The New York Times is getting hammered from both the Right and the Left over its decision to publish yet another unsubstantiated accusation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in its Sunday Review section that initially excluded significant information undermining the claim, while also posting a now infamous tweet it quickly deleted. Amid the mounting questions over the Times’ handling of the story and the tweet, one of the editors of the paper attempted to provide some answers, but ended up only raising more questions.
In an article adapted from their new book on Kavanaugh, two New York Times journalists, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, include a previously unreported claim by Max Stier, a Yale classmate of both Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez, the woman who famously made the second unproven claim against Kavanaugh during his confirmation process that he once thrust his exposed penis at her during a party.
“We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation,” Pogrebin and Kelly write. “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.”
But after being called out for leaving out key exculpatory information included in their book, the Times issued a correction revealing that the alleged victim in Stier’s claim declined to be interviewed and that her friends “say that she does not recall the incident”:
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.
In an attempt to stem the tide of criticism for its mishandling of the story, the Times asked Deputy Editorial Page Editor James Dao to answer a few select questions from readers. Not included among the questions was even a single reference to the failure of the Times to initially include the information undermining the allegation. While Dao somehow doesn’t address the biggest criticism from the Right, he does address the criticism from the Left about why the allegation was initially broken in the Review section rather than the news, but, according to a Vanity Fair report, Dao may not have given the full story.
While Dao isn’t forced to answer any questions about the Times’ failure to initially include information about the alleged victim’s friends saying she doesn’t recall the alleged incident, Dao was pressed on why the unsubstantiated claim was published at all. Here’s the question and answer:
Some readers have argued that the latest accusation against Mr. Kavanaugh was too weak to appear in The Times. Given that the woman who was said to be involved in the incident refused to be interviewed, and her friends have said she doesn’t remember what happened, why did you include that accusation in the essay?
DAO: The essay included a previously unreported claim that friends pushed Mr. Kavanaugh’s penis into the hand of a female Yale student during a dorm party with drunken classmates. During the authors’ investigation, they learned that a classmate, Max Stier, witnessed the event and later reported it to senators and to the F.B.I. The authors corroborated his story with two government officials, who said they found it credible. Based on that corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted.
Pogrebin and Kelly have since told MSNBC that they actually did include the reference to the denial by the alleged victim’s friends, but that an editor initially cut it out. Dao also makes no mention of this.
In his response, Dao is also repeating a potentially misleading claim in the report that they “corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.” As the Washington Examiner notes, “that appears to be a corroboration that Stier had made this claim, not corroboration from any other witnesses to the incident or from the alleged victim herself.”
Asked why the “bombshell” claim was published in the Review section, which is part of the Opinion Desk, rather than than the news section, Dao said it is “not unusual for essays in the Review to break news.” But according to Vanity Fair, that’s not the full story. Kelly and Pogrebin, sources told the outlet, initially pitched their scoop to the news side, but editors felt there “wasn’t enough juice to warrant a story there”:
People familiar with how things went down told me that Kelly and Pogrebin initially pitched their scoop to the news side, but the top editors ultimately felt that there wasn’t enough juice to warrant a story there, let alone a big page-one treatment (the type many lefties would have been salivating for). Instead, Pogrebin and Kelly were told that they could pitch the Review, which is entirely independent of the News department. I asked for clarification as to what about the story wasn’t News-pages-worthy, but the Times declined to comment, as did Kelly and Pogrebin.
Dao was also asked about the decision to post the quickly deleted tweet that assumed Kavanaugh’s guilt based on an uncorroborated claim, which read: “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 at Yale in the first place.” Dao responded with a vague non-answer, stating simply that while they have “a process for writing and editing social media copy,” in this case, “the process was not followed properly, resulting in a tweet that fell well below our standards.”
During an appearance on “The View” Monday, Pogrebin admitted to writing the tweet herself.
Also left out of the Times’ story is any mention of Stier’s role as a Bill Clinton defense attorney. Stier has run a nonpartisan nonprofit for two decades but also once served as one of Clinton’s defense lawyers in his impeachment trial. The Washington Examiner provides more details:
While Kavanaugh worked on independent counsel Ken Starr’s lengthy and contentious investigation into President Bill Clinton, ultimately helping author the Starr Report and its impeachment referral, Stier worked on Clinton’s impeachment defense team and helped the embattled president fight charges of perjury flowing from his false denials about an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Examiner points out some other key details that have gone largely unreported:
Pogrebin and Kelly also claimed in their essay that Stier “notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate.” Staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee directly overseeing the Kavanaugh confirmation, told the Washington Examiner that Stier never informed them about this allegation. The Washington Post reported Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, sent the allegation to FBI Director Christopher Wray. But Grassley’s office said it had not been made aware of the specifics of the claim.
Another detail mentioned in Kelly and Pogrebin’s book that didn’t make it into the Times report is Christine Blasey Ford’s long-time friend, Leland Keyser, saying she doesn’t believe her friend’s claim.
This article has been revised for clarity and to include the update that Pogrebin said she wrote the since-deleted tweet herself.