The New York Times published an essay in this weekend’s Sunday Review about the culture at Yale when Brett M. Kavanaugh, who now sits on the Supreme Court, was an undergraduate in the 1980s. The piece, which contained a third allegation of sexual misconduct against Justice Kavanaugh, led to questions from readers regarding the reporting behind the latest accusation and how The Times presented the information.
We asked James Dao, deputy editorial page editor for The Times, to answer a selection of questions based on reader feedback about the piece, which is an adaptation from a forthcoming book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,” by two Times reporters, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly.
Please share additional questions you may have in the comments section.
Appearing in Sunday Review
Many readers are asking about the placement of the essay. Why did a newsy book adaptation appear in Sunday Review, which is part of The Times’s Opinion desk? And why did it carry the label “news analysis?”
DAO: The Sunday Review is the Opinion section’s platform for longer essays as well as excerpts or adaptations from books. Sometimes those books are by Times writers, whose submissions go through the same review process as outside writers. In recent months, the Review has published essays adapted from books by Times news writers like Carl Hulse and Jason DeParle, and opinion writers like Bari Weiss and Binyamin Appelbaum.
It is also not unusual for essays in the Review to break news. This was the case, for example, when our columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a long piece based on an exclusive interview with Uma Thurman about her experiences with Harvey Weinstein.
As for “news analysis”: That is the label we attach to pieces by Times news reporters to underscore that they are not part of the Opinion section.
Separate news article
Once The Times decided to run the essay in Sunday Review, why wasn’t there an accompanying news article on the new accusation against Mr. Kavanaugh and the additional details related to Deborah Ramirez’s allegation?
DAO: The Times’s News and Opinion departments are separate operations that make decisions independently. In this case, the news department did decide to run a news article about the Sunday Review essay following its publication. That piece described the new information in the essay and public reaction to it, including criticism.
Focus on Yale culture
Why was the essay centered around the culture at Yale rather than the latest accusation against Justice Kavanaugh?
DAO: The essay is a reflection of the book it was drawn from, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh.” That book, the fruit of nearly a year of research by the authors, explores in a nuanced way the social and cultural forces that shaped Justice Kavanaugh. The Sunday Review essay focused on his time at Yale, when a fellow student, Deborah Ramirez, says he thrust his penis at her during a dorm party. (Justice Kavanaugh has denied the incident occurred.)
The authors’ intent in describing the demographic and cultural changes occurring at Yale then was to provide important context for understanding both Justice Kavanaugh and Ms. Ramirez.
The essay included new information that illuminated the authors’ broader narrative and bolstered their conclusion that, even though Senate investigators concluded her account lacked corroboration, Ms. Ramirez’s claims were in fact credible.
Strength of the accusation
Some readers have argued that the latest accusation against Mr. Kavanaugh was too weak to appear in The Times. Given that the woman who was said to be involved in the incident refused to be interviewed, and her friends have said she doesn’t remember what happened, why did you include that accusation in the essay?
DAO: The essay included a previously unreported claim that friends pushed Mr. Kavanaugh’s penis into the hand of a female Yale student during a dorm party with drunken classmates. During the authors’ investigation, they learned that a classmate, Max Stier, witnessed the event and later reported it to senators and to the F.B.I. The authors corroborated his story with two government officials, who said they found it credible. Based on that corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted.
The Times has since deleted and apologized for an offensive tweet that published with this essay from the Opinion desk’s Twitter account. Can you say anything more about how such an inappropriate tweet went out, and what, if anything, is being done to prevent that from happening again?
DAO: The Opinion section, like other parts of The Times, has a process for writing and editing social media copy. In this case, the process was not followed properly, resulting in a tweet that fell well below our standards. The department is reviewing with everyone involved — including me — what went wrong to determine how we can avoid similar mistakes.
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