Slan­der, gos­sip at the 11th hour

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Colum­nist Kath­leen Parker is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

Af­ter sev­eral days of show­boat­ing and ju­di­cial haz­ing, Democrats pulled out their big­gest weapon against Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh — a let­ter from an anony­mous woman claim­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct in high school.

There are no words — ex­cept perhaps des­per­ate, scur­rilous and em­bar­rass­ing to any­one with a con­science and a grown-up brain.

The let­ter ap­par­ently has been in the cus­tody of Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein since July, but it only re­cently sur­faced. Fe­in­stein says she didn’t men­tion it sooner out of con­cern for the ac­cuser’s pri­vacy and be­cause the events were too far in the past to merit dis­cus­sion, ac­cord­ing to a source close to the California se­na­tor who spoke to the New Yorker. Un­der pres­sure from col­leagues, how­ever, she turned it over to the FBI.

Democrats surely were hop­ing the let­ter would prompt a fed­eral in­quiry and stall Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion un­til af­ter the midterm elec­tions, when they hope to take over the Se­nate. But the bureau didn’t take the bait. It added the let­ter to Ka­vanaugh’s file but has not opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The al­le­ga­tions, which Ka­vanaugh ve­he­mently de­nies, re­fer to when he was a stu­dent at Ge­orge­town Prepara­tory School in North Bethesda, Md., in the 1980s. Dur­ing a party, he al­legedly held down and tried to force him­self on a stu­dent from an­other school.

As aw­ful as the al­le­ga­tion about Ka­vanaugh is (and one is jus­ti­fied in ques­tion­ing its ve­rac­ity un­der the cir­cum­stances), the use of an anony­mous doc­u­ment to un­der­mine him at a time when he’s poised to be­come a Supreme Court jus­tice is dread­ful. Equally ter­ri­ble was the re­cent un­named op-ed from a White House in­sider un­der­scor­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­com­pe­tence. No reg­u­lar reader of this col­umn would mis­take me for a Trump sup­porter. But fair­ness and jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity took a hit with The New York Times’ pub­li­ca­tion of the op-ed. In the news­pa­per world I in­habit, Anony­mous doesn’t get a by­line.

Nor should Ka­vanaugh’s ac­cuser get a pub­lic hear­ing, es­pe­cially un­der such clearly po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances. In to­day’s #MeToo en­vi­ron­ment, a mere sug­ges­tion can be treated as an in­dict­ment — and lit­tle imag­i­na­tion is re­quired to make the leap to guilty. A let­ter of this sort by it­self is of no value to the pub­lic other than to con­firm that the U.S. Se­nate now traf­fics in gos­sip. And at a time when jour­nal­ists are con­cerned with “al­ter­na­tive facts” and Trump’s war on truth, how much faith can we put in the facts and truth of an anony­mous let­ter or op-ed?

In the mean­time, 65 women who have known Ka­vanaugh since his high school years signed a let­ter ad­dressed to both Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, and Fe­in­stein af­firm­ing Ka­vanaugh’s good char­ac­ter.

“In par­tic­u­lar, he has al­ways treated women with de­cency and re­spect,” the let­ter said. “That was true when he was in high school, and it has re­mained true to this day.”

So here we are de­bat­ing an ado­les­cent boy’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be­come a Supreme Court jus­tice. What’s next, his potty train­ing?

Even Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg is dis­pleased with the way Ka­vanaugh has been treated by the Se­nate. Speak­ing last Wed­nes­day at the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity Law School, a day be­fore Fe­in­stein dis­closed the let­ter, Gins­burg called the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings “a highly par­ti­san show.” She re­called both her own and Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia’s “truly bi­par­ti­san” hear­ings in bet­ter days.

Af­ter she was nom­i­nated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, Gins­burg was con­firmed in two months by a vote of 96-3. Scalia, whom she de­scribed as “cer­tainly a known char­ac­ter,” was con­firmed unan­i­mously. “Ev­ery Demo­crat and ev­ery Repub­li­can voted for him,” she said.

“That’s the way it should be. ... The Repub­li­cans move in lock­step, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was,” said the 85-year-old ju­rist. Brava, Madam Jus­tice! Clearly, both po­lit­i­cal par­ties are re­spon­si­ble for the highly par­ti­san show now tak­ing place, but Democrats cur­rently lead what ap­pears to be a race to outdo the other in bad form. A lower point is hard to imag­ine.

There is a way back to the bet­ter times of which Gins­burg spoke, but it will re­quire great courage and char­ac­ter to con­firm the highly qual­i­fied Ka­vanaugh with a bi­par­ti­san vote.

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