Good Friday Morning! I want to extend my continued thanks and gratefulness to all the support I’ve gotten on the podcast launch. The reviews and feedback have been great, and I’m looking for ways to improve.
Some of you may remember I wrote a column about a month and a half ago about California’s new law that forces all Presidential candidates to submit five years of tax returns before getting on the ballot. I wrote that this rule was unconstitutional. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against that California law; meaning he blocked the law from going into effect. We don’t have the exact reasoning yet, it’ll get issued in October, but Derek Muller, a Pepperdine Law professor, suggests that the judge may avoid ruling on any of the substantive issues altogether by saying that current federal law preempts any state law. I think he might have a point — it’s the most comfortable out for the judge.
All that to say: Laurence Tribe, the vaunted constitutional law professor at Harvard, is wrong, once again, on an issue of constitutional law. Law ain’t rocket science, folks. Adjust your expectations of Harvard constitutional law programs accordingly.
Where you can find me this week
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This week on the Beltway Outsiders Podcast host Daniel Vaughan tackles the third Democratic primary debate held in Texas, going through candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and more, focusing in on their views on healthcare and how that impacts the primaries and general election. He also talks about Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and why the United States needs to step and help the Bahamian people rebuild, akin to a Marshall Plan, to prevent China from getting a toehold in American waters. Finally, he wraps up talking through Brexit and what’s happening across the pond in the United Kingdom.
The case for breaking up Big Tech – The Conservative Institute
I walk through the argument for breaking up Big Tech, specifically Facebook and Google, using antitrust laws.
Defending democracy for me, but not for thee – The Conservative Institute
There’s this odd tendency right now for proponents of democracy to overrule voted on decisions of democracy using every tool at their disposal. It’s happening with Brexit, and there are signs of the thought process in the US.
The Kavanaugh story that won’t take an “L.”
Usually, when I start mapping out what I’m going to write each week, I jot down ideas in a journal throughout the week and narrow down the focus. That didn’t happen this week. Sure, there’s plenty of news happening, but I keep circling back to one story that’s bugged me all week: the New York Times smear job of Brett Kavanaugh.
If you haven’t seen it, in brief, the New York Times has two reporters who spent ten months investigating Brett Kavanaugh, looking into the sexual assault stories, and trying to dig up more dirt. They failed in colossal fashion. The Associated Press summed up the book and the problems with it like this:
Headlined “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not,” the story was primarily about Deborah Ramirez, a Connecticut woman who alleged that Kavanaugh, as a freshman at Yale in 1983, had pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her. Kavanaugh has denied those claims.
Yet the authors said they’d uncovered a similar story involving Kavanaugh at another freshman-year party, where he allegedly exposed himself and friends pushed his penis into the hands of a female student. The story said former classmate Max Stier reported the incident to the FBI and senators as Kavanaugh’s nomination was being discussed, but the story said Stier would not discuss it with the authors. Kavanaugh would not comment on the story, a court spokeswoman said Monday.
After the story was posted online but before it was in the print edition, the Times revised the story to add that the book reported that the woman supposedly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed, and that her friends say she doesn’t recall the incident. While an editor’s note pointed out the revision, it did not say why those facts had been left out in the first place. A Times spokeswoman said no one was available for an interview on Monday.
The new allegation was only given to the NYT journalists by Max Stier, a lawyer connected with the Clintons, and literally, no one else could corroborate the events — including the alleged victim.
Perhaps even more damningly, the book excerpt the journalists pitched to the NYT left out the biggest story of them all: Christine Blasey Ford’s key witness, a friend she claimed was with her when Kavanaugh forced himself on her, Leyland Keyser, remembers none of the events. The book says, “We spoke multiple times to Keyser, who also said that she didn’t recall that get-together or any others like it. In fact, she challenged Ford’s accuracy. “I don’t have any confidence in the story.”
The journalists go on in the book to say they don’t trust this key witness — the one everyone wanted to interview during the actual Kavanaugh hearings — and that they believe Ford.
