The Washington Post ran the campaign to keep Brett Kavanaugh off of the Supreme Court. Before they laundered and massaged Christine Blasey Ford’s unsubstantiated claim against then-Judge Kavanaugh, the paper had spent months trying to find other avenues to tear him down.
From the moment he accepted his nomination on July 9, 2018, the Washington Post was harshly critical. His invocation of his mother and other key women in his life was “remarkably political” according to senior political writer Aaron Blake’s initial write-up. On July 11, the Post broke the news that Brett Kavanaugh had bought group tickets for the Washington Nationals baseball games on his own credit card before being reimbursed by his friends. This launched efforts to crowd-source photos of Kavanaugh enjoying sporting events.
Some critics went after him for, and this is not a joke, refraining from putting toppings on his pizza. These attacks were considered so laughable that Twitter users began using the hashtag #KavanaughScandals. “He neglected to add the plus 4 zip codes on all his Christmas cards,” “Didn’t rewind a VHS before taking it back to Blockbuster,” and “Sources say that Kavanaugh once failed to turn off his brights for an oncoming vehicle.” The Onion ran an article headlined “Kavanaugh Nomination Falters after Washington Post Publishes Shocking Editorial Claiming He Forgot Daughter’s Piano Recital.”
The Washington Post has continued to lean into its role of fighting Republican judicial nominees with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Emma Brown, the same reporter who was used to filter the Blasey Ford allegations and massage their many problems, was put on the anti-Coney Barrett beat. Her 2,500-word critique of Coney Barrett’s religious community landed with a thud, treated as the bigotry it was instead of real journalism.
A follow-up attack of Coney Barrett’s children also failed to launch. Beth Reinhard and her editors published a piece with a headline that suggested the Coney Barrett children had spread COVID-19 within their school. In fact, the children had tested negative and had no ties to the two children at the school testing positive. For some reason, Reinhard tweeted out the White House’s response to her attack on underage children, a response that all sane Americans agreed with:
Presumably, if the past is prologue, the Post is preparing for its participation in a last-minute attack on Coney Barrett once her hearings have concluded. In the meantime, we’re left with Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic.
Two of Givhan’s pieces were so vile and hateful that I actually remember them. The first was so bad that it may have contributed to my becoming a media critic. It was November 18, 2000. I was at Jimmy T’s diner in Washington, D.C., reading a histrionic attack on Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris that was so bad that I went back up to the top and looked at who wrote it: Robin Givhan.
The piece was such an embarrassment to the Washington Post that its own ombudsman Michael Getler wrote that “Ms. Givhan’s treatment of Ms. Harris, in the view of many Washington Post readers — including the ombudsman — was a classic example of the arrogance of journalists that undermines people’s confidence in the media.”
Givhan was so overcome by her hatred of George W. Bush that she wrote, “At this moment that so desperately needs diplomacy, understatement and calm, one wonders how this Republican woman, who can’t even use restraint when she’s wielding a mascara wand, will manage to use it and make sound decisions in this game of partisan one-upmanship.” She added, “Her skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of pre-war walls … (S)he looked as if she were wearing a mask … The American public doesn’t like falsehoods, and Harris is clearly presenting herself in a fake manner … Why should anyone trust her?”
Other journalists noted Givhan’s hatred as well. James Pinkerton in the Los Angeles Times wrote:
But by far the fiercest attack on Harris came from the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, a fashion writer, who was moved to this flight of misogyny last week: ‘Her lips were overdrawn with berry-red lipstick–the creamy sort that smears all over a coffee cup and leaves smudges on shirt collars. Her skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of prewar walls in need of a skim coat. And her eyes, rimmed in liner and frosted with blue shadow, bore the telltale homogenous spikes of false eyelashes. Caterpillars seemed to rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid.’
Pinkerton said Givhan’s “ultimate purpose” was to “delegitimize Harris as an electoral arbiter.”
Which brings us to the second piece, Givhan’s attack on one Supreme Court nominee’s children. Givhan viciously mocked the seer-sucker short-suit and yellow dress worn by Chief Justice John Roberts’ son and daughter. She kept saying she meant to attack their clothing, and not the children, but her effort was a failure, describing Roberts’ wife and children as looking “like a trio of Easter eggs, a handful of Jelly Bellies, three little Necco wafers.” The piece was headlined “An Image A Little Too Carefully Coordinated,” and said that “the Roberts family went too far” and had failed to dress in “commonly accepted styles of this century.”
Reasonable people were horrified and Givhan won the Pulitzer the following year for her partisan and anti-child invective.
