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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 07, 2018 1:00 am

Kavanaugh accusations energize Trump Country

Gary Abernathy

HILLSBORO, Ohio – For people in Trump Country locales such as Highland County, Ohio, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation circus morphed into complete lunacy and validated presumptions about the media and the D.C. swamp.

If evidence had emerged to prove Kavanaugh guilty of sexual assault, everyone agrees he should have been disqualified.

But in this case, the definition of “credible witness” appeared to be anyone willing to make a claim against Kavanaugh. And there's general agreement, cynical though it may be, that if Kavanaugh were considered a pro-choice judge, none of these allegations would have surfaced.

The reaction here to Kavanaugh's being suddenly accused of sexually predatory behavior – including even gang rape – cannot accurately be described as outrage, because outrage is typically preceded by a surprising or shocking development. Here, what  happened was roundly predicted: Kavanaugh's opponents would stop at nothing to stop him, or, more precisely, to prevent the court from gaining a dependably conservative majority.

If Trump Country was insufficiently motivated to turn out in the midterms, the Kavanaugh accusations were just what the doctor ordered. At the local GOP headquarters, officials report a steady stream of Republicans stopping in to vent their frustration. The sentiment crossed party lines. At a high school football game Friday night, a lifelong Democrat told me he was astounded that accusations against Kavanaugh from decades ago, without evidence or corroborating witnesses, could be taken seriously.

People here are as loving, caring and concerned about victims of sexual assault as people anywhere else. But they shake their heads over what they have witnessed with Kavanaugh.

What you hear most around here, from men and women, is concern over a new standard that the accused are presumed guilty. The presumption of guilt in regard to allegations of sexual assault may be appealing to those who view it as empowering women and correcting the ills of a patriarchal society.

But aside from the obvious danger of convicting the innocent in these cases, what happens when we slip down the slope and the principle is expanded to include other allegations?

The biggest casualty of the Kavanaugh debacle is the media, which has abandoned the basics of journalism to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated accusations that would have been verboten in newsrooms just a few years ago.

The New York Times, which declined initially to publish claims made by a woman named Deborah Ramirez because it could find no firsthand witnesses to validate them, quickly published them after the New Yorker did, under the guise of explaining why it didn't publish them first.

Welcome to journalism today.

When major outlets such as the Washington Post or the Times report such thinly sourced accusations, they spread like wildfire across news services and cable news, not to mention the Internet.

A variation of an old saying, appropriate to today, is that an unsupported allegation travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.

If Kavanaugh and his reputation are ultimately tossed onto the ash heap of history, who would dare accept a nomination to the bench by this president under the “advice and consent” of this Senate?

One uncorroborated, salacious accusation is all it takes today to ruin a life and career.

The next pick for the high court might reasonably be considered automatically unfit; his or her judgment should be questioned for the insane act of even accepting the nomination in today's politically driven, death-by-accusation environment.

It is a sad period we are witnessing – sad for victims who courageously come forward and do not deserve for their claims to be tainted by suspicions of political motivations, sad for the accused when they are innocent, and sad for young generations of Americans watching and wondering whether winning at any cost is what public service means.

Gary Abernathy is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in Hillsboro, Ohio. He wrote this for the Washington Post.