In the days since Christine Blasey Ford came forward to allege that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her, her case has been surrounded by rumors, conspiracy theories, and hearsay.
Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in the 1980s when they attended neighboring high schools, has said she wants the FBI to investigate her claim. Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
So far, President Trump appears unwilling to order an FBI investigation into this matter, and Senate Republicans are adamant that Kavanaugh’s confirmation process should proceed without one. “The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone,” wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a letter to Ford’s lawyers on Wednesday.
The result: What the public knows about the case, beyond Ford’s interview with the Washington Post and Kavanaugh’s denial, amounts to a series of informal statements (and outright misinformation) circulating on social media. Take the recollections of Cristina King Miranda, who attended high school with Ford and posted on Facebook on Wednesday that “this incident did happen.” Miranda has now walked back her statement, telling NPR’s Nina Totenberg, “That it happened or not, I have no idea.”
While an FBI investigation wouldn’t be guaranteed to turn up additional information beyond Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s statements — and the Senate could still ignore what the agency found — investigators would at least be able to evaluate evidence and interview witnesses in a structured and presumably private way. Absent that, what we’re left with is a hodgepodge of vague information — and misinformation — that does more harm than good.
“Many of us heard about it in school”
“Christine Blasey Ford was a year or so behind me, I remember her,” Miranda said on Wednesday in a now-deleted Facebook post. “This incident did happen. Many of us heard about it in school and Christine’s recollection should be more than enough for us to truly, deeply know that the accusation is true.”
The post spread after Jay Bookman, a blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, posted it on Twitter.
This is the letter, posted on Facebook, from a woman who knew Kavanaugh, Judge and Blasey Ford and claims that the attack did happen, that "many of us heard about it in school," and that it was talked about for days afterward.— Jay Bookman (@jaybookmanajc) September 19, 2018
The FBI should interview her and others. pic.twitter.com/OZmEGP1Q1G
But in an interview with Totenberg on Wednesday night, Miranda said of the alleged assault, “I can’t say that it did or didn’t” happen. Miranda has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.
“In my [Facebook] post, I was empowered and I was sure it probably did [happen],” she told Totenberg, who reached out to her on Wednesday. “I had no idea that I would now have to go to the specifics and defend it before 50 cable channels and have my face spread all over MSNBC news and Twitter.”
Miranda also told NPR that she remembers a “buzz” the weekend of the party about something that happened between students at her school and students at Kavanaugh’s.
This has created, to put it bluntly, a mess.
What Miranda, and others who attended high school with Ford, heard about the party may well be relevant to the case. Such information could help uncover other witnesses who might have seen or spoken with Kavanaugh or Ford that night, or who could speak to their state of mind in the days that followed.
But in the absence of any official forum for sharing her information, the only place for Miranda to testify was the court of public opinion. While her recollections might be useful to help trained investigators get at the truth, they have now served to muddy the waters and potentially discredit Ford’s account by offering and then withdrawing support for it. And while she might have had more to say in a private interview with FBI agents or Senate staff, she has quite understandably recoiled from the onslaught of media attention her Facebook post provoked, and has said she will not speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Thanks to Trump’s unwillingness to order an FBI investigation and the Senate’s unwillingness to wait for one, there’s no obvious way for people to share relevant information about Ford’s allegations with authorities. And so, in Miranda’s case, what could have been helpful has potentially done harm.
Even more harmful are some groundless — or outright false — rumors circulating on social media. At the New York Times, Kevin Roose breaks down five of these, including the claim that Ford made a similar allegation against Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. (“There is no known letter sent by Dr. Blasey about Justice Gorsuch, or any other Supreme Court justice,” Roose writes.)
In such a high-profile and politically consequential case, rumors are bound to percolate. And FBI investigations are not foolproof — as Vox’s Li Zhou and Tara Golshan note, the FBI investigated Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991. Then-President George H.W. Bush pronounced Hill’s allegations “unfounded,” even though the only evidence the FBI reportedly found to contradict them was Thomas’s denial.
Still, an investigation would provide people like Miranda with a more private forum to share information than Facebook, and would allow all that information to be considered together by trained people, rather than piecemeal by the general public.
In the absence of such a forum, all we have are rumors and counter-rumors. Ford, the American people — and Kavanaugh too — deserve better.