NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s political divide and the burgeoning #MeToo movement played out in a riveting daytime drama Thursday before millions of Americans who tuned in to the Capitol Hill hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Raw fury, tears, sex, alcohol, power and partisanship — it was all on display.
California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, acknowledging she was “terrified” to be on stage, told the Senate Judiciary Committee of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were in high school. Kavanaugh, getting choked up at times, angrily denied the accusation and denounced the process as “a national disgrace.”
The proceedings were shown all day on the nation’s major TV networks, starting with Ford’s unwavering account in the morning and Kavanaugh’s equally emphatic response in the afternoon.
It was a whiplash-inducing spectacle for television commentators, who went from practically burying Kavanaugh during the lunch break to reviving him later in the day.
Nowhere was that more clear than on Fox News Channel, where Chris Wallace at one point called Ford’s testimony “a disaster for the Republicans.” His colleague Brit Hume said that “the more hesitant, the more fragile she has seemed, the more credible and powerful she seems to the audience.”
That was significant since Fox is the preferred network of Kavanaugh’s supporters, including President Donald Trump.
Similarly, ABC’s Dan Abrams said Ford’s testimony was an “unmitigated disaster” for Republicans, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer suggested people were crying at home, and 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.
Yet the relief was visible at Fox following Kavanaugh’s forceful and often combative appearance, and a message of support tweeted by the president. Hume liked how Kavanaugh fought back.
“I don’t think it diminishes his credibility one bit,” Hume said. “I think it enhances his credibility.”
Fox’s Andrew Napolitano said in the morning that Ford was “exceptionally credible.” After Kavanaugh talked, he said that even people who opposed him had been moved by his defense.
Analysts said the Republicans had been 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 given just five minutes at a time to ask questions before she had to yield to a Democratic senator. Some commentators were baffled by what points she was trying to make, such as establishing Ford’s fear of flying.
During the afternoon session with Kavanaugh, Mitchell was shunted aside, and the gloves came off. The visuals the Republicans had feared — male senators attacking a woman who was talking about a sexual assault — were no longer applicable.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham furiously attacked the Democrats on the panel, denounced the process as a “sham” and called Kavanaugh’s treatment “the most despicable thing I have ever seen in politics.” Other Republican senators followed Graham’s lead in supporting Kavanaugh.
Graham “may have just done more than a Trump rally to rally the base,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.
Meanwhile, C-SPAN took calls from viewer during breaks in the testimony, and at times it seemed like an impromptu therapy group. At least seven callers told their own stories of being victims of sexual assault.
After a day where Ford said she was “100 percent” sure that Kavanaugh had attacked her and Kavanaugh gave the exact same percentage of certainty that he hadn’t done it, there was some question about whether any minds had been changed where it counted, in the Senate.
“I expected it to be a day where we had nothing but losers,” Wallace said. “And, in a way, we did.”
Fox News said late Thursday that it had fired one of its contributors, Kevin Jackson, because he referred to Kavanaugh’s accusers on Twitter as “lying skanks.”
Also, 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.
Associated Press reporters Catherine Lucey and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this story.