Or should I say Brett? I’m starting to wonder if there’s some kind of doppelganger effect going on here. Your last three columns have all been about Brett Kavanaugh and his confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but I’m beginning to think you’re taking the whole situation personally. Is this the “identity politics” you and your colleagues are always complaining about?
Let’s start with your thesis statement.
Do you believe Blasey? I watched her — vulnerable, obliging, guileless (precisely the opposite of what her skeptics suspected) — and found her wholly believable. If she’s lying, she will face social and professional ruin. Do you believe Kavanaugh? I watched him — meticulous, wounded, furious (wouldn’t you be, too, if you were innocent of such an accusation?) — and found him wholly believable. If he’s lying, he will face ruin as well.
I have to admit, Bret, I had to take another aspirin when I read this, on top of the one I took before starting.
In my career as a fact checker, I’ve seen people contradict themselves by accident. I’ve seen people lie. But I’ve never seen someone openly claim to believe two entirely contradictory accounts of a single event. Is this some kind of literary experiment? If so, don’t quit your day job, Kurosawa.
What’s even more striking about this is that in your last column, you said we shouldn’t even be talking about who we believe. Remember that? It does seem like a long time ago. Last week.
I believe that statements on the controversy that begin, “I believe Blasey,” or “I believe Kavanaugh” — because they jibe with personal experience or align with a partisan motive — are empirically worthless and intellectually dishonest.
Doesn’t this make believing both contradictory statements twice as bad? Anyway, back to the new column.
I found her likable; him, not so much. But likability is not what this is about.
You can’t tell me you really think that this is the right distinction to make. Above, you described Dr. Ford as “vulnerable, obliging, guileless,” and a Kavanaugh as “meticulous, wounded, furious.” Dr. Ford was cooperative, to be sure, but she was careful: she made sure not to allow anything onto the record that she could not precisely account for. But between the two of them, you chose to describe Kavanaugh, who dodged questions relentlessly and repeated outright, demonstrable lies under oath, as the “meticulous” one?
And if suspicion based on allegation — even or especially “believable” allegations — becomes a sufficient basis for disqualification, it will create overpowering political incentives to discover, produce or manufacture allegations in the hopes that something sticks. Americans have a longstanding credulity problem — 9/11 trutherism; Obama birtherism; J.F.K. assassination theories; the “deep state” — so the ground is already fertile.
The literal spokesman for birtherism is currently the President of the United States. What the hell are you expecting to happen that isn’t already happening?
That’s especially because Blasey is a compelling, even emblematic, figure, and the fight against sexual assault a good and necessary cause. The history of civil-rights abuses is often connected to such causes. The McCarthyism of the 1950s sprang from well-grounded fears of communist espionage and Soviet intentions. The well-documented miscarriages of justice in campus sexual assault investigations are the outgrowth of an effort to stamp out a real problem.
You may not want to go on record as the guy who said “the history of civil-rights abuses” is the result of “a good and necessary cause.” It’s bad enough seeing Republicans calling Kavanaugh’s hearing McCarthyism, given that McCarthyism was, quite literally, the persecution of civilians for their political beliefs — there’s no doubt today’s GOP would form a House Un-American Activities Committee all over again if it could. But no one has yet opted to take the side of McCarthy. Until now. Sometimes you surprise me, Bret.
Is that a good idea? More particularly, is it an idea for liberals to embrace, given that we live in an era in which a right-wing demagogue can mobilize millions of Americans to believe just about anything? When politics becomes solely a matter of “I believe” versus “I believe,” it descends into a raw contest for power. Historically, it’s been fascists, not liberals, who tend to win such contests.
You may need to be careful about the senses of of the verb “to believe.” You can believe that or believe in and they’re not at all the same thing. Belief in the occurrence of an event is different from a belief in an ideal. Further still, “belief” can be based on empiricism, rationality, or faith. Which one do you mean, Bret? When you say “I believe,” is it about believing Dr. Ford’s story? You said you do. And she said she believes with 100% certainty that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh. Is it fascist to believe her?
Or is do you mean this in the abstract sense, believing in due process of law and the presumption of innocence? This is a belief that you’ve been on record as holding selectively, at best. You once said in the Wall Street Journal that “the Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind,” so leaving aside what you meant, or understand, by “the Arab mind,” it seems there are cases in which your stance is that innocence is not presumed. This is what you called “The Gawker standards” in your previous column. “Apply a presumption of guilt standard to the people you oppose, and a presumption of innocence standard to the people you favor.” I won’t weigh in on whether that’s a fair description of Gawker, though their position did prove correct in the case of, oh I don’t know, Bill Cosby. Either way, what you describe as “the Gawker standards” is apparently an entirely accurate description of your own column.
As for due process, here’s what you said, in the Wall Street Journal, about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being tortured at a CIA black site, in violation of American and international law. He had not stood trial, and has not since.
He has been let off far too lightly. As for his waterboarding, it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative. As far as I’m concerned, he waterboarded himself.
I can’t comment on this outside my professional capacity as your fact checker. In that capacity, I must note that it is inconsistent with your previously published remarks. Back to this week’s column. You conclude:
It is surely appropriate that Americans should respond to Blasey’s obvious decency, compelling story, and confident memory with an open mind. But if Kavanaugh ends up winning confirmation, it will have much to do with the perception that Democrats never intended a fair process to begin with, toward either the nominee or his accuser; that they treated allegation as fact; and that they raised their sense of belief above normal standards of fair play.
You can’t believe that someone who makes a claim is correct, and also believe that someone who denies that claim is correct. Both P and Not P can’t be true at the same time. It’s not possible that Dr. Ford was attacked by Brett Kavanaugh, but that Brett Kavanaugh did not attack Dr. Ford.
There’s a saying scientists use for a proposition built on such faulty premises that it doesn’t even have the virtue of being provably false. Such a statement is “not even wrong.”
That kind of statement is what you’ve filled this whole column with, Bret. I can’t check them when they’re not even facts.
Department of Corrections
Al Smith, NYT Op-Ed Fact Check, Fact Check, New York Times