The more you dig into the book, the journalists, all the mistakes they and the New York Times made (VanityFair reports the entire newsroom is in disarray at how to handle this debacle of a story), you’re left questioning: Why did they run this story, and why are these journalists refusing to admit any mistakes? They’ve blamed editors before taking any responsibility for a book THEY WROTE.
And I kept asking myself, why did this story, in particular, bother me all week. Other things are happening, arguably more important, but this one just kept gnawing at me. For a while, I thought it was just that this story overlapped several areas of my interests: national politics, law, the Supreme Court, cancel culture, etc.
But then it hit me: the NYT story was like watching a reverse version of the Sharpie saga with Donald Trump.
The NYT Sharpie Story
While Hurricane was still raging off the coast of United States, Donald Trump got into an incredibly stupid spat with the media over the past trajectory of the hurricane. At one point, the very early track of Dorian showed it going in a general direction that included some modeling of it hitting Alabama. Now, when I say this was early modeling, I mean it was so early that no one knew Dorian would hit category five strength, it still hadn’t fully cleared the Puerto Rico area.
Trump had made some comments about Alabama being in the cone of danger — which it never really was — and then, using a sharpie, drew an extra cone to include Alabama. And with that story, thus began a multi-day saga of the media fighting with Trump over whether or not he lied about the Alabama line and the sharpie cone.
Trump lied. It was profoundly stupid. The fight over it was profoundly dumb. The White House seemed to realize this at some point when they released a tweet of a kitten chasing a laser dot, in a meme meant to describe CNN / the media going over the president over “Sharpiegate.”
The actual truth was easy to see and find. Getting anyone to admit the reality of that truth was impossible. A fake chart caused people to retreat to their preferred narrative corners and yell at one another.
NYT draws a line
The New York Times and its journalists have done the same thing here. They’ve taken a sharpie and drawn their own cone, declared the narrative they want to believe, and refused to back down. They’re not truth-tellers, as they claim themselves, they’re narrative tellers — and no one can deny their preferred narrative.
Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner tweeted out trend line on this front: “Article in WaPo smears JD Vance. Article in Bloomberg smears Leif Olson. Article in NYT smears Kavanaugh. Whose week is it next week? AP or Reuters?”
He’s right. The Kavanaugh story doesn’t stand alone. There’s a distinct pattern in the last few months of major newspapers trying to target and take out prominent conservatives with baseless smears. And not just bad faith attacks — I’m talking attacks so unfounded that some of these public figures have a borderline case of defamation.
Truth is an absolute defense when it comes to newspapers defending against defamation attacks, but if they’re going to stop reporting the truth and only pursuing narrative, they will open themselves up to lawsuits. We’re getting closer to that every day.
The Leif Olson story was probably worse than the Kavanaugh one primarily because nothing the reporter said was right. Bloomberg ran a story accusing Leif Olson was anti-Semitic for individual Facebook posts — only the reporter in question deceptively quoted Olson. In the quotes, Olson was mocking neo-Nazis, which Bloomberg spun to mean the exact opposite.
Shifting from fact to narrative
Again, this is a shift not just from journalists reporting biased information or biased attacks: it’s outright partisan activist hit jobs masquerading as news. It’s the Media Matters for America playbook in all things — MMFA spends all its day watching cable news and blasting anyone to the right of their very left-wing views.
The new media landscape is one where the journalists attack Trump for drawing lines on an old weather forecast while they then turn around and do that exact thing regarding every story on earth. They’re drawing lines on Kavanaugh and pretending to be shocked when people point out they’re unquestionably wrong.
The NYT ran a smear job. They’re not backing down from that smear job. They hid this attack in the opinion section to avoid claiming its news and given themselves cover from liability. These are also the same people, who less than a month ago, acted shocked and outraged that Trump allies were going through the twitter feeds of journalists and screen capturing bad tweets. When the 2020 election really gets kicked up, and journalists start targeting conservatives more than they have been doing, these Trump allies plan on attacking journalists for their past misdeeds.
