Critics Assail 'New York Times' After Publication Of New Kavanaugh Allegations

Sep 17, 2019
Originally published on September 17, 2019 3:56 pm
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The New York Times continues to fend off criticism from many directions for its involvement in a story that the paper said was breaking news. We're talking about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and allegations of sexual misconduct. And a warning - we'll be talking about the details of some of those allegations.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump weighed in at a rally last night in New Mexico.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I call for the resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh smear story.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is tracking this story and joins us now from NPR's New York bureau.

Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The Times has spent the last few days responding to criticism about this story. What is the latest from the paper?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, explaining what they did but not necessarily explaining it all that well - perhaps the most serious accusations and critique of the piece come from the political right, where Mollie Hemingway, among others, was the first - among the first to report out or to point out that the Times had failed to include an important detail about one of the accusations about Justice Kavanaugh, about his time at Yale. And that was that in a second incident, which had been previously unreported but had been reported to FBI by apparent eyewitnesses - that the future justice's penis had been thrust in, basically, the face of another of his students, that the woman who was apparently the target of that instance had no memory of it whatsoever, at least that's what she had told people, and that like many people there, had been intoxicated at the time.

James Dao, who's the deputy opinion editor for The New York Times - and it was published in the opinion section. Dao didn't really address that. He answered some questions in what's called the reader center from a colleague, but he didn't really address why that was the case. On TV, the two New York Times reporters who are the authors of the book from which this article was excerpted basically blamed it on editors, saying, look. The Times decided not to name the woman who was the target. And when they took out her name, they took out the fact that she said - has said to others that she didn't remember the story, didn't want to talk about it.

SHAPIRO: In addition to the criticism of the story, there has been an uproar about a tweet that presented the story in a somewhat flippant way. What is the paper saying about that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, again, James Dao basically said, we're going to look at our policies for everybody. In terms of how that went out, it was on a New York Times opinion Twitter account. On television, finally being pressed on it, two reporters were interviewed - Robin Pogrebin, Kate Kelly. Pogrebin said that she had drafted it and sent it to editors. Sometimes, they use the suggested tweets. Sometimes, they don't. And she seemed to sort of put it on them and said they really needed to look at this. I've got to say that tweet in which it was suggested that having a penis waved in your face might, like, seem as some sort of harmless, college prank outraged a lot of people on the political left but not only on the political left, seemingly trivializing what many people have characterized as sexual misconduct by the future justice. Liberals have been offended by this. Meanwhile, as we heard in your introduction, conservatives from the president on down have been accusing The New York Times of bad faith in its coverage.

SHAPIRO: We've been reporting on whether there will be any political implications of this as prominent Democrats call for impeachment proceedings to begin. What about the media implications? Does this matter more than a typical flap over a story?

FOLKENFLIK: I'd say there might be two elements to watch for, one of which is, I think, this whole episode shows the difficulties The New York Times has in dealing with such matters. There's a tension here between what readers may want, what the public needs and the Times' ability to respond. They don't have a public editor that might be - act on behalf of readers to answer some questions - but also that readers - some readers want the Times to be part of the #resistance. And then Times editors don't see themselves in that light. The second thing is it's been so complicated until - call it the #MeToo movement starting in 2017 in the press in terms of offering vigorous and muscular reporting on allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. You know, the reporting has gotten us over the hump of, hey, this is too complicated to report; he said, she said. You know, there's the danger, if things aren't nailed down perfectly, of dragging reporters back into that era of people not trusting what they're reading and hearing.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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