Statements apparently aren’t doing it for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. After two accusers came forward to claim the judge sexually assaulted them decades ago — one while he was in high school, and one later at Yale — Kavanaugh has issued stern denials.
After The New Yorker on Sunday published the account of Deborah Ramirez, who said that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a booze-drenched dorm party, the judge issued a statement saying in part: “These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse.”
Now Kavanaugh will have a chance to expand on such thoughts. Fox News announced on Monday that Kavanaugh would appear that evening in an interview with anchor Martha MacCallum on her show “The Story.”
“During the interview, Judge Kavanaugh will address the allegations of sexual misconduct he is facing including, the new accusation from his former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez who came forward over the weekend,” read a statement from the network. “He will also address the upcoming hearing on Thursday in which one of his accusers, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, will testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the effect these claims have had on his family. Additionally, Judge Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, will speak publicly for the first time about the allegations that her husband is facing.”
Historic “get” for Fox News. Not only is Kavanaugh the No. 1 individual in the news right now, but Supreme Court nominees simply don’t do network interviews as they’re bouncing through the confirmation process. Perhaps it’s a sign of desperation that Kavanaugh & Co. fear allies will break with him over accumulating allegations. Then again, perhaps it’s a sign of Bill Shine linking his former workplace with his current workplace.
Shine was a longtime Fox News executive who was forced out over his proximity to the sexual harassment scandal involving Roger Ailes (by the way, MacCallum called Ailes a “terrific boss” after the initial allegations against Ailes emerged). He is now the deputy chief of staff for communications at the White House and has participated in coaching sessions for Kavanaugh.
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at the New York University school of law, calls the move “very smart. It lets viewers see Kavanaugh in a less formal, more relaxed setting than was so at the hearings. His wife’s presence conveys confidence from the woman who knows him best, especially if she has anecdotes that personalize him. There is no ethical problem because he’s allowed to defend himself. Meanwhile, Dr. Ford has to be careful to avoid doing the equivalent because it can appear as though she’s on a campaign.”
A strain of commentary on Twitter predicts that MacCallum will do for the Supreme Court nominee what “Fox & Friends” does on a regular basis for President Donald Trump:
The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan tweeted: “Female interviewer, check. Fox News, check. Bill Shine approved, check. When an ‘exclusive interview’ promises to be a challenge-free infomercial.”
“Kavanaugh is in for quite a grilling tonight on Fox. Just Kidding,” tweeted Mo for America (@MoForAmerica).
A very legitimate split between the news and opinion operations at Fox News has emerged under the Trump administration, with the former often bringing acute accountability to the administration while the latter helps its buddies on high whenever possible. Examples of tough questioning from the network’s news people include Ed Henry tripping up former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt; “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace interrogating a Trump lawyer, among various other Trumpites; and, yes, MacCallum pushing Kellyanne Conway on whether there were any tape recordings of President Trump’s conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.
A huge national audience will be watching MacCallum interview the Kavanaughs, conferring on her a chance for the news operation at Fox News to draw a bright line between the Sean Hannitys, the Tucker Carlsons and the “Fox & Friends” of the world. Don’t be surprised if she seizes it.
Erik Wemple, The Washington Post’s media critic, focuses on the cable-news industry. Before joining The Post, he ran a short-lived and much publicized local online news operation, and for eight years served as editor of Washington City Paper.