Journalists made some terrible choices this weekend in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. At times, those decisions involved minimizing the fact that he was credibly accused of sexual assault, puffing up President Donald Trump’s accomplishments, and rampantly deploying “both-sides” journalism. This coverage is a fitting conclusion to the often apathetic reporting in the early stages of the Kavanaugh nomination fight.
Take a look at the news alerts several outlets sent Saturday in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Reading some of them, you’d never know multiple women had reported him for sexual misconduct:
The New York Times’ treatment seems particularly noxious, framing a dispute over whether the nominee had attempted to rape Christine Blasey Ford -- and if it should matter if he had -- as a “partisan battle”:
Meanwhile, the focus of media coverage is now moving to what Kavanaugh’s confirmation means for President Donald Trump. The Times’ Peter Baker authored a news analysis piece concluding that because of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Trump’s announcement of what he described as “an ambitious and elusive new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico,” and new jobs numbers, “this may be the best week of his presidency so far.”
But, as Baker himself admits, the “continuing fall in unemployment to 3.7 percent was built on the recovery [Trump] inherited from Mr. Obama.” The trade agreement is not particularly “ambitious” and it isn’t really “new.” As the Times report Baker cites points out, while Trump is eager to brand the accord as the entirely original result of his brilliant deal-making, it largely maintains the structure of NAFTA (which Trump has long derided), while adding some “innovations” -- many of which were previously agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which Trump also bashed on the campaign trail) -- and some cosmetic alterations (like changing the treaty’s name). Baker adds that “America has been ripped apart by the battle over Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, fraught as it was with gender politics that Mr. Trump seemed eager to encourage” -- an almost genteel description of the horrific way Trump publicly mocked Ford and called her a liar.
Baker’s analysis is also notable for what it leaves out.
The Washington Post’s analysis of the week concluded that Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for divisive politics as it assessed a judge who appears to have repeatedly lied throughout the confirmation process, was credibly accused of sexual assault, and rallied Republicans to his cause by unleashing his inner wingnut and promising vengeance upon his critics; a president, whom numerous women have also said is a sexual predator, who denounced Ford in the most despicable way possible; and Republican senators eager to push Kavanaugh through in spite of it all after helping to conceal his paper trail.
Under the pressure of these divisions, no public official has been able to rise above the fray to chart a path forward toward greater national unity and mutual understanding. Moral outrage has been accepted as the basic currency of political debate, opponents regularly attack each others’ motives along with their positions, and honest reflection, when it cuts through the maw, is often dismissed as a sign of weakness or posturing.
A similar exercise played out on Sunday’s edition of NBC’s Meet the Press:
Other coverage privileged the baseless idea that Trump’s disgusting attacks had been politically smart:
Pay close attention to the incentives this coverage creates for Trump. He demeaned a woman who says she was sexually assaulted to the cheers of his supporters, and some of the nation’s most powerful journalists rewarded him by saying he had the best week of his presidency and suggesting that his opposition’s flaws had been just as bad.
It’s hard to imagine that a president so attuned to media coverage and so eager for praise from major news outlets won’t take that as encouragement.