'Hill' Editor Niall Stanage Throws NYT Smear Merchants a Lifeline

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Niall Stanage, who writes "The Memo" for a formerly-respectable newspaper called The Hill, cast reality aside this morning in a piece headlined: "Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy."

Well, I suppose that's a take.

On Saturday, the NYT published an opinion piece -- which if they'd had any faith in its veracity, they'd have run in a bigger-selling weekday edition -- detailing a supposed sexual assault by college-age Brett Kavanaugh, long before he earned a seat on the Supreme Court. Reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly have a new book coming out, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, from which they adapted their op-ed. The problem is that the supposed victim, Deborah Ramirez, doesn't remember the "assault" happening. That's a salient fact which the authors somehow failed to include in their op-ed, and which the NYT's layers of editors and fact-checkers somehow failed to edit or factcheck.

Howard Kurtz called the piece a "train wreck," noting that the allegation was based on nothing more than "one second-hand source," whom they never even spoke with directly. Instead, they heard it "from two unnamed 'officials' who had spoken to him." In other words, "My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Brett whip out his penis at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious."

This, according to the New York Times and several Democratic presidential contenders now calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment, qualifies as Real News™. To be fair, the NYT did correct the story on Sunday like so:

An earlier version of this article, which was adapted from a forthcoming book, did not include one element of the book's account regarding an assertion by a Yale classmate that friends of Brett Kavanaugh pushed his penis into the hand of a female student at a drunken dorm party. The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article.

Good on the NYT, I guess, in a too-little/too-late fashion, for doing the fact-checking they should have done long before going to press. Bad on Stanage for spinning the NYT's breathtaking backpedaling as "belatedly clarifying" the original column.

Stanage notes that the FBI never "interviewed any of the 25 people whom her lawyers said might have evidence to corroborate her account," yet goes on in the very next sentence to repeat the original attempt at a smear-without-substance on Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford. He also quotes Pogrebin's and Kelly's assertion that Ramirez's story was "credible," even though Ramirez herself doesn't seem to recall it.

Despite all that, Stanage led with this: "New allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have sparked a political furor, but the picture has been complicated by a media misstep."

Oh, fer cryin' out loud. There is no picture. The NYT backed away from its story like a prison escapee from a spotlight, but Stanage is hoping you won't notice if he can distract you with a story about the "political furor." The story headline ought to be: "Democratic presidential candidates pounce on uncorroborated secondhand allegation." But for Stanage, it's no problem to twist that into "Republicans pounce on media misstep."

But let us for just a moment cast reason aside, and stipulate that Stanage is correct, and that the GOP has indeed been thrown a lifeline. Even if we do all that, we're still left with one question: If the truth is a lifeline, shouldn't anyone be able to grab it?

Well, Niall?