Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Kode of the Kavanaugh Klique

It's too bad that the New York Times royally botched coverage of what is supposed to be a well-researched and nuanced new book about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, written by two of its own reporters. Because in choosing to highlight a previously unreported and unknown episode that had Kavanaugh's Yale frat brothers shoving his penis into a girl's hands at a drunken dorm party, the paper went the exact opposite of nuance, and veered into full tabloid territory.

Only after more than a day's worth of outraged calls for Kavanaugh's impeachment by the Times-reading public and anxious Democratic candidates did the paper finally append an online correction to the piece, acknowledging that the second woman allegedly abused by Kavanaugh at Yale University has no memory of it and refused to be interviewed for the book.

 The one alleged eyewitness serving as the authors' second-hand source is one Max Stier, who is lauded by The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, among others, for being a bipartisan Rhodes Scholar and a Washington insider with an impeccable set of credentials. Thus does the minima-culpa "explainer" piece written by Times Deputy Editorial Page editor James Dao simply double down on the specious claim that since Stier's account has been "corroborated" by others, including members of Congress, it's fit to print. In Times World, apparently, corroboration is defined as at least two important people confirming to the Times that yes, they had indeed heard that story first-hand from Stier. As such, even though Max Stier himself refuses to repeat his account to the Times, it is not grounds for the paper refusing to publish what amounts to second-hand gossip.

Dao wrote:

During the authors’ investigation, they learned that a classmate, Max Stier, witnessed the event and later reported it to senators and to the F.B.I. The authors corroborated his story with two government officials, who said they found it credible. Based on that corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted.
This is very much related to the Times and other corporate media outlets regularly writing evidence-free #Russiagate and war-mongering propaganda pieces based purely upon the "high confidence" of well-placed government sources who must always remain anonymous because of the sensitivities of the matter.

But the printing of gossip wasn't even the worst part of the Kavanaugh story. In promoting its "blockbuster" article on Twitter on Saturday evening, somebody* on the Times Opinion Page actually blurted out this gem:
"Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn't belong at Yale in the first place."
(Just to be clear, the alleged victim who has no recall of the previously unreported incident and refused to be interviewed for the book is not Deborah Ramirez, who is the main focus of the Times essay.)

So even before the offensive promotional Tweet and the apology for the Tweet, the feeble semi-retraction, and the pitiful disclaimer/explainer by James Dao, another problem with the essay is its implication that as a good, virginal, sheltered working class Catholic girl, Ramirez was more traumatized by Kavanaugh's behavior than a more experienced and worldly and non-religious young woman would have been. That subtext, in my view, became the whole basis for the Times's original promotional Tweet: that a non-virgin, or your typical sophisticated Ivy League gal, would have found having a penis thrust in her face to be stupid, harmless fun, and she would have taken it in her stride. 

In other words, if Brett Kavanaugh had only adhered to the Kode of the Klique and restricted his frat boy antics to jaded young women of his own high social class, then everything would have been hunky-dory. So while the essay treats Ramirez sympathetically and respectfully, and is not at all kind to Yale "culture," the promotional Tweet had a distinctly snobbish, classist, even sexist, undertone to it. It didn't quite blame the victim for feeling offended, but it came close enough. It also implicitly slut-shamed more well-off young women who "fit in" better at abusive elite institutions. The subliminal message is that their money and possessions and position protect them from all harm and hurt feelings and constitute the basis of their self-esteem. 

But that's not how Dao sees it. Rather than directly addressing the classism and sexism of the tweet, he simply puts forth the usual boilerplate excuse of how, since some sort of undisclosed rigid "process" wasn't followed, the tweet was not up to the Times's usual standards of excellence. They will be reviewing this unexpected process failure very carefully to determine how they can do better in the future. Process failures seem to be the rule rather than the exception lately, as in the Times' retraction of a recent headline that had Donald Trump vowing to fight racism, right after the El Paso gun massacre committed by a fan of Donald Trump. 

So despite the Times's obvious cherry-picking of the "scoop" of the previously unknown story of a second female Yale victim, I still get the sense that the book itself is probably well worth a read, that it is an in-depth sociological examination of what made Brett Kavanaugh who he is, and how his upbringing and class status and connections have catapulted him all the way to the Supreme Court.

The criticism by some of my fellow Times readers of my own early comment, which called for Supreme Court term limits, was based entirely upon my failure to get with the desired narrative program and immediately jump on the Kavanaugh Impeachment bandwagon. 

Here's how I responded to writers Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly:

Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school pal and alleged witness to the attack on Christine Blasey Ford, wrote a revealing book called "Wasted" in which he describes the insular, privileged, and alcohol-saturated world of the Georgetown preppies, their parents and even their Jesuit instructors. It's a highly conservative world, and a very misogynistic one.
 Even rich girls in the D.C. suburbs were subjected to the "pranks" perpetrated by these boys. including one group calling themselves the Inquisitors. Every weekend they'd don religious garb and trash the expensive home of a girl whose family, they'd ascertained, would be out of town. When finally caught, they were not prosecuted, but the Jesuits cooperated with the police and made the culprits do community service in a local soup kitchen. When they reneged and faked a written report on their charitable works, about a dozen of them were barred from graduation ceremonies.
Judge's parents then fondly and proudly dubbed them the Twelve Disciples.
 Kavanaugh is a permanent member of this club. The patriarchy that preys together, stays together.
His disturbing presence on our highest court should be the impetus for term limits. Without them, we could get rid of Trump tomorrow, but his horrible legacy would persist for many decades to come. The court should be staffed by revolving teams of jurists from lower courts. This will help prevent its further dangerous politicization, especially under predatory presidents like Trump.
The book "Wasted" has nothing in it about how the girls in this exalted social circle felt about being "harmlessly" pranked by having their homes destroyed. Tellingly, though,he affectionately describes the well-off victims as the Klique's "little sisters" who were such good sports they never bore them a grudge. One of the vandalized properties, Judge claims, was owned by a senator (whom he respectfully doesn't name, along with protecting the identities of everyone else in the book except himself and his parents) You get the distinct impression that the rich are very carefully taught, from earliest childhood, to keep each other's secrets. Because you never know when this unwritten Kode of Silence will come in handy, and if the drunken guys who once trashed your house (or worse) might be in a position to help you advance someday. Because their parents know your parents, and at the rarefied top of the power elite mountain, everybody is connected to everybody else. It's a small, small world.

The rich are different from you and me. It's not just that they have unlimited money. It's that friendships and ethics don't seem to matter to them as much as the life-long transactional relationships they cultivate for purely Machiavellian reasons.

*Update: Robin Pogrebin, the book's co-author, finally copped to writing the offensive tweet herself, after initially having denied doing so. As a jaded New Yorker and Yale classmate of Brett Kavanaugh she, personally, would have reacted differently to having a penis thrust in her face. Therefore, "people" took her tweet the wrong way.  Come to think of it, I think I'll skip her book. My experience has always been that if people can so glibly lie about one thing, they lie about other things. Plus, I am already sick of this story. 

1 comment:

The Joker said...

"The rich are different from you and me. It's not just that they have unlimited money. It's that friendships and ethics don't seem to matter to them as much as the life-long transactional relationships they cultivate for purely Machiavellian reasons." -- Karen Garcia.

Yes, the "upper crust" is, um, crusty. Crusty like some skin pathology. Actinic keratosis? Keratoacanthoma? Secondary syphilis, perhaps? And as with untreated syphilis, untreated upper-crustiness, whether in an individual plutocrat or the nation as a whole, comes with a significant likelihood of brain damage, bad decisions frequently manifest, and ultimately, an untimely end.