Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.
Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.
Conservative media message: Sexual assault allegations do not disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from a promotion
Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.
Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”
For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:
- Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt insisted that “there has to be a vote” on Kavanaugh despite reports of sexual assault.
- Fox contributor and former Bush administration flack Ari Fleischer asked if the “bigger ethical issue” of stopping alleged sexual predators from getting a lifetime judicial appointment is that it sets a precedent that they should be held “accountable” for “a disputable high school action.”
- Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway questioned “whether it’s even appropriate that you can bring forth an allegation” from “35 years after the fact.”
- On The Ingraham Angle, guest Wendy Long admitted, “I don’t think [Dr. Ford] deserves to be heard” and “we just can’t just cave into it.”
Conservative media message: Sexual violence allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have made an innocent man into the victim of a smear
In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:
- Stuart Varney of Fox Business said reporting sexual assault “is how you slime a good man.”
- Regular Fox News guest and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp labeled Kavanaugh “the victim here.”
- Fox contributor Tammy Bruce characterized Ford’s story as “an attempted political assassination of a character” and somehow managed to make the argument that coming forward with sexual assault reports actually negatively impacts the gains feminists have made in recent decades.
- On Twitter, Fox’s Gina Loudon echoed Bruce’s sentiment that survivors coming forward sets back women because men will hesitate to hire women to avoid facing sexual violence allegations.
- Laura Ingraham, who has had some of the most disgusting takes on Kavanaugh among her right-wing peers, said Ford’s report has “the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation.”
- Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino, whom NPR identifies as chief counsel of the organization that is “responsible for the Federalist Society’s public support” of Kavanaugh, lamented, “We’re smearing a poor man’s reputation.”
- Fox’s Jason Chaffetz implied Ford’s story was not important because “there’s not a pattern” like there was with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, called it “unfair,” and said Kavanaugh is a “good, decent person.”
- On MSNBC, The New York Times’ Bari Weiss said, “Other than this instance, Brett Kavanaugh has a reputation as being a prince of a man.” (Chaffetz and Weiss made their comments before both Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick came forward -- not that a “pattern” of personal violence should be required to disqualify a person from serving on the Supreme Court.)
- On Fox & Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the stakes, saying Kavanaugh is “fighting for more than” his reputation; “he’s fighting for the United States.”
According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”
When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.
Right-wing media message: If you come forward, our machine will ruin your life
The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:
- Frequent Fox guest Joe diGenova called Ford a “loon” because “one of the signs of lunacy” is “believing something that isn’t real.”
- Later diGenova doubled down, saying Ford is “a deeply troubled person” with “a history of psychological discord,” and called her “a very sad woman.”
- Laura Ingraham mocked protesters who disclosed their sexual assaults to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on a Senate elevator, and her guest suggested Flake staged the scene to cover for a vote against Kavanaugh.
- On Twitter, then-Fox contributor Kevin Jackson called Ford a “lying skank,” adding, “Dang girl stop opening your legs and OPEN A BOOK!” (Jackson was quickly fired.)
- CRTV’s Steven Crowder simply called Ford a “lying whore.”
- Fox’s Andrew Napolitano fantasized that a Republican senator would “demolish” Ford like “Arlen Specter did to Anita Hill,” to which host Stuart Varney replied, “That would be a sight for sore eyes.”
- Tucker Carlson got creative (and incredibly insulting) when he compared sexual assault survivors speaking up to the mob engaged in a witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”
Reality check: Right-wing media will not succeed in silencing survivors
Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.
Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.