Fox & Friends promotes Ed Whelan’s shockingly reckless Kavanaugh defense to its massive audience

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump's favorite morning news program, on Friday promoted a conservative activist's shockingly reckless theory postulating that Christine Blasey Ford's statement that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980s is actually a case of mistaken identity.

Ed Whelan, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of the think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is among the nation’s foremost conservative legal commentators. From his post at National Review Online’s “Bench Memos” blog, he helped shape the Republican strategy to defeat President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees and confirm Trump’s. Whelan is an establishment insider who boasts a “decadeslong friendship with Kavanaugh and close involvement with the nomination.”

And so, when Whelan tweeted on Tuesday night that he expected Kavanaugh to be “clearly vindicated” of sexually assaulting Ford within the week, conservatives took notice. Even mainstream journalists treated his hints as credible, wondering what information he might have that could exonerate the nominee.

Two evenings later, Whelan revealed his evidence in a tweetstorm that should irreparably shatter any credibility he has in mainstream circles.

Whelan cited a combination of Google Maps, Zillow listings, a Facebook post, and the Georgetown Prep yearbook to concoct the theory that while Ford “may well have been the victim of a severe sexual assault by someone 36 years ago,” it is possible that she was “mistakenly remembering” a different student from Kavanaugh. Whelan named and posted photos of a former Kavanaugh classmate who he said “resembled” the nominee, all but accusing him of being the “real” attempted rapist.

Ford swiftly quashed the obviously ill-conceived doppelganger theory, responding in a statement that she had known and socialized with both Kavanaugh and the student Whelan named, and “there is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

Whelan’s absurdly reckless speculation drew condemnations from all but the most extreme of Kavanaugh die-hards. On Twitter, journalists panned Whelan’s actions as “wildly irresponsible” and “stunningly irresponsible.” Right-wing commentators suggested that Whelan had put forth an “insane theory” that was “so nasty and desperate-seeming that it taints Kavanaugh” and that the NRO blogger could “end up in court for defaming a private figure.”

“Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate,” The Washington Post reported.

But as nearly the entirety of the conservative movement desperately tried to put as much space as possible between themselves and Whelan’s implosion, the moronic Trump sycophants at Fox & Friends blasted his theory to their audience.

“A fellow by the name of Ed Whelan,” co-host Steve Doocy began during the program’s opening segment, “ … he looked at what Christine Ford told The Washington Post and figured out, OK, these people were named, these four people, where did they live?”

He continued, “And looked at what she had said and figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images -- they look a lot a like.”

“Really?” Ainsley Earhardt responded.

“Is it a case of mistaken identity?” asked Ed Henry. “Now Dr. Ford put out a statement last night insisting she knows the difference between Judge Kavanaugh--”

“Zero chance,” Doocy interjected.

“And this other person and there's no chance,” Henry continued. “So we'll see.”

A few hours after millions of Americans heard his theory treated as credible on national television, Whelan apologized on Twitter for his “appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment” and deleted his tweetstorm.

Roughly 10 minutes later, an apparently unaware Doocy raised Whelan’s hypothesis of a Kavanaugh doppelganger in an interview with legal commentator Jonathan Turley.

As the program closed, he read the tweet but did not apologize for Fox & Friends’ role in promoting the theory.

The eagerness of Fox & Friends’ hosts to promote conspiracy theories should once more trigger a spike in alarm, given the president’s penchant for beginning his day with their program.

And the wild irresponsibility of one of the leading lights of the conservative commentariat -- following a week in which right-wingers cynically dove into the fever swamps to find any possible way to discredit Ford -- should show just how deep the rot is in the right-wing media.