Reliable Sources: Left and right reactions to the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. ...

Posted: Sep 28, 2018 11:58 AM
Updated: Sep 28, 2018 11:58 AM

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Drudge is calling this "DC'S NASTIEST DAY."

Breitbart is crediting Brett Kavanaugh with giving the "SPEECH OF HIS LIFE."

HuffPost is billing it as the "HELL HEARING" with the "JUDGE IN THE SLUDGE."

And the front page of Friday's NY Daily News is quoting Christine Blasey Ford: "100% IT WAS HIM."

Did any minds change among the millions of Americans who tuned in? I don't know. I think this was a terrible day, but I don't really know what to think. So lemme point you toward some of the smartest reactions to Thursday's marathon hearing...

-- CNN's Chris Cuomo: This was a "riveting and regrettable day in American history..."

-- It was a "stomach-churning chapter" of history, Andrea Mitchell said on MSNBC...

-- In her column for The Cut, Rebecca Traister said Ford's testimony was heroic -- "a moment so powerful that it prompted furious, admiring tears..."

-- WaPo's Dan Balz: The hearing "devolved into the worst of Washington. It was a partisan brawl on steroids that will leave the country more deeply divided than before..."

-- "This was men against women, right against left, a cascade of recriminations, explosions of anger, hours of tears and sobs," WaPo's Marc Fisher wrote...

-- TownHall's Katie Pavlich responded and said: "Nope. There were millions of women on Kavanaugh's side today..."

-- Megan McArdle tweeted: "I think the left half of the political spectrum really doesn't understand the unquenchable rage on the right at having this sprung on them at the last minute. I'm not sure the right understands the unquenchable rage that would result on the left from confirming Kavanaugh..."

-- Kellyanne Conway on Laura Ingraham's show: "I think what people will ultimately remember from today is Judge Kavanaugh," not Ford...

-- Douglas Brinkley on "CNN Tonight:" Kavanaugh "came off as a tool of Donald Trump..."

-- My wife Jamie Stelter tweeted: "Will tomorrow be better or worse?"

Friday: A 9:30 a.m. vote

"The committee's going to vote in the morning and we're going to move forward," Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday night...

What this day felt like

The hearing "unspooled over nearly nine hours," or "about the length of a prestige mini-series, binged Netflix-style in one wrenching, riveting sitting," the NYT's Michael Grynbaum wrote.

Most people didn't watch in one sitting, though. Most people picked up bits and pieces here and there. I think it's important to keep this in mind.

At the end of the day, a banner on CNN captured the fact that both witnesses cannot possibly be telling the truth. Kavanaugh said "I've never sexually assaulted anyone." And Ford said she was "100%" certain it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her...

Ratings?

In a situation like this, TV ratings can be a proxy for "impact." On Friday we'll have a sense of how many people watched Ford and how many watched Kavanaugh on TV. Already, we know this: CBS News said that Thursday was the #1 day of the year for its digital channel, CBSN, in terms of live streams. And CNN said that Thursday was CNN's biggest day of 2018 for digital video with 8 million plus live starts on its website and apps -- and more than 10 million including YouTube and Facebook streaming. This was CNN's biggest live video day since the Trump Inauguration...

Comparing 1991 with 2018

Per Grynbaum's story, "network executives expected Thursday's viewership to rival the 30 million people who tuned in for another generation-defining TV event: the testimony of the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill in 1991."

→ WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE 1991: Media has been fragmented into a million pieces... The hearing was dissected bit by bit on social media... And tech makes it really easy to stick with your tribe...

"Truth is available," but...

Thursday provided little in the way of new info, new evidence. "There could have been a deeper search for truth" through an FBI investigation, but Republicans leaders are stubbornly refusing to "perform the necessary due diligence," WaPo's Margaret Sullivan noted in her column.

So "truth is available — just as it has been throughout the past two tumultuous years. But whether, in tribal America, truth is desirable is another matter..."

More notes and quotes

-- David Zurawik summing up the day: "Lots of emotion and little new information..."

