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As the Supreme Court Turns

There was nothing on Thursday’s daytime soap operas remotely so compelling as the Senate judiciary committee’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which of course was what everyone was talking about.
In the unlikely event you weren’t watching on any of the various news channels, or haven’t already heard about it from multiple sources, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford gave a convincing account of how current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both high school students in the early ’80s, Kavanaugh gave a convincing denial of the charges, and pretty much everyone decided whom to believe based on their partisan prejudgments. Elsewhere in the news there are three other women accusing Kavanaugh of serious youthful sexual misbehavior, and some serious reasons the news media are very cautiously reporting their yet un-sworn testimony, along with plenty of circumstantial evidence that at the very least Kavanaugh wasn’t quite the straight-arrow high schooler he claimed to be on a unprecedented and ill-advised Fox News interview, and some witnesses on both sides that probably won’t be called to testify, but all that will also be probably judged according to partisan prejudgment.
These days we find ourselves on the political sidelines, with no real rooting interest in either party, so our best guess about the matter is based on more personal experience.
We’re as wary as ever of those damn Democrats, and especially their aversion to the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation that has always been the obvious primary reason they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. On the other hand we’re just as wary these days of the putatively Republican and legally embattled President Donald Trump who nominated Kavanaugh against his party’s advice, and we can’t shake a healthy suspicion he was nominated ahead of other impeccably originalist candidates because of some his previous writings in White House memory and law journal articles that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated. We’d still like the think that the Republicans could come up with a highly qualified and stridently originalist Supreme Court nominee who doesn’t face such credible charges of teenaged sexual assaults, as they did the last time around, perhaps with one of the several more-easily confirmable female candidates, but this is the hand America has been dealt.
None of that much matters in the current he-said and she-said context, though, and we’re left with the desultory task of choosing whom to believe. At one point in the proceedings Kavanaugh spoke movingly about his mother, who was one of Maryland’s first women prosecutors and judges, and how her “trademark line” was “Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?,” and that’s how we’ve always tried to decide these darned complicated matters. Unfortunately for the trailblazing Mrs. Kavanaugh’s undeniably accomplished son, that Ford woman’s testimony rings discordantly true to our ears.
Most of our lives have been more happily spent on apolitical pursuits, but that has included some intimate relationships with women who have convincingly and heartbreakingly told of us the sexual abuse they have suffered from more powerful men, and we didn’t doubt them at all, and Ford’s accounts seems to ring true in the same detailed way. Over the many years we went to high school and college and worked in offices we witnessed countless men behaving badly, ranging from geeky awkwardness to credible accusations of rape, and we’re hard-pressed to see why a California psychology professor with a little-known but well-regarded reputation and a nice quiet family life would invite death threats and the condemnation of a major political to tell a lie about something she claims happened decades ago.
Women do either misremember or lie about these things sometimes, of course. The left will well remember the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” the nine black American men accused of raping two white women on a train rolling through Dixie in 1939, whose innocence was eventually conclusively proved by the undeniably Communist-linked Lawyers Guild. The right is as quick to recall the more case of the Duke lacrosse team, all privileged white boys at an elite college who were accused of gang rape by much of the faculty and indicted by a Democratic district attorney running for reelection in a mostly black district, but eventually exonerated by the traditional conservative press and some up-to-date DNA tests. One never knows about these things, no matter your partisan prejudgments, and the very lawyerly Kavanaugh undeniably made some compelling arguments during his star turn on the news channels.
Still, our long and desultory experience of these matters suggests that rapes and attempted rapes and lesser degrees of sexual misbehavior are committed by far more numerous than the false accusations of such crimes alleged by women, and we’d like to see the Republican majority on the Senate judiciary call some more witnesses and let the Federal Bureau of Investigation do some more investigating before the country reaches any conclusions.

— Bud Norman

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The Rape of Journalism

Celebrity sex scandals rarely interest us, and we follow political scandals more from a sense of civic obligation than any voyeuristic fascination, but we do love a good journalism scandal. The recent flap over Rolling Stone magazine’s latest discredited story is also an academic scandal, another of our favorite pastimes, so we have been enrapt.

The story that was featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone, once such a counter-cultural honor that Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show had a hit song about it, was incendiary stuff. It told of a brutal gang-rape that occurred as part of a fraternity initiation rite at the University of Virginia, complete with such shocking details as the broken glass that littered the floor where she was attacked. Such a sordid story not only corroborated the academic left’s recent claims of a “culture of rape” on the nation’s campuses, it also confirmed its longstanding prejudices against fraternities, the south, and the brutally sexist nature of American society generally. All in all the story was too good to be true, so it should have come as no surprise that it turned out be false.
Some readers were skeptical from the start, noting the abundance of unnamed sources and a striking failure to even ask for a response from the accused, and of course those who expressed their skepticism were widely denounced for their insensitivity. Even so the points they raised about the numerous deviations from standard journalistic practice were sound enough to instigate an investigation by The Washington Post, a publication ordinarily inclined to believe the academic left’s claims and think the worst of fraternities and the south and the American society generally, and its reporters quickly found several problems with Rolling Stone’s reporting. Among other things, the very specific description of the appearance and occupation of the man who allegedly lured the victim to the party did not remotely match any of the fraternity’s members, and the victim’s friends’ recollections of the aftermath of the incident did not include the visible injuries that would have inevitably occurred if her story were true. A short time after the Post’s story ran Rolling Stone issued a statement acknowledging discrepancies in the subject’s claims and admitting that “We have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”
Rolling Stone’s liberal readership was of course angered that the magazine was blaming the putative victim, even though at that point there was no evidence she was a victim of anything, and more reason to believe that she had victimized the fraternity with a false claim of rape, so the magazine has since altered its statement to say that the mistakes were entirely its own fault. Some of the accuser’s friends remain plausibly convinced that something bad happened to her at the fraternity even as they say that it could have not been precisely what she described, so at this point it is probably for the best that Rolling Stone simply admits its own responsibility for the story and leave it at that, but the fraternity members deserve a presumption of innocence that the phrasing seems to deny them.
Presumption of innocence is an unfashionable concept on the modern left, however. The University of Virginia’s president had no use for it when she suspended all fraternity activities in the immediate aftermath of the publication of the Rolling Stone story, the Department of Justice is using the government’s funding of higher education to coerce other schools to to expel students accused of all manner of sexual misbehavior without due process, and claims that no woman has ever made a false of claim of rape is being chanted on campus around the country. An exception seem to be made for Juanita Broderick’s very believable claim that she was raped by former President Bill Clinton when he was the Attorney General of Arkansas, and the radical left’s defense of Scottsboro Boys and other black men accused of raping white women in the Jim Crow era of the south is still to be regarded as a heroic chapter in the history of liberalism, but otherwise any woman’s claim of rape is to be believed no matter how little evidence supports the charge or how much evidence refutes it.
To believe otherwise opens one to a charge of denying that rape is a continuing problem, but those who insist on believing every charge without reason are not helping the many women who truly are victims of this heinous crime. Every false charge that is ultimately disproved makes it harder for the public to believe the true claims, and those who fall for those false charges similarly discredit themselves. Rolling Stone has done great harm to a fraternity at the University of Virginia, and will probably wind up paying for it in a libel suit, but one can only hope that it will pay for the great harm it has done to rape victims with declining sales and ad revenue and public scorn.

— Bud Norman