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Journalistic ethics 101 with Pogrebin and Kelly

Controversial Times reporters discuss new Kavanaugh book

September 19, 2019

7:02 PM

19 September 2019

7:02 PM

In Cockburn’s grubby corner of the journalism world, New York Times writers Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly are at the center of a serious controversy. To promote their new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, the two journalists had an excerpt published in the Times featuring a new sexual assault allegation against Justice Kavanaugh. Unfortunately for Pogrebin and Kelly, the excerpt failed to mention that the alleged victim does not recall the assault. While the New York Times has been criticized for its journalistic malpractice, it seems only fair to hear about the new book from the authors themselves.

On Wednesday night, Cockburn slinked into the prestigious National Press Club to see the two authors discuss their new book. Entering the venue, Cockburn was startled by the size of the crowd, which eagerly awaited the entrance of the two esteemed authors. There was a certain electricity in the air, like the anticipation for a game of Friday night bingo.

Soon after, Pogrebin and Kelly entered the room to much applause and sat with their interviewer, NPC president Alison Kodjak. Toward the beginning, the two authors explained their unique positions for writing the book. Pogrebin, who went to college with Justice Kavanaugh, noted, ‘I was in Brett’s class at Yale, we were both class of ’87…and have sort of social circles that overlapped, somewhat.’ When the sexual assault allegations started to emerge last year, ‘Yalies were talking’ and Pogrebin was privy to rumors about her former classmate.

While Cockburn was in awe of this exclusive network of Yale alumni gossip, Kelly, a DC native, established her own credentials: ‘I was National Cathedral School class of ’93 so…I was part of the independent — well in the case of NCS and Georgetown Prep — single-sex school scene.’ With knowledge that Kelly moved in the same DC prep school scene as Justice Kavanaugh 10 years after he graduated, and that Pogrebin attended the same college as the Justice, Cockburn was assured of their epistemic advantage.

During the discussion, Kelly and Pogrebin addressed the new sexual assault allegation revealed in their book. While the alleged victim declined to speak about the allegation, and ‘friends of hers have said that she does not recall the incident,’ Kelly theorized that ‘maybe because, from what we understand, pretty much everyone — well she and others at the party — were intoxicated or under the influence.’ Kelly had to be careful with her language here: the source of the allegation, Max Stier, claims he was in the room when the assault took place. Maybe everyone in the room, including the victim, blacked out while the former Clinton defense attorney remembered the sequence of events.

The National Press Club auditorium

Eventually, Pogrebin and Kelly limped through an explanation of their now-infamous New York Times piece, (they ‘really regret the omission and the concern that has been caused’) and pivoted to a real bombshell: Justice Kavanaugh agreed to speak with the two writers, but he ‘wanted us to say we hadn’t spoken to him’ in the book. Pogrebin, who you will recall, went to Yale with Justice Kavanaugh, laid out their convictions: ‘To mislead our readers in a book about — that very much deals with issues of truth — probably not a good foot forward.’

Cockburn commends Pogrebin and Kelly, who know nothing about misleading their readers, for their ethical clarity.

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