In a surprising move Tuesday, the Washington Post published a story that corroborated a particularly contentious claim Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh made during his Monday Fox News interview. Unfortunately for them, that was mostly by accident.
First it's worth revisiting what Kavanaugh actually said about drinking to the point of blacking out in the Fox interview:
HOST MARTHA MACCALLUM: Sir, you are going to be pressed on something that you just said about people do things in high school, and you were all drinking, were there times when perhaps you drank so much — was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened the night before?
KAVANAUGH: No, that never happened.
MACCALLUM: You never said to anyone, "I don’t remember anything about last night"?
KAVANAUGH: No, that did not happen.
The bolded part is what's important here. It's exceedingly obvious that Kavanaugh denied drinking to the point blacking out in high school. But in the WaPo piece, they attempt to rebut that notion by citing several people who spoke on the record that Kavanaugh drank to excess … at Yale.
On Monday night, Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh said in a nationally televised interview that in his younger years, he was focused on sports, academics and "service projects." But it was his comments about drinking that rankled some Yale University classmates, prompting them to speak out for the first time.
Liz Swisher, who described herself as a friend of Kavanaugh in college, said she was shocked that — in an interview focused largely on his high school years and allegations of sexual misconduct — he strongly denied drinking to the point of blacking out.
"Brett was a sloppy drunk, and I know because I drank with him. I watched him drink more than a lot of people. He’d end up slurring his words, stumbling," said Swisher, a Democrat and chief of the gynecologic oncology division at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "There’s no medical way I can say that he was blacked out. . . . But it’s not credible for him to say that he has had no memory lapses in the nights that he drank to excess."
Notice again what I've bolded. It is true that in an interview about "his younger days" and "focused largely on his high school years," Kavanaugh "strongly denied drinking to the point of blacking out." But that obfuscates what actually happened, that Kavanaugh was specifically asked about blacking out in high school and denied it. That fun use of wordplay allows WaPo to present accounts of Kavanaugh blacking out in college as though they contradict his Fox interview, when they do not.
WaPo interviewed two other people who saw Kavanaugh black-out drunk (or close enough to it) in college, also presenting it as contrary to Kavanaugh's interview. They uncritically repeat of their witnesses' characterization of Kavanaugh's comments in the Fox interview as a "lie": "He’s trying to paint himself as some kind of choir boy," said the roommate of Kavanaugh's accuser. "You can’t lie your way onto the Supreme Court, and with that statement out, he’s gone too far. It’s about the integrity of that institution."
So when it finally comes time to actually share what Kavanaugh said during his interview, this is how WaPo summarizes it.
Kavanaugh described his younger self as a churchgoer who indulged in some beer-drinking — but never to the point of blacking out.
At one point, after he acknowledged that "people" do things in high school that later cause them to "regret or cringe," Fox host Martha MacCallum asked: "Were there times when perhaps you drank so much — was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened the night before?"
"No, that never happened," Kavanaugh said.
MacCallum asked again: "You never said to anyone, ‘I don’t remember anything about last night.’ "
"No, that did not happen," Kavanaugh said.
Again, this is all factually true. But it summarizes the exchange in a way that—coincidentally, I'm sure!—omits context that demolishes the value of WaPo‘s scoop. Kavanaugh did not simply deny that his "younger self" indulged in beer-drinking but never blacked out, he said that about his high school self. MacCallum didn't just ask about blacking out "after [Kavanaugh] acknowledged that ‘people' do things in high school," she specifically prefaced the question to make it clear she was asking his high school days. WaPo is adding vagueness to an exchange where there was none.
The sad part is, as I allude to above, WaPo talked to only one witness who could speak to the veracity of Kavanaugh's claim he never blacked out in high school… and he defended him. "Drinking was prevalent in high school, but some guys handled it better than others, and Brett always maintained his composure," said Kavanaugh friend Tom Kane. "He was not a stumbling drunk. He was never all that interested in getting wasted."
They also quote two of Kavanaugh's college friends who say that he never drank to the point of blacking out—including, funnily enough, former NBA star Chris Dudley. So it's not like WaPo even had convincing proof debunking the thing Kavanaugh never claimed was true. But hey, other than that, the story was accurate.