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Trump is the smear artist — not the New York Times

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Trump is the smear artist — not the New York Times

 

I can’t help thinking we are losing the plot in the controversy regarding the New York Times and Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

 

It all began on Sept. 14 when the Times published an article based on a book by two of its reporters, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. The focus was on Deborah Ramirez, who had accused Kavanaugh of whipping out his **bleep** and thrusting it her at a Yale dormitory party. The article also noted a new allegation that Kavanaugh had done something similar to another woman at another party, according to a well-respected Washington lawyer who claimed to have witnessed the incident.

 

What the article failed to note — but was included in the book — was that the second "female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.” After this omission was pointed out to the Times, editors appended an “editor’s note” to the article, from which I just quoted. Pogrebin later explained that this important detail had been deleted by an editor after the decision had been made, as per a Times rule, to remove the second woman’s name.

 

Leaving out the information helpful to Kavanaugh’s denials of wrongdoing was obviously a bad decision. It also was a bad call not to include in the article the book’s most newsworthy revelation — that Christine Blasey Ford’s friend Leland Keyser no longer believed her story of having been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at a party while in high school.

 

The Times screwed up, and so did all of the Democrats who jumped prematurely to call for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. But the Times’s misstep hardly warrants the amount of hyperbolic criticism it has received from President Trump and the right-wing media-industrial complex.

 

I count 83 stories about this kerfuffle at the Fox News website and 28 at National Review in just four days. Even here at The Post, two of my fellow columnists have published critical pieces (while others have focused on the weaknesses in the FBI investigation). Trump has tweeted about it nine times as part of his continuing vendetta against the free press. “I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!” the president hyperventilated.

 

If the Times is intent on smearing Kavanaugh, it is doing a pretty poor job of it — given that a book by two of its reporters contains the evidence that his supporters are using (possibly prematurely) to exonerate him. The explanation offered by Pogrebin — that a key piece of information was deleted by an editor at the last minute — rings true to me as someone who has been writing for newspapers for 30 years. Mistakes are common; conspiracies infrequent. The Times, along with other reputable publications such as The Post, always tries to get it right — and when it doesn’t, it normally corrects or clarifies, as the Times did.

 

Compare and contrast that with the reckless disregard for the truth displayed by the president and his minions. Their credo was exemplified by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s startling admission on Tuesday that “I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they’re just as dishonest as anyone else.” Actually, the mainstream media are infinitely more honest than Trump and his henchmen. The Trumpites regularly promote sensationalist claims with no fact-checking whatsoever — and no apologies when their fabrications are exposed.

 

Consider Trump’s defamation of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn). On Wednesday he retweeted a video of Omar dancing with the false claim from conservative commentator Terrence K. Williams that "Ilhan Omar parties on the anniversary of 9/11.” The video was actually taken on Sept. 13, and Williams subsequently deleted the tweet. But Trump never apologized or corrected the record. Nor has he apologized for falsely claiming that Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called “our country and our people ‘garbage.’” (Ocasio-Cortez had actually said that progressives shouldn’t settle for policies “10 percent better from garbage.”) Needless to say, Trump also has not apologized for falsely claiming that Omar had spoken of “how great al Qaeda is” — a slur that has no basis in fact.

 

Far from admitting error when he is caught, Trump often doubles down. The Post’s fact-checkers reported in August that not only had Trump uttered more than 12,000 falsehoods but that there “more than 300 instances in which [Trump] has repeated a variation of the same [false] claim at least three times.”

 

If professional conservatives are outraged that the president is peddling so many lies — including malicious slurs that Omar says have endangered her life — they show scant sign of it. Their devotion to the truth is purely transactional: They will promote the facts only when they are perceived to be politically useful, as with the latest Kavanaugh news. But, while there are some honorable exceptions, few on the right will call out Trump when he lies about his record or his rivals. Instead, many collude with the president in spreading falsehoods.

 

That the Times published a poorly edited article that it was then forced to clarify is a minor scandal. What’s far worse is that the president and his followers are waging war on the truth — and on the truth-tellers in the media.

 

Trump is the smear artist — not the New York Times


"FAKE 45 #illegitimate" read a sign at the Woman's March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017.
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