The Media Today

Brett Kavanaugh and where #MeToo reporting goes next

September 27, 2018

In the year since The New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Harvey Weinstein story that catalyzed the #MeToo movement, a pattern has emerged. Powerful men are credibly accused of sexual harassment or assault, suspensions are levied, investigations are launched, and many of those men lose their jobs. But only occasionally, as in Ronan Farrow’s reporting on CBS or Irin Carmon’s speech at the 2018 Mirror Awards, are the institutions and systems that prop up these abusers challenged directly.

At times over this period, journalists and observers have questioned what’s next for #MeToo, and how the press will address not just the individual actions of a handful of bad actors, but the society that allowed them to get away with their actions in the first place. Coverage of the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may have provided a window into what those next steps look like.

While Kavanaugh has categorically denied the claims by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, some of his supporters have argued that the judge’s behavior over the three decades since college should outweigh anything he did as a young man, even if the allegations are true. But the fact that the claims against Kavanaugh date to his time as a high school and college student, and are described as having occurred in front of other male friends, has allowed writers to move beyond the framework of an influential man at the height of his powers acting with impunity and preying on subordinates.

RELATED: Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer drop a Kavanaugh bombshell

“The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women,” writes Slate’s Lili Loofbourow in her examination of the allegations through the prism of male bonding. “In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience. In each story, the cruel and bizarre act the woman describes….seems to have been done in the clumsy and even manic pursuit of male approval.”

Recognizing, and reporting on, that “toxic homosociality” is one way for journalists to move beyond the scattershot coverage of individuals and to explore the culture that allowed, and in some cases encouraged, their behavior. As Jia Tolentino writes in The New Yorker: “Part of the reason the Kavanaugh news cycle has been such a flashpoint…is that it illuminates the centrality of sexual assault in the matrix of male power in America. In high schools, in colleges, at law schools, and in the halls of Washington, men perform for one another and ascend to positions of power. Watching it happen is a deadening reminder, for victims of sexual assault and harassment, that, in many cases, you were about as meaningful as a chess piece, one of a long procession of objects in the lifelong game that men play with other men.”

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On Thursday, the focus will be on a small room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and the concerns will be specific to one man’s behavior more than three decades ago. But the discussions launched by the allegations against Kavanaugh go to deeper questions about the society we’ve built. As the anniversary of the Weinstein reporting approaches, those questions provide one answer to where #MeToo goes next.

Below, more on the coverage of Kavanaugh, his accusers, and #MeToo.

  • Opening statements: Here are the prepared testimonies from Kavanaugh and Ford.
  • Gray areas: The next step for #MeToo is into the gray areas,” writes Jezebel’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd in a piece that touches on issues of emotional abuse, manipulation, and coercive sex.
  • A window to 1983: Kavanaugh’s high school years at Georgetown Prep have come under intense scrutiny, with his 1983 yearbook page serving as a primary source document. The New York Times’s Kate Kelly and David Enrich report on one entry on that page—a mention of a girl who attended another area high school—and how it exposes a culture of cruelty and performative masculinity.
  • Worth watching: If you haven’t seen Irin Carmon’s speech at the Mirror Awards, it’s vital viewing. She says, in part: “The stories that we’ve been doing are actually about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation. It has publicists; it has a perfectly reasonable explanation about what happened; it has powerful friends that will ask, ‘Is this really worth ruining the career of a good man?’…Indeed, the system is sitting in this room.”
  • Coverage plans: TV networks will all have special coverage of testimony by Kavanaugh and Ford. The details, per Politico’s Michael Calderone: “CBS (Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, John Dickerson and Jeff Glor), ABC (George Stephanopoulos and David Muir), NBC (Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Megyn Kelly, and Andrea Mitchell), MSNBC (Stephanie Ruhle and Brian Williams), Fox News (Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum), and CNN (Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper).


Other notable stories:

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Irin Carmon’s surname.

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