Supreme Court coverage: MSNBC, ABC, others continue to call Kavanaugh 'credibly accused' of sexual assault

Kavanaugh process was one of the bitterest confirmation battles in Supreme Court history

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One of the fiercest political fights in Supreme Court history is still raw for Republicans and liberal media members alike more than three years later.

Although nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is the judge facing questions on Capitol Hill this week, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the sexual assault allegations against him have again taken a center stage in media coverage, which often refers to it as "credible."

"I think it just shows the media's level of bitterness and disgust and disappointment that a smear campaign didn't work," NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News Digital. "What I often heard when the media would in 2018 and the years since repeatedly use the word 'credible' or ‘credibly accused’ to describe Brett Kavanaugh, it's almost been as if they're trying to speak it into existence."

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The claim Kavanaugh was "credibly" accused of a sexual assault has again permeated the media landscape, after some Senate Republicans invoked his wrenching confirmation process as an example of how not to conduct Jackson's hearings. 

(AP)

In 2018, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s, which Kavanaugh denied in emotional and at times angry testimony. Ford was unable to produce corroborating witnesses or evidence for her claim, couldn't say when or where the attack happened, and couldn't prove she and Kavanaugh had ever met. Nevertheless, she was widely supported in the press and by Democrats, while Republicans and conservative media cried foul and said Kavanaugh was getting railroaded. 

He was eventually narrowly confirmed, and the episode remains one of the bitterest in recent American politics, as evidenced by Republicans and liberal media still litigating the Kavanaugh hearings this week.

Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have assured Jackson she wouldn't be treated like Kavanaugh during her confirmation hearings, and liberal media figures have, as MSNBC's Noah Rothman put it in Commentary, "taken the GOP's bait."

"I hope [Jackson] gets treated differently than people who have been credibly accused of [sexual harassment and sexual assault]," "The View" co-host Ana Navarro said on ABC this week.

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After fellow co-host Sunny Hostin noted Clarence Thomas and Kavanaugh have always denied the accusations against them, Navarro sarcastically said, "Of course they did."

"The Nation" correspondent Elie Mystal fumed on Twitter that Republicans were angry that Kavanaugh was "credibly accused of attempted rape," the Daily Beast's Matt Fuller wrote Republicans didn't care that "Christine Blasey Ford credibly claimed that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her," HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery said "Brett Kavanaugh was credibly accused of sexual assault," and Vox correspondent Ian Millhiser crudely remarked that a key difference between Jackson and Kavanaugh was Jackson "did not attempt to rape a woman when she was in high school," effectively concluding Kavanaugh was guilty.

"The first reason Jackson may not get the Kavanaugh treatment is that she has not been credibly accused of sexual assault," Slate's Mark Newell wrote.

The term "credibly" was also invoked in articles and columns in Vanity Fair, Salon, and the Washington Post, among others.

A police officer patrols in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 12, 2021.

A police officer patrols in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 12, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Far-left MSNBC host Joy Reid fumed Republicans "can’t get over the fact that 2 of their 6 right wing justices: Clarence Thomas and Kavanaugh, are tarred by CREDIBLE allegations of sexual offenses against women." On her show Tuesday, she incorrectly said Kavanaugh had been accused of rape. 

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She also referred to "three" accusations against Kavanaugh in an MSNBC appearance and shared on Twitter an earlier Business Insider article that laid out the wild claim by Julie Swetnick – represented by now-incarcerated attorney Michael Avenatti – that Kavanaugh participated in gang rapes at parties in high school. The bizarre story fell apart as she produced no witnesses or evidence, and she later backed off her own sworn statement, but Reid still pronounced it credible.

Fourth Watch media newsletter editor Steve Krakauer said part of the media's insistence on continuing to use the term "credible" for the Kavanaugh accusation by Christine Ford, in spite of the lack of corroborating proof, was fear of admitting fault from its earlier coverage. 

"It implicates the media in the way that they originally covered the story if they start to say, maybe we went a little too far," he told Fox News Digital. "That starts to call into question their original coverage, and they can't have that, because they just can't have any introspection about this."

Much of the media language has imitated that of leading Senate Democrats, who declared Kavanaugh was disqualified from the Supreme Court on the basis of the accusation alone in 2018. Some said he didn't have a presumption of innocence and should have to disprove the allegations against him. 

"We're not in a court of law," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told MSNBC at the time. "We're actually in a court of credibility at this point." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., remarked at one point that she believed Ford "because she was telling the truth."

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Krakauer likened the episode to some of the collapsed media narratives of the past five years, such as the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax and the Covington Catholic fiasco at the Lincoln Memorial.

"There's story after story where the media gets set on their narrative … Maybe it doesn't implode in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, but certainly it is not corroborated to the point where I think you can use the term ‘credibly accused of sexual assault,’" he said. "But then it just becomes the conventional wisdom, and years later, it's still the talking point."

Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"There's a need at some point like anything in life to look inward and take personal responsibility, and in issue after issue, with Brett Kavanaugh being one of the biggest examples in recent years … the media have just decided to not look inward, and along their most liberal pockets, plow forward as if it never happened," Houck said.

Rothman wrote in Commentary this week that the left is "reminding the nation that they subordinated any universally agreed-upon understanding of justice to their pursuit of a political scalp."

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"Republicans have only invoked the mistreatment of their nominees to establish a favorable contrast. Their strategy is to observe as much decorum as possible to showcase the impropriety of their opponents," he wrote. "Republicans are fortunate that progressives in political media seem happy to oblige."