The New York Times Bizarrely Undermines Its Own Reportage of New Brett Kavanaugh Allegations [Updated]

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On September 14, the New York Times ran a piece adapted from a forthcoming book examining the allegations of sexual assault leveraged at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the F.B.I.’s failure to fully investigate those allegations in the days preceding Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. The piece focuses on Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh thrust his penis into her face at a college party, and the ways Kavanaugh’s behavior toward her was part of a greater pattern of racism and classism she experienced at Yale. Hours after publishing her story, the New York Times tweeted the piece with a caption that minimized Ramirez’s experience in the exact same way Kavanaugh’s supporters have.

In a Times account from a book written by two of the publication’s own reporters, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, Ramirez explains when she got to Yale, she was a sheltered student from a religious, middle-class background. The daughter of a Puerto Rican father and a French mother, Ramirez says she was bullied for everything from knock-off sneakers to a lack of fluency in Spanish by classmates who demanded to know if she had gotten into Yale because of her Puerto Rican heritage. She remembers Kavanaugh’s behavior as one of many incidents designed to make sure she knew her primarily white classmates didn’t think she belonged at Yale:

“During the winter of her freshman year, a drunken dormitory party unsettled her deeply. She and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed.”

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Ramirez believes the incident was a way for Kavanaugh and his friends to “make it clear I’m not smart.”

Though her account was dismissed for lack of corroboration at the Kavanaugh hearings, Ramirez says that there were plenty of people who report having witnessed the incident, which was widely talked about on campus:

“Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.”

The piece also presents new allegations concerning Kavanaugh’s behavior at Yale, but, as Esquire has pointed out, the Times bafflingly decided to bury those new allegations towards the end of the article, reducing them to a single paragraph. The account was also originally published as an opinion piece, then moved to the news analysis section. But the new allegation is news:

“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. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)”

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Even more bewildering is the fact that the Times chose to promote the story with a since-deleted tweet reading, “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong in the first place.”

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Not only does the tweet minimize Ramirez’s account by describing an experience in which an unwanted penis was so close to her face she had to physically swat it away as potentially “fun,” but the second sentence also seems to agree with the Yale students’ assessment that Ramirez didn’t belong. The New York Times has apologized for the deleted tweet, but the paper’s entire handling of this story is strangely non-committal to its own reportage.

Update (9/16/19, 1:30 p.m.): The New York Times has updated the piece to include information about the newly uncovered Kavanaugh allegations. While reporters corroborated the story with two officials who say they spoke to Max Stier, the woman he says Kavanaugh assaulted declined an interview. The Times also included the following editor’s note:  

“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.”

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