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Why Kavanaugh saga may hurt #MeToo movement

• Oct 1, 2018 at 4:00 PM

The #MeToo movement that exploded in a year ago after published reports about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s grotesque history of sexual misconduct and worse is a hugely positive development. It’s led to stunning revelations about high-profile men in entertainment, academia and politics, including in the California Legislature, where three lawmakers were forced to resign after credible allegations of appalling conduct.

Finally, predatory male behavior is being outed as gross and unacceptable — even if it can’t be classified as criminal.

But the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation saga may not help the movement.

The first woman to accuse the Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct — Bay Area professor Christine Blasey Ford — described an attempted sexual assault by a drunken Kavanaugh while both were high school students in the early 1980s in Maryland and offered vivid, compelling details. That Ford described the incident to her therapist in 2012, as confirmed by The Washington Post, adds to her credibility. Republicans who dismissed the allegation as being unreliable because it came 30-plus years after the fact were properly rebuked by sexual assault victims who still recall every last detail of their ordeals long after they happened. And those who dismissed the claim as describing teenage hijinks reflected the deeply problematic attitudes that #MeToo challenges.

But Kavanaugh’s second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, whose allegations were published by The New Yorker, only came to believe in her story from 30-plus years ago “after several days of considering the matter carefully,” by the magazine’s own account. She told of a party at Yale University where Kavanaugh allegedly exposed himself. She said both she and Kavanaugh were deeply intoxicated. The magazine was unable to confirm with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was even at the party.

The shakiness of the allegation is why The New York Times declined to report on it. The Times is on solid ground.

For years, the mainstream political establishment has been properly critical of how right-wing websites like Breitbart tout false or dubious claims that partisans accept as fact and spread widely. This isn’t precisely analogous with what The New Yorker has done. As Nate Silver notes, the magazine was transparent about its story’s shortcomings.

But the ultimate effect — of putting forth unsupported claims with a media megaphone — was textbook Breitbart. Some will argue that Breitbart engages in political head-hunting, while The New Yorker is far more respectable and is guilty of no more than a bad editorial decision. But Kavanaugh’s backers respond by citing the relatively little attention given to credible sexual abuse allegations against Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and the recent formation of a political action committee by a Stanford professor that targets politicians accused of sexual misconduct — but whose initial target list includes only Republicans.

For this and many other reasons, the #MeToo movement needs the equivalent of due process in credibly identifying predatory men. Without it, the movement will be dogged by questions about motives.

Those who dismiss this as reactionary nonsense are hurting their cause. They undercut — not help — the women who come forward with credible allegations about awful behavior by powerful men.

— THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE (TNS)

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