Friday marks one year since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Justice Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing took place between three weeks of mayhem on Capitol Hill, all surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
In the year since Ford’s testimony, two New York Times journalists, Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin, co-authored a deep dive into Kavanaugh titled, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh”. In the book, the reporters examine the events from the hearing, as well as the character of Kavanaugh through the years up until the present.
On Sept.18 last year, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee she would testify publicly about her allegations of sexual assault against then-judge Brett Kavanaugh, if the FBI investigated her claims. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh testified before the Senate on Sept. 27, 2018. After a week of investigation, the FBI released its findings and four days later Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh may be settled into his lifetime role as a Supreme Court Justice, but, for Kelly and Pogrebin, the story was far from over.
“We wanted to try and get a better sense of what actually happened, we wanted to understand who Brett Kavanaugh is more deeply,” Pogrebin said.
Kelly and Pogrebin reported on the hearing for the New York Times, but their work continued beyond the story. For the past year, they have been doing what they believe the FBI did not: a thorough investigation of the allegations made against Kavanaugh.
Professor Gordon Stables, Director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, moderated the conversation.
“Can you talk about the passage of time?” he asked to open the discussion, “What has the last 10 months of writing and year been like?”
Kelly detailed the complexities involved in examining events that took place 36 years ago.
“You’re going back to the early 1980s and reporting on situations pre the social media age, pre smartphones,” she said. “You are also dealing with situations that involve alcohol, potential memory loss and allegations of sexual assault, which very often is not reported.”
“Those are some of the issues of time that we were facing,” she said.
Responding to a question about the controversial tweet released by the New York Times Opinion section, Pogrebin said, “This one was obviously badly worded, but I didn’t even realize how badly worded it was...trying to say some may dismiss this but actually it’s quite meaningful and equally unacceptable. Instead, it was phrased in a way that made it sound as if I was dismissing it and that was a problem.”
Despite their challenges, Kelly and Pogrebin gleaned substantial information about Kavanaugh from several sources. Pogrebin talked about the justice’s multifaceted nature as discussed in the book.
“What we found was this messy middle. We do find these two women’s [Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez] allegations to be credible,” she said. “We do understand him in his youth to be somewhat of a frat guy type who was ham-handed around women...but not necessarily a sexual predator in the last 36 years.”
Pogrebin added that they were aware that their findings would be frustrating to their audience.
“People wanted us to come down one way or another,” she said. “We ultimately concluded that it wasn’t for us to say whether he deserved to be appointed to the court or not.”
“That was up to President Trump and the Senate Judiciary Committee,” she said.
Kelly and Pogrebin’s year of research did not lead to any definitive conclusions about Kavanaugh and the events that occurred 36 years ago. Instead, they provided a fuller picture of who Kavanaugh is and, perhaps more importantly, where the country was one year ago today -- a perspective that can only come with distance from the events.
“It was a little bit of a luxury...to be able to step back, talk to as many people as we possibly could, reflect on these events with a little more distance and a little more time,” Pogrebin said.
“I strongly encourage the book,” echoed Stables as he closed the event. “It is a really important second draft of history.”
This story was updated to include a quote regarding a tweet released by the New York Times Opinion section.