On Sunday, the New York Times updated its story reporting a new assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, which had drawn widespread attention, to clarify that the woman at the center of the incident does not recall it.
A newly attached editor’s note at the bottom of the story reads: “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.”
That clarification put already substantial right-wing backlash to the story into overdrive, with many conservative defenders of Kavanaugh — most prominent among them President Trump — alleging journalistic malpractice or worse.
The story, which is an adaptation from an upcoming book about Kavanaugh and his confirmation to the Supreme Court by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, disclosed an incident that had not been previously reported from Kavanaugh’s party-heavy days at Yale. It reported that “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.” The story says that Stier notified the FBI and senators what he’d seen but has not spoken publicly about it. (The Washington Post reported on Monday that Senator Chris Coons wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting appropriate follow up on Stier’s allegation.) But it did not originally mention that the unnamed woman has no recollection of it.
The story also includes new details about Deborah Ramirez, who last year alleged that Kavanaugh thrust his penis in her face at a party during their time together at Yale. The Times reports that at least seven people, including Ramirez’s mother, heard about the incident shortly after it occurred, but that the FBI, in its seemingly perfunctory investigation of Kavanaugh’s past conduct just before his confirmation vote, did not talk to any of them. Instead, the agency focused on the allegations brought forward by Christine Blasey Ford, who said that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to remove her clothes during a high-school party, but whose claims could not be corroborated.
Even before the correction appeared, the Times had been criticized for its presentation of a major new revelation about Kavanaugh, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a 50–48 Senate vote last year amid the misconduct accusations. The article containing the new information confusingly appeared as a “news analysis” in the paper’s Sunday Review section, rather than as a straight news item, and seemed to be framed mostly as a story about Ramirez’s unhappy college experience; the information about the previously unknown accuser appears 11 paragraphs in, and the headline — “He Fit in With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not.” — does not give any hint of the explosive content within. The Times’s “Opinion” section also ran a tone-deaf tweet downplaying the allegations against Kavanaugh, before deleting it in the face of blowback.