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Brett Kavanaugh’s Fox News Interview Spoke Only to His Supporters (Column)

On Fox News, the Supreme Court nominee claimed he hadn't been heard out yet—even as he faced no tough questions

In an interview with Fox NewsMartha MacCallum on Monday, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh told the anchor that “America’s about fairness, and hearing from both sides.”

It was a point he hit on again and again: That the same people who’d given a fair hearing to the women accusing him of assault and harassment ought to listen to him — and, indeed, to believe him. But the setting and the tone of the interview guaranteed that viewers skeptical of Kavanaugh wouldn’t be hearing him at all. Kavanaugh’s choice of the network that sits at the center of Trump-era Republican policy and thought was, itself, a provocative choice. And the softball tone of much of the interview — a huge missed opportunity, considering the interview subject’s status as a Supreme Court nominee — made it easy to dismiss for anyone not predisposed to support Kavanaugh and his conservative views. Wanting to be heard generally comes with the precondition that one is willing to take at least a bit of scrutiny.

MacCallum, at moments early in the interview, resembled less an interlocutor than a coach, moving Kavanaugh briskly along through moments in which he got bogged down. Even her toughest question — why Kavanaugh wouldn’t submit to an FBI investigation of his past conduct if he truly had nothing to hide — felt less like an interrogation and more like tactical advice. She herself got lost in a thicket at one moment, though, in setting up an elaborate question, referring to Kavanaugh’s accusers as a “swarm”: “You’ve got this sort of attempt to kind of swarm a number of people who are putting at least enough doubt out there so that this process will be stymied, so that it will take longer, and so that they will get the investigation that they’re looking for.” MacCallum went on to cite statements by cable-news gadfly Michael Avenatti, and her point was clear — that she was more than open to the possibility that the accusations against Kavanaugh have been lodged in bad faith for political gain. 

Kavanaugh actually wouldn’t go there, not biting on the almost startlingly blandly phrased question “So, what do you think is happening? What’s happening?” or on repeated follow-ups about “Where this is coming from?” He barely needed to. Fox News can connect the dots for him, as MacCallum seemed to be trying to do by calling into question the motives of Kavanaugh’s critics: As when, for instance, she asked what Democratic Senators “making judgments” about the potential high court justice made Kavanaugh think “about the presumption of innocence in this country.” Kavanaugh’s presence, seated next to his wife, on their air — doing his mid-scandal interview with MacCallum rather than on the neutral ground of CNN or a network newscast — signals that he approves their message. Kavanaugh’s nomination has divided the nation like none since Clarence Thomas, and opting to speak out on a cable network that made clear its affirmative position toward him, suggests less that he wants to be heard than that he wants his dissenters to be talked over if they can’t be made silent.

The notion that a Kavanaugh — a conservative figure sitting at the center of national news — could ever appear on a non-Fox News broadcast seems less and less likely by the day. It’s not just that such a figure would face real questioning, the sort that’s less easily borne than questions about whether one’s own ordeal proves that the presumption of innocence is dead. It’s also that the audience Kavanaugh most wants to reach isn’t there. To get what he wants, Kavanaugh is relying on a united front of conservatives not breaking even in the face of extreme pressures. Fox News, which has ably pivoted from the loyal opposition to Obama to a network as noisily defensive as the president who now watches daily, is where one goes to push past unfavorable stories, to seed one’s own version of the facts. For Kavanaugh, now, that narrative is that he’s been through an ordeal in which it has been impossible to be heard — even as one of the most-watched cable networks in the country broadcast that story, unfiltered and unmediated by real questioning. No matter: Those whom Kavanaugh is counting on reaching will have seen it.

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