-- Tucker Carlson on Thursday night: "No Supreme Court nominee has spoken like this in memory. Not even Clarence Thomas. But then none has been accused more recklessly or less evidence than Brett Kavanaugh has. And he did nothing to hide his rage..."

-- "Is this good?" Read NYT's Jennifer Senior on "the pain of watching Christine Blasey Ford be so accommodating to the people questioning her..."

-- LAT's Matt Pearce tweeted: "It just feels like we're stripping the paint off America one layer at a time..."

-- The Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last: "It's impossible to look at the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and not see America as a nation in decline..."

FOR THE RECORD

-- "Callers from around the US flooded the lines of C-SPAN's 'Washington Journal' show on Thursday to share their own stories of sexual assault..." (Politico)

-- "The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) said it had seen a jump of 147% in the number of calls" after Ford testified... (BF)

-- "When the News Itself Is a Form of Trauma" -- An important piece by Julia Jacobs... (NYT)

-- WaPo's Emma Brown, who had the first interview with Ford, took the occasion to remind people that "there are human beings here at The Post who read and vet tips that come in over our confidential tip line... and that sometimes, those tips turn into stories..." (Twitter)

-- Oliver Darcy tweeted: "Right-wing MAGA Twitter is in love with Lindsey Graham -- which is interesting as, not long ago, the base viewed him as a squishy RINO. Quite the transformation..." (Twitter)

Inside the hearing room

MJ Lee was in the room for CNN. I asked her to share what the experience was like. She emailed:

"I'm coming up with one cliche after another: Being in the room was an extraordinary, emotional and at times a surreal experience. It was the rare feeling that history was actually being made — the kind that you'll think about for decades — in front of my eyes. And in addition to just the largeness of the moment, there was also a kind of reporter-adrenaline high, of knowing that I had to be the eyes and ears for the network so that everything my colleagues couldn't see or feel through the three cameras in the room could be adequately chronicled. I'm hoping to go back and watch most of the hearing today soon, the way that it was aired. I'd love to know what people watching from home saw, and what I might have actually missed by being in the room. (Oh, and by watching it *without* a Tweetdeck on my computer screen moving at lightning speed.)"

Morning v. afternoon

There was a media world consensus about Ford's morning testimony: She was a very credible witness. The GOP's outside questioner, on the other hand, was widely criticized. After the first break, Chris Wallace said on Fox News that "this is a disaster for the Republicans."

But some impressions changed over time.

At the end of the day on MSNBC, Nina Totenberg described being live on NPR at midday, during a break from Ford's testimony, with "a bunch of other observers and journalists, all of whom thought, essentially, he was toast. And I reminded them that we thought Clarence Thomas was toast. And he wasn't." In the afternoon, Kavanaugh showed "you can sometimes bull your way through these things."

Read more of Thursday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

Case in point, Andrew Napolitano said on Fox that Kavanaugh "dug himself OUT of the hole" he was in. "He has come out swinging about as effectively as any human could." A frustrated President Trump turned optimistic, per CNN's reporting...

"He feels attacked, so do they."

Quoting from S.E. Cupp's column in Friday's Daily News: Kavanaugh reflected a "deep and growing anger among average Americans over what they have seen as a political hatchet job." Key line: "His frustration is theirs. He feels maligned, so do they. He feels attacked, so do they. He feels like a prop in a political game, so do they..."

Conspiratorial...

During Kavanaugh's testimony, Donald Trump Jr. said he loved the nominee's tone. No wonder: Kavanaugh at times sounded like an angry conservative radio host. He repeatedly made conspiratorial references to a left-wing plot. At one point Kavanaugh cited a "coordinated and well-funded effort" to destroy him. You might think this is obviously true -- or you might think this is off-the-wall conspiracy theory thinking in action...

Right wing reactions: We believe her, but...

Oliver Darcy emails: One of the dominant themes from the right appeared to be one that straddled both lines. Many conservative commentators on cable and Twitter said that they believe Ford was in fact assaulted, but expressed doubt that the person who assaulted her was Kavanaugh. It effectively was a way for them to avoid directly calling Ford a liar, while also allowing them the leeway to continue showing support for Kavanaugh...

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