- - Tuesday, September 25, 2018


We’re in new territory now. The old rules no longer apply. All the things we learned in a more innocent time have been declared “inoperative,” to invoke the genius term from the Watergate era. These changes in the rules are not likely to turn out well for anyone.

The ancient presumption that everyone is innocent until proved guilty, with guilt established in a court of law, is out the window. Accusations thrown up in the court of public attention are all we need to know. The accuser, if female, can be assumed to be always telling the truth, particularly and especially about sex.

Verdict now, evidence later. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty told Alice, in scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” This was brilliantly set out in this exchange between CNN’s Jake Tapper and the senator from Hawaii, the marvelous Mazie from Honolulu.

Mr. Tapper: “Doesn’t [Brett] Kavanaugh have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else in America?”

Sen. Mazie Hirono: “I put his denial in the context of everything I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases.” (In other words, no.)

It’s true that a hearing before a committee of the U.S. Senate is not a judicial proceeding, and the senators can proceed any way they choose, but until now they have always, in asking their questions and seeking information, honored the fundamental rules and traditions of judiciary proceedings. The hearing room has not been a star chamber. It is the Judiciary Committee, after all. Without rules, what would you get? The Kavanaugh hearings, that’s what, an irreverent observer would say.

This is obvious to lawyers with any experience in a courtroom. The most disturbing of many things about the fall-out from the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, says Alan Dershowitz, the eminent Harvard law professor and lawyer with a reputation for taking unpopular defendants, taking issue with the popular media assumption is that Christine Blasey Ford, the early accuser, is the victim, and Judge Kavanaugh is the perpetrator. “Are women born with a special gene for telling the truth, and men with a special gene for lying?” he asks. “I don’t believe her, and I don’t believe him. I have an open mind. I want to hear both sides of the story and make a determination.”

But open minds are not in season this year. An open mind is merely a quaint concept from an earlier time. Good and moral people with the right political attitudes do not entertain doubts, even when an accuser, such as Deborah Ramirez, tells her friends that 35 years after the fact she thinks Judge Kavanaugh dropped his pants and displayed his private parts, but concedes that she isn’t sure.

“Maybe” has never been good enough when the reputation of a man who “might” be guilty is at stake. That’s a quaint idea from another time, too.

The editors of The New York Times, who yield to no one, male, female or other, in their suspicion of the judge and contempt for the man who nominated him for the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, assigned a raft of reporters to get the story about Mrs. Ramirez and her accusation. They closely examined what they found, and took a pass.

Mrs. Ramirez as accuser was meant to be the witness who could confirm, at least to Mazie Hirono and the senators who think like her, the account of Mrs. Ford. Or “Dr.” Ford to the Democrats and the media, though she has no medical degree and doctors of philosophy do not usually get the honorific, unless they’re talking to or about each other. But “Dr.” sounds grander if not actually more reliable than the merely respectful “Miss” or “Ms.”

Ronan Farrow, one of the authors of the New Yorker account of high times at Washington’s fast and tony private high schools, says he got on to the story when the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee came calling with tips, rumors and suggestions for how to proceed in taking down Judge Kavanaugh. But nobody wanted to be seen supplying the juice to make the story’s legs grow. This whole thing is beginning to stink.

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