It’s easy to lament the fracturing of media, particularly in an age where we have hundreds of television channels to choose from. Don’t get us wrong, pop culture consumers are generally on board with the ever-broadening variety of entertainment choices we have even as the escalating number of new series and channels with each passing year results in us gravitating to the familiar.
Better to have that, the thinking goes, than to be relegated to the selection of three or four broadcast channels and a handful of cable outlets.
Where this becomes faulty, and possibly dangerous, is when that narrow cultivation of entertainment options bleeds into our information gathering habits. When politics and politicians follow the lead of entertainers and media personalities, this transforms news outlets from resources reporting fact-based information into stages. This has always been Fox News Channel’s tactic, of course; the network was created in response to an untapped market of viewers angry at the perceived liberal bias of news reports on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and CNN.
But ever since Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency, Fox News’ role as a mouthpiece for the Republican party has been further cemented to serve very specific and narrow right-wing agenda. This is why the appearance of Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States, is being called out not only as being unprecedented but alarming, and rightly so.
On Monday Kavanaugh sat for an interview with Martha MacCallum, host of “The Story with Martha MacCallum ,” with his wife Ashley Estes Kavanaugh sitting beside him. Prior to the interview’s airing Fox released strategically selected excerpts dutifully picked up by various media outlets, including what the Washington Post framed as his “deeply personal” admission that he was sexually inexperienced during the time periods in which his accusers say he assaulted them.
“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” MacCallum asks.
“That’s correct,” says Kavanaugh.
MacCallum follows this with, “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”
“Many years after, I’ll leave it at that,” Kavanaugh answers. “Many years after.”
These early details painting Kavanaugh as a wide-eyed innocent likely led many conversations after they came out, and may have been colorful enough, possibly, for people to refrain from watching the entire 20-minutes or so of the conversation.
Having seen what else Kavanaugh says, that’s understandable — if one’s goal is to be entertained or to have one’s existing opinions reaffirmed. Because most of his interview consisted of recycled and frequently repeated talking points, primarily some version of the following:
“All I’m asking for is a fair process where I can be heard and I can defend my integrity.”
And, “What I’m here for today is to tell you the truth.”
Also, “America is about fairness and hearing from both sides,” which he followed with, at one point, this declaration: “I’m the one telling the truth.”
Kavanaugh also insisted of Deborah Ramirez’s claim, which emerged Sunday in The New Yorker, that if it had happened, “it would have been the talk of campus.” The problem with that assertion is, it was. A person would just have to be willing to read the story from whence Ramirez’s claim originates to see that. Jane Mayer, who co-authored article with Ronan Farrow, informed NBC news that emails about the incident circulated between Yale alumni who were classmates of Kavanaugh and Ramirez, which is how the media and congressional officials caught wind of Ramirez’s account.
But The New Yorker is part of the liberal mainstream media. By appearing on Fox, Kavanaugh’s one-sided version of events therefore becomes the truth, because he says it is.
Speaking of college, Kavanaugh’s appearance reminded me of an early campus experience. Over the course of a few days in October 1991, I remember gathering with women of various political stripes, backgrounds and ethnicities in the common room of the all-girl’s dormitory where I lived in my freshman year.
What brought us together was the television event of that fall, Anita Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which she gave an explicit accounts of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ incidents of sexual harassment.
Nobody quite knew what it all meant or whether what she said would derail Thomas’ confirmation to the Supreme Court. Nor did it generate consensus in that dormitory as to whether Hill should be believed.
For some, Hill’s on-the record objections went against the grain of behavior many women had been raised to bear in silence and accept as part of the burden of being female and America. For others, Hill was speaking out on behalf of women who were fed up with being denigrated and treated as second-class participants in a professional world dominated by men.
Hill’s testimony did not halt Thomas’ confirmation. We know this. But it did produce legislation discussions about the subject we’d eventually come to know as workplace sexual harassment. It moved President George H. W. Bush to withdraw his opposition to a bill giving harassment victims the right to seek federal damage awards, back pay and reinstatement.
Hill’s testimony also inspired record numbers of women to run for office in 1992. It also eventually cost Hill her faculty position with University of Oklahoma College of Law.
But millions watched her testimony via a small group of channels — on C-SPAN, maybe, or…
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