Networks Ignore Collapsing Stories of Kavanaugh’s Accusers

November 6, 2018 Updated: November 6, 2018

News Analysis

Two broadcast television networks that flooded their programming with coverage of unsubstantiated claims against then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh have ignored the recantations of his accusers and have gone silent about a Senate report that cleared the judge of all allegations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee released a 414-page report on Nov. 3 that cleared Kavanaugh of the allegations against him. ABC and NBC, which spent hours covering the unproven claims against Kavanaugh, ignored the committee’s report completely, according to a study of network coverage conducted by the Media Research Center (MRC).

CBS was the only network to devote any time to the collapsing narrative, spending less than five minutes covering the revelation that there’s no credible evidence to support the claims made by Julie Swetnick, one of the accusers.

The five minutes of coverage from CBS was dwarfed by the six hours of coverage that the three networks devoted to Kavanaugh’s accusers during the first 12 days, following the public announcement of allegations against him. According to MRC, the networks spent just 8 percent of that time covering evidence that contradicted the accusers’ claims.

In addition to concluding that there was no evidence to corroborate any of the claims against Kavanaugh, the Judiciary Committee’s investigation unearthed clues of potentially criminal conduct by some of the accusers. Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) referred three accusers and an attorney to the Justice Department for criminal investigation over making potentially false claims to Congress.

“The Committee is grateful to citizens who come forward with relevant information in good faith, even if they are not one hundred percent sure about what they know,” Grassley said on Nov. 2. “But when individuals intentionally mislead the Committee, they divert Committee resources during time-sensitive investigations and materially impede our work. Such acts are not only unfair; they are potentially illegal.”

The lack of coverage suggests that the networks employ a double-standard in guiding their reporting. While all three networks rushed to cover unproven claims against Kavanaugh, all three have been virtually silent after a weeks-long Senate investigation resulted in criminal referrals for the accusers, sent by a sitting Senator to the attorney general and the director of the FBI.

“If journalists are at all interested in fairness, they need to cover claims that now seem far less credible,” wrote Scott Whitlock, an associate editor for MRC.

The Senate report investigated the claims made by Christine Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick, and three anonymous accusers. Two of the anonymous accusers recanted during the course of the investigation. Grassley referred both for criminal investigation.

The committee also found evidence to suggest that Swetnick and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, conspired to make false claims and obstruct the investigation. Grassley referred the pair to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.

In addition to ignoring the crumbling allegations, NBC withheld a story which would have helped clear Kavanaugh before his confirmation. The network eventually revealed, in an Oct. 25 story, that a witness put forth by Avenatti disputed Swetnick’s claims on Sept. 30.

A separate MRC review of television coverage showed that CNN used the word “rape” in association with Kavanaugh 191 times over the course of 18 days, more than 10 times per day.

The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6. President Donald Trump apologized to the justice for the treatment he received during the confirmation. The networks haven’t issued an apology.

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