This is bad.
NBC News obtained information as early as Sept. 30 suggesting attorney Michael Avenatti had engaged in a conspiracy to defame Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Yet, for more than three weeks, the network said nothing, even as Kavanaugh’s critics cited Avenatti’s client, Julie Swetnick, as proof of the judge’s supposed unworthiness to serve on the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, NBC published a report titled, “New questions raised about Avenatti claims regarding Kavanaugh.” The article ticks through several already-identified discrepancies in Swetnick’s Sept. 26 affidavit. More importantly, the report includes new details regarding additional inconsistencies in a signed declaration from a woman whom Avenatti presented to media as a corroborating witness.
Avenatti first connected the so-called witness to NBC for a phone interview on Sept. 30. During that call, the woman claimed she never saw Kavanaugh engage in the behavior described by Swetnick (i.e. spiking drinks, gang-rapes, etc.). The woman also said she wasn’t even friends with Swetnick during the time of the supposed misconduct.
On Oct. 1, NBC aired a one-on-one interview with Swetnick wherein the alleged victim made statements that were inconsistent with her Sept. 26 affidavit. NBC's Kate Snow prefaced and concluded the interview by noting they couldn’t verify a single thing in the alleged victim’s story. That alone should have been reason enough to kill the interview, but NBC aired it anyway. Later, on Oct. 2, Avenatti published a sworn declaration bearing the witness' name, claiming she had first-hand knowledge of Kavanaugh’s attempts to drug and sexually abuse vulnerable partygoers.
Now, we learn Avenatti's supposedly corroborating witness told NBC on Oct. 3 that she only "skimmed" the declaration that he had provided to media. She then told NBC in a text message dated Oct. 4 that she never saw Kavanaugh “spike the punch. I didn't see anyone spike the punch ... I was very clear with Michael Avenatti from day one."
Avenatti reportedly confirmed for NBC that the woman who said she never saw the behavior described by Swetnick is the same woman he presented to the network for a Sept. 30 phone call. When NBC pressed Avenatti to explain the discrepancies, he deflected, stating that he was "disgusted" with the network.
NBC also reported that “in an apparent effort to thwart the reporting process, he added in the phone call, ‘How about this, on background, it's not the same woman. What are you going to do with that?’”
Avenatti allegedly said in a separate conversation with the network that he had “confirmed with her yet again that everything in the declaration is true and correct. She must have been confused by your question."
NBC then reported:
Roughly five minutes later, the woman sent a formally-worded text backing Avenatti. "Please understand that everything in the declaration is true and you should not contact me anymore regarding this issue," the text read.
But when reached by phone minutes later, the woman again insisted that she never saw Kavanaugh spike punch or act inappropriately toward women. She said she's "been consistent in what she's told Michael."
In a subsequent text on Oct. 5, she wrote, "I will definitely talk to you again and no longer Avenatti. I do not like that he twisted my words."
Again, this is really bad.
NBC knew as early as Sept. 30 of serious inconsistencies and discrepancies in one of the chief allegations leveled against Kavanaugh -- allegations that NBC later aired on national television. NBC knew by Oct. 4 that Swetnick's story was almost certainly a deliberate or deranged lie. NBC even experienced what it describes as an attempt by the accuser's attorney to “thwart” the reporting process. And yet, NBC said nothing about any of this for three weeks and four days.
I can't think of an ethical reason for why the network should have sat on this information during the height of the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, back when the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee was citing Swetnick’s allegations as justification for halting the Senate’s final vote. I do, however, have a few theories.
The first theory posits that NBC deliberately suppressed this information for a month because it was an active and willing participant in a larger campaign to keep Kavanaugh from taking the Supreme Court's "swing" seat. A second, less insidious theory would be that NBC quietly shelved these details because it was embarrassed to have entertained the Swetnick story in the first place. Its reporters and editors were so eager to score a major exclusive that they ignored the usual editorial standards, only to decide later that they had made a grave error in taking Avenatti seriously. Maybe the network thought it could quietly cover up its terrible lapse in good editorial judgment. It's not a great excuse, and it certainly doesn't absolve NBC from hiding exonerating evidence when it mattered most. I'd say this second theory is only slightly less-damning than the one that suggests the network actively engaged in an effort to derail the judge's confirmation
Theories aside, there's the obvious follow-up question: Why are we only now learning about all of this? That one seems easy: NBC is trying to get ahead of bad publicity.
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Thursday that it had referred both Avenatti and Swetnick to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. The committee is interested specifically in pursuing allegations that Avenatti and his client provided false statements and obstructed congressional investigations.
As the investigation will most likely turn up all conversations between Avenatti and NBC, the network is trying to get in front of the public learning the full extent of just how stupid it was for them to take the Swetnick story seriously.
I keep thinking we've hit bottom with NBC's outrageous and irresponsible coverage of the Kavanaugh allegations, and the network keeps proving me wrong.