The two New York Times reporters who revealed a new sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh blamed the paper’s editors for a critical piece of information not appearing in their original story.
Reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly said in an interview on MSNBC that they wrote in the draft of their Sunday Review piece that a woman who Kavanaugh was said to have exposed himself to while a student at Yale had told others she had no recollection of the alleged incident.
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Their editors, they say, removed the reference. “It was just sort of. . . in the haste of the editing process,” said Pogrebin.
The editor responsible for editing the Kavanaugh piece, Times Deputy Editorial Page Editor James Dao addressed select questions about the piece on a Times “Bulletin Board” posted on Monday and updated Tuesday. But he did not address why the information about the woman’s recollection was removed from the story.
Dao declined a POLITICO request for comment.
In the article, Pogrebin and Kelly reported that Max Stier, CEO of a Washington nonprofit, said he witnessed Kavanaugh having “pushed his penis into the hand” of female classmate, an incident he tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI to investigate during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
After The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, co-author of a separate Kavanaugh book, pointed out that the woman involved in the alleged incident had not remembered it, the Times added the key detail in an editor’s note stating that Pogrebin and Kelly’s new book — “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation” — “reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.”
The article prompted calls from leading Democrats, including presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro, for Kavanaugh’s impeachment.
But the paper’s handling of Kavanaugh piece has also come under widespread scrutiny, with criticism of the Times for publishing Pogrebin and Kelly’s new reporting in a Sunday Review essay, rather than the paper’s news pages, and its promotion of the piece with a now-deleted tweet that appeared to make light of allegations against Kavanaugh.
Both liberals and conservative critics have accused the paper of bungling the story, with President Donald Trump calling Monday night for the resignation of everybody involved in “the Kavanaugh SMEAR story.”
“We certainly never intended to mislead in any way,” Pogrebin said in discussing the editor’s note on MSNBC. “We wanted to give as full a story as possible.”
On MSNBC, Pogrebin said that she and Kelly named the female classmate involved in the new allegation in their book, though the Times doesn’t usually include an alleged victim’s name. So when Times editors removed the woman’s name, they also removed the reference to her not recalling the Yale incident, according to Pogrebin.
MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell asked the reporters if anyone at the Times considered mentioning in the editor’s note that the detail was in their original draft, as that “would have been clarifying for people wondering how this happened.”
“I’m not sure if they did or not,” Kelly responded. “I think the desire was just to get the information out to the reader, not to focus too much on the process. Obviously, there had been an error of judgment that was being addressed.”
In a Tuesday interview on WMAL’s “Mornings on the Mall,” Pogrebin defended publishing Stier’s allegation, though noted that they “did not lead” with it.
“We did not put a news story on the front of The New York Times saying, ‘Another Allegation Against Kavanaugh,’” she continued. “That was our decision. That is not the thrust of our book, that there’s a new allegation. That’s what the takeaway is right now because no one has had the book and has seen its totality. But actually, if you see it, it’s two paragraphs in an almost 300-page book. We did not make a lot of this. The world is making a lot of this.”
Pogrebin was also asked Tuesday in a CNN interview about POLITICO reporting that she wrote a controversial tweet sent from the paper’s Opinion section which read that “having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun.” The Times deleted the tweet following an uproar, acknowledging that it was “clearly inappropriate and offensive.”
“All I can say is the tweet was written and the tweet was sent out, and it shouldn’t have,” Pogrebin said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”