A New York Times article scrutinizing inside jokes in the 1983 yearbook of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Preparatory School hid multiple problems with its claims, including that it was sourced to a rabidly anti-Trump politician in Maryland and his associate.
The article reveals inside jokes about a friend of Kavanaugh and his classmates named Renate Schroeder Dolphin. The classmates are featured in a picture with a caption “Renate Alumnius,” which the Times’ named and anonymous sources argue is bragging about sex. The classmates strenuously insist that the reference was nothing of the kind and that none of the men had sexual relations with the friend. They say that they attended each other’s dances and prep school functions and maintained the friendship throughout the next several decades.
The original article published online on Monday night was quickly scrubbed of a reference to a “Mr. Madaleno.” The Times uses full names on first references to sources and titles on second references, though it was the first time his name was mentioned in the article. The claim of sexual braggadocio is sourced earlier in the article to one named and one anonymous individual who claims to fear retribution. NewsDiffs, a site that tracks changes to articles at the New York Times, caught the rapid deletion of his name. Reporters Kate Kelly and David Enrich did not explain why it was removed.
Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Prep, is a state senator in Maryland who recently lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. He garnered headlines for a campaign ad that featured him kissing his male spouse as a rebuke of Trump. The 30-second spot has him telling viewers he seeks to “deliver progressive results and stand up to Donald Trump” before listing things he’s done “that already infuriate” Trump.
As he announces his progressive results — protecting the country’s largest abortion corporation, fighting gun rights, and opposing vouchers for schools — people he’s pictured with say “Take that, Trump!” Madaleno ends with a video of him and his partner Mark Hodge. “What’s the number one way I piss off Donald Trump and the Republicans?” Madaleno asks. After kissing his partner, he says “Take that, Trump!” The Madaleno campaign said it hoped Trump himself would view the ad and that it would set him off.
Another source for the article, Georgetown Prep classmate William Fishburne, was a campaign surrogate for Madaleno. He implored classmates to vote in the June 26 primary. The “staunch liberal” finished fifth in a crowded primary.
Sean Hagan condemned the jokes that were printed in the yearbook, although his yearbook entry says he was an editor at the yearbook, a job that was not mentioned in the article. Hagan is friends on Facebook with Richard Madaleno and his “likes” include Anti-Trump Army and Bernie Sanders:
Hagan and a source who supposedly “requested anonymity because he fears retribution” said that the the inside jokes were bragging about sexual conquests with the female student. Kavanaugh and several of his classmates denied the charge. Several of the men say sources the Times used weren’t close enough to the group to speak knowledgeably about their jokes.
The last line of the article is “[Dolphin] and a second friend of Ms. Dolphin’s denied that there was any sexual contact between Ms. Dolphin and Judge Kavanaugh or anyone else in his circle.” A similar denial was the first line of a statement to the New York Times from some of the men mentioned in the article, but it was not printed. It began, “None of us has ever taken part in any kind of verbal conduct or physical actions described by the Times and never bragged about or suggested any such thing.”
The Times, which allowed anonymous sources to make the claim of sexual bragging that forms the basis of the story, would not allow anonymous sources to dispute that claim or defend the group of classmates.
When a reporter from the New York Times called one of the men a few days ago, the reporter said, “I understand that you and other friends used to brag about having had sex with” Dolphin and that a story saying as much was about to be published. It is unclear whether the reporter made similar presentations to Dolphin to elicit comments from her. The friends’ claims to the contrary, including denials of any sexual contact, were downplayed or ignored by the New York Times.
“The New York Times’ callous treatment of the yearbook references to our friend have now destroyed relationships that span four decades. These friendships can’t be recovered and will never be replaced. The anguish caused to our friend is immeasurable; the loss of her trust and respect is devastating,” said one member of the group portrayed by the article, who requested anonymity both because he worries about causing further distress and for fear the New York Times will continue to target him.