, I said ‘I want a hearing tomorrow.’ Last Tuesday, a week ago. I want an opportunity—a fair process. America’s about fairness, I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity, and clear my name as quickly as I can in whatever forum the senate deems appropriate.”
Again, no follow-up from MaCcallum in response to Kavanaugh not answering yet another question of hers, and instead he simply pushed this political word barf where he talks about fairness only in the context of himself. An FBI investigation would quite literally be fair to both sides. They have the resources and the expertise to effectively investigate these allegations, and like MaCcallum said, if there’s nothing to hide, why not have that process?
Because it’s not about process to Kavanaugh. Like he said, he wants to clear his name as quickly as he can in whatever forum the Republican-controlled senate deems appropriate. The same Republicans who learned of the second allegation against Kavanaugh in the New Yorker report by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow and tried to rush his nomination through before the story was published. There is a zero percent chance that Kavanaugh would feel the same way if it were Democrats directing the senate’s process of “fairness.”
This was a dog-and-pony show, pure and simple. Kavanaugh sat down in front of a woman with legitimate journalistic chops, clearly had an agreement with her where she could not press him too hard on follow-up questions, and he simply used her as a prop to try to legitimize his infinite talking points about “fairness.” Bill Shine has made a career out of stunts like this in order to protect powerful men from sexual harassment allegations, and we’re watching the playbook unfold yet again. Fox News truly is in charge of America right now.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.