Kavanaugh hearing makes for riveting TV

David Bauder
Associated Press

New York – The nation’s political divide and the burgeoning #MeToo movement played out in a riveting daytime drama Thursday before millions of Americans watching the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Anger, tears, sex, power – it was all on display.

California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, acknowledging she was “terrified” to be on stage, told of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at a high school party. Hours later, Kavanaugh, getting choked up at times, indignantly denied the accusations and denounced a process he called “a national disgrace.”

“Just as you could feel emotional with her, you could feel emotional with him,” said CNN’s Gloria Borger of the event, shown all day by the nation’s major networks.

Many TV commentators suggested Ford’s testimony was particularly compelling. Perhaps most significantly, some of them were on Fox News Channel, where Chris Wallace called it “a disaster for the Republicans.” That’s the network President Trump tuned to for the coverage and whose opinion hosts have been most vociferous in backing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Wallace said that there has been a lot of talk in the country about the allegations and that two of his daughters had recently told him stories about things that had happened to them in high school that they had never told their parents before. Disregarding Ford would be a big mistake, he said.

Wallace’s Fox News colleague Brit Hume observed: “The more hesitant, the more fragile she has seemed, the more credible and powerful she seems to the audience.”

Yet after Kavanaugh appeared, Hume liked how he fought back.

“I don’t think it diminishes his credibility one bit,” Hume said later. “I think it enhances his credibility.”

Kavanaugh’s partisan attack was matched by Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who denounced the process as a “sham.”

“He may have just done more than a Trump rally to rally the base,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.

The raw fury changed the tone from the morning, where ABC’s Dan Abrams said Ford’s testimony was an “unmitigated disaster” for Republicans. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer suggested people watching in their homes were crying as they listened to her story. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie said Ford’s description of Kavanaugh and a friend of his laughing uproariously during the alleged attack is a moment that will resonate with many Americans.

Analysts said the Republicans were harmed by Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor brought in by the all-male GOP members of the Senate panel to question Ford.

Mitchell was constrained by the hearing’s format, where she was given five minutes at a time to ask questions before she had to yield to a Democratic senator who heaped praise on Ford. Others were baffled by what points she was trying to make, such as establishing that Ford’s fear of flying hadn’t prevented her from getting on an airplane.

On the Fox Business Network, Stuart Varney appeared frustrated by Mitchell and said Ford was perhaps ruining Kavanaugh’s career and undermining the integrity of the Supreme Court.

“Why can’t that person be questioned vigorously?” Varney said. “Why do we have to step back and with absolute maximum caution have her interviewed by another woman?”

Despite the sympathy for Ford, some urged caution. NBC’s Megyn Kelly said that while some may empathize with her, it doesn’t necessarily mean she was attacked by Kavanaugh. And she wondered whether Kavanaugh’s exemplary life since high school should be taken into account.

A former prosecutor interviewed on Fox Business Network, Sidney Powell, said she did not find Ford credible.

“She was far from being raped,” she said. “She hasn’t even alleged that any body part was exposed. … It was all a fumbled attempt to make out with a girl at a party.”

Meanwhile, C-SPAN took phone calls from viewer during breaks in the testimony, and at times it seemed like an impromptu therapy group. At least four callers told their own stories of being victims of sexual assault.

Also on Thursday, The New York Times deleted and apologized for a tweet that asked readers to vote on whether they thought Ford’s testimony credible. “In retrospect, a Twitter poll is insensitive in light of the gravity of the hearing,” the newspaper said.