Last week, Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh joined an ever growing list of public figures accused of sexual assault. Over the weekend, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) referred a letter she received from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This letter came from one of Rep. Eshoo’s constituents and describes in detail an alleged sexual assault committed by Brett Kavanaugh when he was 17 years old.
The senior Senator from California has held the letter since the middle of the summer, waiting for the most opportune time to release it and disrupt the confirmation. Just last week when the hearings ended, there seemed to be little Democrats could do to save the highest court from a 5-4 conservative majority.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is eager to continue the nomination process. Despite this, both Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, have been invited to testify in front of the Committee. Now it appears that the GOP, and their media apparatus, is playing defense. Fox News has began running stories that are meant to tarnish the reputation of Dr. Ford and bolster public opinion of Kavanaugh.
Prior to these allegations being made public, it appeared as though Kavanaugh would receive votes from a handful of red state Democrats to push him through. Now Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are calling for the Judiciary Committee to investigate these allegations.
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation faces an existential threat for which the GOP and Trump Administration had not accounted. The deciding factor in whether or not Judge Kavanaugh serves a lifelong term on the nation’s highest court is the vote of a handful of moderate Republicans.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said on Monday that if Kavanaugh lied when he denied these allegations that it would be “disqualifying.” Collins isn’t alone in her uneasiness, a handful of GOP Senators have called for a delayed vote and investigation into the allegations. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), stated that a delay in the vote may be necessary “…if there are more questions that need to be asked and answered, then I think it would be appropriate to allow for that time.”
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a sitting member of the Judiciary Committee, also released a statement prior to the announcement that the Committee’s vote would be postponed. He felt “not comfortable” proceeding without hearing Professor Blasey Ford’s story and looking deeper into the allegations. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), another retiring senator, released a similar statement.
The outcome of Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote will be largely influenced by how journalists cover it. The prior statements are important to note, showing that members of both parties are taking the allegation and its consequences seriously. While Senators on both sides of the aisle are speaking out to delay the vote and investigate the allegations, conservative outlets like Fox News are already attacking Ford’s credibility and attempting to sway public opinion against her.
Fox News published an article on Tuesday in which they framed a quote from Senator Feinstein in a manner which makes Ford’s claims appear false. When explaining that the Republicans, as the majority party, are responsible for contacting Ford and Kavanaugh, Feinstein said that she cannot say whether or not the allegations are truthful. Instead of reporting that Feinstein believes the incident should be investigated but that innocence is presumed until guilt is proven, the network made it appear that Feinstein questioned the validity herself.
Fox News also ran a segment in which two former girlfriends of the SCOTUS nominee defended him. Instead of investigating the allegations from one woman who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, the network invited two women to say that Kavanaugh did not sexually assault them. The segment then references a letter of support signed by 65 women who knew Kavanaugh in high school and vouched for his character. Fox News fails to mention the letter signed by hundreds of alumni from Kavanaugh’s high school in support of Ford.
The Kavanaugh confirmation process has hit its rockiest point and is now at risk of failing. The deciding votes will come from moderate Republicans who have called for an investigation into the accusations. Between now and the actual vote, conservative media outlets are stirring the pot and printing headlines that discredit Ford and defend Kavanaugh.