Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Further Damages Media Credibility
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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Freedom of the press is one of the hallmarks of the American constitutional system and an essential pillar of any stable democracy. Somewhere along the way, however, this cherished First Amendment right has been eclipsed by partisanship.
During the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill for Brett Kavanaugh, various media outlets rushed to judgment without a preponderance of evidence or any factual corroboration. Every accusation was reported by journalists who did not look deep enough into the facts.
This type of reporting violates two sacred tenets of journalism. The first is the fundamental right of any American to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The second tenet goes to the very basic foundation for all journalists. It is the central creed found in the nation’s oldest and largest professional journalism association, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: “To take responsibility of the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it.”
Once the sexual assault allegations surfaced and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s name was leaked as Kavanaugh’s accuser, she made a conscious decision to contact the Washington Post and set the record straight.
Media Failed in Its Reporting
The Post faced the problem of how to balance journalistic ethics with the accused’s right to a fair hearing and the public’s right to know. One also has to consider the implications of identifying suspects before they face legal charges.
In this case, no legal charges were brought because the alleged sexual abuse happened 36 years ago. Ford never mentioned the incident to anyone at the time, nor did she report it to police.
After the allegations ran in the Post, no one could find any concrete corroboration that the incident actually happened; nor could Ford remember all of the facts about her charges. For example, she could not say definitively:
- When, where and what time of the year the alleged assault occurred.
- How she arrived at or left the party where the alleged assault took place or its location.
- How many people were at the party or their gender. Nor could any witnesses (at the time) corroborate her allegations.
Media Failed to Corroborate Accusations
In the weeks that followed the revelations, the media mostly focused on the #MeToo movement angle to the news along with the some lawmakers’ position that whenever a person comes forward with sexual assault allegations, she must be heard. More importantly, she must be believed.
It is true that women who were sexually assaulted are neither believed nor heard, even while serving in the armed forces. (I personally had the difficult task of helping service personnel confront their own traumas of sexual assault and the pain they endured of not being believed.)
Both sides need to be heard and the accused must be afforded the right to be treated fairly and not prejudged. This sort of allegation, if believed solely on the basis of the accuser’s testimony, can have a chilling effect on the life of the accuser. That said, the accused also risks his or her life being ruined – it’s a two-way system – and neither party comes through it unscathed.
Media Quick to Jump on Every Accusation against Kavanaugh
The media was quick to jump on every allegation against Kavanaugh. For example, the New Yorker published a story by two prominent journalists, Ronan Farrow and investigative reporter Jane Mayer. Their story claimed that Kavanaugh had also sexually assaulted another woman, Deborah Ramirez, when they were students at Yale.
The problem with the New Yorker story is that no one could corroborate Ramirez’ allegation; in fact, the authors stated this fact in the article’s 10th paragraph. After the article was published, various journalists openly stated that it was the worst piece of journalism they had ever seen.
Now, more than ever, journalists are openly partisan. One example was provided by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. She was candid in her criticism of the Kavanaugh nomination, tweeting “As a @YaleLawSch grad & lecturer, I strongly disassociate myself from tonight’s praise of Brett Kavanaugh. With respect, he’s a 5th vote for a hard-right turn on voting rights and so much more that will harm the democratic process & prevent a more equal society.”
For the media to restore their credibility, they need to look back to the very basics of journalistic ethics and be objective and non-partisan. Otherwise, our democracy will find itself tottering on a weakened foundation.
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