Kavanaugh hearings launch the 2020 campaign circus

As Brett Kavanaugh prepared to sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his confirmation looked inevitable. After three days of testimony, that consensus still holds. Coverage of Kavanaugh’s hearings, focused largely on the theatrics of Democratic objections, have told less about the future of the Supreme Court than the presidential election to come in 2020.

“There is no time like a stately, nationally televised Supreme Court nomination hearing to grab the attention of the news media and amass valuable footage for future campaign commercials,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in The New York Times. Democratic Senators Kamala Harris (CA), Cory Booker (NJ), and Amy Klobuchar (MN), all judiciary committee members and potential presidential candidates, have seized upon the opportunity to question Kavanaugh before a national audience. “The hearings have been something like a campaign audition, not to mention the criticism that goes along with it,” Stolberg added.

RELATED: Reporters should out Kavanaugh

Question, here, is a loose term, given the speechmaking that has often superseded queries to Kavanaugh. Harris and Booker have been especially confrontational, making the most of their airtime. On Wednesday evening, Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he had discussed the Robert Mueller investigation with anyone working for a law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s personal lawyer. A C-Span clip of the exchange has been viewed more than 6 million times on Twitter. On Thursday, before questions started, Booker dramatically announced that he would be releasing secret emails from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush Administration, even if it resulted in his expulsion from the Senate. “This is about the closest I’ll ever come in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” Booker said. Reports later in the day revealed that the emails to which Booker referred had been cleared for public release the night before; Booker was coy about whether he knew that to be the case.

The forceful resistance to Kavanaugh makes for good television, but it doesn’t appear to be changing minds in the Senate. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority. Maine Senator Susan Collins, viewed by many as the Democrats’ best hope, still seems solidly in favor of confirmation.  But as in presidential contests, the press (and its audience) is drawn to drama, and if the vote won’t provide it, Democratic senators seem happy to fill the stage.

Below, more on the Kavanaugh coverage.

  • Eyes on 2020: The 2020 presidential campaign came roaring into Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings this week,” writes The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan in his recap of Thursday’s session. “The jockeying by [Harris and Booker] came amid a clamor by a liberal base demanding resistance to Trump’s agenda and nominees at all costs and under a glaring national spotlight exposing every stumble.”
  • Drowned out: Lis Power, of Media Matters, reports that “White House chaos is overshadowing broadcast news coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.” Since the end of the first day of hearings, network broadcasts have spent far more time on Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House and the anonymous NYT opinion piece than on Kavanaugh coverage.
  • Going “nuclear”: “It was kitchen-sink day at the Senate Judiciary Committee, and from the beginning Democrats seemed intent on demonstrating that they were going big,” write The Daily Beast’s Jackie Kucinich and Andrew Desiderio of Thursday’s hearing. “If that meant some theater was necessary, so be it.
  • Real questions: The documents covering Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House raise legitimate questions about Kavanaugh’s views on abortion rights, affirmative action, and executive power, write the Times’s Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. But the disclosure of some of those documents, they write, “did not appear to set off a revolt among the Republicans who control the Senate, meaning that Judge Kavanaugh still appears very likely to be confirmed.”
Sign up for CJR's daily email

 

Other notable stories:

  • Afghan reporter Samim Faramarz and cameraman Ramiz Ahmady were killed on live television as they reported from the scene of a suicide bombing in Kabul, reports The New York Times. The two ToloNews journalists had rushed to the scene of an attack and were broadcasting their report as a second bomb detonated, severing their connection. Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of ToloNews, told the Times, “We found their bodies in the exact same place we found the bodies of our other colleagues two years ago.”
  • After facing weeks of pressure from journalists and the public, Twitter permanently suspended the accounts of Alex Jones and Infowars. The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani has the details, and reports that the final straw was a video posted to Twitter featuring Jones berating CNN reporter Oliver Darcy on Wednesday.
  • Writing for CJR, Alexandra Ellerbeck and Avi Asher-Schapiro, of the the Committee to Protect Journalists, report that journalists have struggled to report on a nationwide prison strike because of restrictions on access to prisoners.
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will appears on the cover of Time magazine, marking the first time that the Democratic lawmaker has made the cover of a national newsmagazine. The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty argues that it’s about time.
  • In an interview with Fox News’s Pete Hegseth last night, President Trump accused The New York Times of committing “virtually, treason” by printing an anonymous opinion piece from an administration official. Over a dozen senior figures stated publicly that they did not write it, and The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes that the Times’s decision to publish the piece was “a quagmire of weirdness: fraught with issues of journalistic ethics and possibly even legal concerns.” Meanwhile, CNN’s Tom Kludt reports that not all of the Times’s competitors would have made the same choice.
  • For CJR, Casey Kelly profiles Reade Brower, the man behind Maine’s unparalleled consolidation of local news. Brower owns six of the state’s seven daily newspapers and 21 of just more than 30 weeklies, “a degree of newspaper consolidation unmatched in any other state.”

ICYMI: Why did The New York Times grant anonymity to the op-ed writer?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.