So it was completely unsurprising that Givhan attacked Amy Coney Barrett’s children Monday. “Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has seven kids. And don’t you dare forget it,” her piece was headline. The hearing was “child-obsessed,” she claimed, mocking the kind remarks she received from senators for her lovely family. She wrote:
This feat of parenting seemed to leave them gobsmacked with admiration and utterly mystified as to how a two-parent household with significant financial resources was capable of wrangling such a large brood without the missus showing up with oatmeal on her clothes. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) couldn’t contain himself from acknowledging that not only did Barrett have a big family of her own, but she also was the product of one, just like him. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was impressed by her kids’ good behavior and said he was hoping for parenting tips.
Givhan used her column for some handy personal therapy that in no way suggested she felt personally empty and sad, writing:
The many references to Barrett’s children were a not-so-subtle pronouncement that her prolific motherhood was especially good and admirable and a sign that she was not shirking her womanly duty while she was unleashing her ambition. Barrett had it all — on terms that were acceptable to social conservatives.
She later opined, falsely, that “To hear the Republicans tell it, children are Barrett’s most distinguished qualifications. Fatherhood on a potential justice’s curriculum vitae has not elicited a similarly boastful torrent.”
In fact, when Antonin Scalia sat for his confirmation hearings, his fatherhood of nine children was commonly remarked upon. Republican Chairman Strom Thurmond mentioned the children in his opening statement on the hearings. Sen. Howell Heflin, a Democrat from Alabama, remarked, “I also am delighted to welcome your wife and your nine children. Looking at the number of your children, it appears that you have had much experience in working with groups of nine.” Sen. John Warner of Virginia said Scalia “has the ability to successfully manage, together with his lovely wife, a family of nine children. That indicates something about his temperament as a future Justice of the Supreme Court.” Sen. Howard Metzenbaum mentioned them, adding that he didn’t think the poor children needed to “sit through these laborious, tedious hearings” since it is a “rather tiring process for young children.” Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is still on the committee today, said the children had the best of both worlds — an Italian father and an Irish mother. He also offered his office for a place the children could rest so they didn’t have to sit through the hearings.
Givhan went on to get upset at people in any way discussing Barrett’s two adopted children. She got upset that one Republican senator had the audacity to remind the world of Democrats’ behavior against Brett Kavanaugh. And then, finally, the fashion critic got to the fashion. She noted that Coney Barrett wore “a non-wrinkling dress in a jubilant shade of magenta.” And then she sneered that Barrett had mentioned she’d be the first Supreme Court justice to be a mother of school-age children.
Compared to the Daily Beast’s meltdown over the dress, Givhan’s lack of discussion was fine.
The Daily Beast’s Alaina Demopoulos was an emotional wreck as she tried to balance her genuine love of Coney Barrett’s look with her hatred of the woman and all those who don’t share her political goals. She admitted that the dress “looked sensible, practical, and stoically feminine” and was pretty and “even stylish by D.C.’s standards.” The “deep pink color of Barrett’s might not be youthful, exactly, but there is some life to it—underscoring her relatively young age” and “made a statement.” It “stood out in a room full of anodyne blue and black suits; it spoke of soft prettiness when the proceedings are about the very opposite. Her outfit radiates a maternal warmth, an easy comfort. It hides her staunchly right-wing record.”
Demopoulos said “the dress labored overtime to quell certain fears. How could anyone who looks this safe be a threat?” but that she was “outfitted as the caricature of a mother, or at least the right’s archetype of one.” Demopoulos veered all over the place as she struggled to explain how someone she viewed as so evil could look that good.
In any case, in the sane parts of the universe, Coney Barrett looked beautiful for her first day of the hearing. She wore a forceful but feminine dress that was well suited for an introduction of who she is as a person.
Judge Barrett was shaped by Justice Antonin Scalia's straightforward judicial philosophy: "A judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were." pic.twitter.com/EfhwNVuDhI
— The White House 45 Archived (@WhiteHouse45) October 13, 2020
A quick shout out to the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty who managed to note the beautiful dress in about as neutral a way as possible. Journalist Autumn Brennington also discussed the outfit in a neutral and appropriate way, highlighting that the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton also wears the same designer.
The second day of the hearing, in which more substantive questions were asked, featured a more serious suit with a jacket, also appropriate to the moment.
This answer from Amy Coney Barrett about how it feels to be nominated to the Supreme Court is incredible. It’s very sad and weighty, but also incredible. What a patriot and public servant. Outstanding. pic.twitter.com/QJX0wjcLuT
— Denny Burk (@DennyBurk) October 13, 2020
In any case, while the country waits to see what the Washington Post has up its sleeve to help Democrats’ attempts to derail Coney Barrett’s confirmation, let’s keep Givhan away from Coney Barrett’s children.