By David K. Shipler
We Americans are swimming in lies—lies from an entire advertising industry, lies from the top of our government on down, lies from the grassroots of hateful partisans, lies from such august institutions as the Catholic Church, lies from Fox News and other purveyors of propaganda. And on, and on, and on.
This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will treat us to another gargantuan lie: the deception that we are seeing a truth-seeking process because Professor Christine Blasey Ford will be heard accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when she was 15. In reality, however, virtually all the members of the committee, both Republicans and Democrats, have already decided the case. The minority Democrats will credit her account, and the majority Republicans will not. She is on trial, as are most women who finally gather the courage and self-esteem to speak out about their abuse at the hands of prominent men.
And this will be something of a show trial, with a Republican-hired lawyer—a woman, of course, for the sake of “optics”—appointed to question her, to poke holes in her story, perhaps to rattle her enough to make her come across on national television as incoherent, confused, and unreliable. There is no hint in the Republican-led committee of any interest in getting to the bottom of the allegation. If there were, the FBI or a committee-organized, impartial investigatory staff armed with subpoenas would have been assigned to the matter. And the one alleged witness, Mark Judge, would be forced to testify under oath.
The Republicans’ refusal to call Judge pulls back the curtain on the farcical charade. They are obviously afraid that Judge, who Ford says was present when Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, ground his body against her, covered her mouth when she screamed, and tried to remove her clothes, might suddenly remember the incident in sworn testimony. There’s nothing like the threat of a perjury charge to focus your mind.
But this is political theater, practically devoid of due process. A methodical and intellectually honest effort to muster the facts and arrive at a conclusion is not legally required in the Senate as it is in criminal court. And so it will not be pursued, because it might interfere with Republicans’ steamrolling campaign to politicize the Supreme Court in their image.
An invidious comparison comes to mind. Forty years ago in Moscow, I covered the phony treason trial of Natan Sharansky, a leader of the Jewish emigration movement whose final statement, on the day he was sentenced to 13 years, was addressed to the Jewish people. He concluded: “Now I turn to you, the court, who were required to confirm a predetermined sentence: to you I have nothing to say.”
Ford would be justified in issuing the same dismissal to the Judiciary Committee, which makes a grievous error by evading its responsibility to keep an open mind and sponsor a full investigation. At the height of the #MeToo movement, it is critical to look thoroughly into allegations of sexual assault and harassment to get as close to possible to the truth.
In the current atmosphere, many violated women have gained the courage to come forward, although they are still vilified, as Ford’s experience demonstrates. But on the other hand, some employers who are running scared take draconian actions against men without sufficient fact-finding, treating every woman’s allegation as automatically proven. That damages not only the men but also the women who bring complaints, for it fails to provide substantiation where the charges are valid, and imposes injustice where they are not. It also risks a damaging backlash by casting some men as the victims.
The Judiciary Committee has the authority and the visibility to lead the country and set a standard. Instead, the Republican leadership reinforces the old refrain: the woman is not to be believed, and she is branded with a variety of imaginary motives and character flaws. For the dying breed of Americans still interested in truth, the committee does Kavanaugh no good, even if he is confirmed, to leave the accusations unresolved. If he is truly innocent, as he insists, he should be the first to press for a complete investigation. If he is not, as one additional woman is now contending, and one more reportedly poised to do so, then he has reason to want nothing more than the show trial scheduled for Thursday, in which the American public is likely to be treated to little more than a contest between his and Ford’s dueling personalities. And, it should be noted, outright perjury by one or the other—take your choice.
During his softball Fox News interview, Kavanaugh presented a choir-boy image, which is not borne out by scrutiny of his alcohol-fueled high-school and college behavior. From what we know of sexual assault, it is rarely a one-time event. It is not a matter of he said, she said, but rather: he said, they said.
That pattern is part of what got a jury to convict Bill Cosby, who was just sentenced to 3-10 years for drugging and raping a 31-year-old woman, one victim in a long series, according to the prosecution; several others testified at the trial, and a dozen showed up for the sentencing. At some point, quantity overcomes doubt. Perhaps that is why the Republicans are in such a rush to get Kavanaugh confirmed.