I have zero sympathies for these journalists. They’ve chosen this road. Narrative herding is a choice, smear jobs are a choice, and getting those tools turned back on them is a consequence. I’m not a fan of cancel culture or the current trend lines in the culture wars — but it’s hard to feel any sympathy when these journalists get canceled themselves.
A moment of clarity
The Kavanaugh moment was a clarifying moment for many on the right. When the allegations first appeared, I initially assumed McConnell and Trump would swap out Kavanaugh for someone else. But once you started peeling back the truth behind the claims, it became abundantly clear this wasn’t a breaking news story — it was a hit job.
Donald Trump is the worst candidate in modern history — outside Hilary Clinton. But if he wins re-election, go back to this Kavanaugh moment. The reason Trump maintains his popularity is because the media has so thoroughly destroyed their credibility as to make themselves enemies of anyone on the right. If smearing traditional conservatives like JD Vance, Leif Olson, and Brett Kavanaugh is the norm — then the media opposition to Trump has nothing to do with him — they’d go after any conservative for any issue. Ever.
People correctly, in my mind, pushed back on Trump with his line, “the media are the enemy of the people.” Hit jobs and smears by national journalists will cause people to believe that line. And they’ll believe it because journalists are actively proving it right.
Zero-sum politics controls almost every area of our political life. Long term, that widening gyre of reality is dangerous. The more society splits itself apart like this, the apter it is to collapse. I hope that all of this is just a trend of Twitter and social media, but there are growing signs social media is filtering into everyday life. So that widening gyre that exists more actively in social media is starting to set the rules in reality.
We’re in dire need of something that breaks this destructive cycle. What could do that, I don’t know. But our current path isn’t sustainable.
Links of the week
Comedy’s last stand – Bridget Phetasy, The Washington Examiner
American Airlines Mechanic Accused of Plane Sabotage May Have Ties to Terrorists, U.S. Says – Mihir Zaveri, The New York Times
Let’s Face It, the Democratic Primary So Far Has Been a Debacle – Jonathan Chait, NYMag
Bad, Press – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Trump is ignorant. What’s Elizabeth Warren’s excuse for her unconstitutional proposals? – Jonah Goldberg, LA Times
These Are Human Beings – Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review
Yes, They Are Coming for Your Guns – The Editors, National Review
Planned Parenthood and Fired Former Chief Mired in Escalating Dispute – Shane Goldmacher, The New York Times
Sort By Controversial – SlateStarCodex
Brett Kavanaugh Faces a New Accusation in The New York Times, but the Alleged Victim Didn’t Confirm It – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
No, Brett Kavanaugh Has Not Been ‘Credibly Accused’ – David French, National Review
Democrats’ Risky Bet Against Kavanaugh: Democrats are eager to relitigate the political battle over Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. Republicans, particularly Susan Collins, welcome the fight. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
U.S. Abortion Rate Continues Long-Term Decline In Most States – Sarah McCammon, NPR
The New York Times’s travesty of journalistic ethics – Kathleen Parker, MSN
Paying Attention to the Most Provocative Young People Never Turns Out Well – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
RICHMOND, VA — As Justin Trudeau found himself embroiled in a scandal over painting his face dark for ethnic costumes in the past, he began to despair. “How will I ever overcome this, eh?” he said, shaking his head. “I apologized, but we Canadians are always apologizing, so I’m not sure how to make anyone see that I really mean it this time.”
“Eh, man, eh,” he sighed. (“Eh” is a Canadian word that they say instead of “what” or “duh.”)
Just then, the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Virginia Governor Ralph Northam with words of comfort for his progressive ally.
“Justin, take a deep breath and a hit of maple syrup or whatever you guys do to relax.” Trudeau informed Northam that this was an offensive stereotype and that Canadians actually chug milk in a bag when they are upset.
Thanks for reading!