There are watershed moments in history. They also happen in media. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual harassment against Brett Kavanaugh in the context of his nomination as a Supreme Court judge in the US provides one of those moments.
That Dr Blasey Ford, an eminent psychologist and a Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto as well as a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, was made to appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee in full view of television viewers not only in America but across the world was bad enough. She was also made to repeat in detail what actually happened during the sexual assault in 1982 and questioned and cross questioned by a female prosecutor on behalf of the all white male senate Republicans in the committee while the minority Democrats in the Senate committee could question her every five minutes in between. It is harrowing for anyone to relive a trauma and to do so in a very public setting must have taken Dr Ford immense courage particularly when she had, initially, tried to keep her allegation confidential.
The only reason Dr Ford reported the incident to the political representatives in her area was to make the government aware that it was nominating someone to high office for life who has a background of excessive drinking and sexual misconduct. She says she had hoped that this would lead to an investigation before the nomination of Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge. She had originally made the disclosure at a time when his name was in consideration with others for the post. Had the investigation been done then the situation may not have snowballed. Dr Ford considered it her civic duty to stop an error in nominating someone to such a high office for life.
Brett Kavanaugh, in his deposition, resorted to theatrics and a strong denial of having committed such a base act. He spoke of its effect on his family and the loss of reputation. He cried and thundered and often dodged answers. He also refused to be drawn into answering some of the questions by the Democratic senators and, instead, counter-questioned them. There was arrogance, bravado and self-pity on his part though the conservative Republicans remained adamant that Kavanaugh’s testimony showed he was the victim and that he was telling the truth. They thought Dr Ford was a nice woman but not worthy of being respected for her action because she should have reported the assault years ago. After all Brett Kavanaugh was an honourable man!
Had Christine Blasey Ford decided to keep the incident in the dark and hide behind her trauma she wouldn’t have had to face the public, the doubts cast on her, the threats to her for speaking out, relocate for safety, hire security and many more endless, thankless issues. The patriarchal men in the Senate would not have condescendingly called her a nice woman while they strongly backed her alleged assaulter. Yet she finally agreed to come out and face the Senate in a situation where instead of being the victim of sexual assault she was made to feel like an accuser and Brett Kavanaugh the victim. Her courage, her attempt to answer all questions sincerely and truthfully, her voice, attitude, the prosecutor’s questions, the Democrat Senators’ questions and statements, the optics of the all white all male Republicans in the Senate judiciary committee and their expressions – all made for riveting television.
The newspeople, the individuals in their homes or at work in many parts of the world stayed glued to the television sets. Then there was the camera that caught Senator Jeff Flake trying to get into the elevator and women from the public telling him about their own sexual assault experiences and urging him not to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. ‘Look at me’, said one of them to force him to see her and her anguish. A trapped Flake looked agitated, embarrassed, troubled. He went back to the hearing and then went out for bipartisan consultation. As the Senators, the government, the viewers waited anxiously to know when the voting would be held and what its result would be (although they knew what it was going to be since conservatives would vote conservatives; and hadn’t Jeff Flake already said he was going to vote for Kavanaugh?) the television commentators and reporters started to smell something. Jon Sopel of BBC said it was unusual and something was definitely cooking. Was there going to be a change of heart?
Meanwhile one of the camera’s of MSNBC had been recording the expression on Senator Flake’s face while he listened to the statements of his fellow Republicans and that of the Democratic Party Senator Christopher Coons who was appalled that this was going through without even a semblance of investigation. The expression was pained, worried and somehow he couldn’t look anyone in the eye. What was he worrying about? He had already declared his intention to vote for Kavanaugh. He let go of his chance to make a statement while his fellow partymen spoke in turn. He got up and while going out gestured Senator Coons to follow him. His absence made the other Republicans uncomfortable and none too happy. It showed on their faces and in the palpable tension in the room.
When Flake returned to the chamber he continued to look troubled but more determined and soon we knew why. He requested a delay to the confirmation and allowed a week in which the FBI could make a proper investigation into the allegation. After all the witnesses had refused to depose and there were two other women who had also made allegations of sexual impropriety against Kavanaugh.
All this was on camera – a reality thriller of would they or wouldn’t they. All this was on social media – on Facebook, Twitter, everywhere. There were ‘live’ videos being streamed, ‘live’ commentaries, ‘live’ comments from the who’s who and those who are not who’s who. Twitter was on fire.
In a volatile, populist, divided world of fake news, lies and constant political one upmanship we have become used to watching and reading completely divided and divisive opinion. So suddenly here was this one event that united all media to watch and comment. This was NEWS and this was how journalism ought to be!
We don’t yet know what the result of the FBI investigation would be…. probably a decision on expected lines but, the fact that for one day media channels could unite and focus on the most topical news of the day, report it, analyse it and put it up the way real news ought to, proved that this was a moment to remember. A moment to remember for the victims of sexual assault, for the history of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, for the Americans, for the world. Bravo Dr Ford! Bravo news media!