For all the recent talk about facts versus “fake news,” telling the truth, and recapturing the public's trust in the era of President Trump, some of our most important newsrooms blew it when it mattered most. Worse still, some demonstrated an immediate willingness to trade this industry's already badly battered reputation for a political victory.

We are now at the unsuccessful conclusion of a four-week-long effort by certain media organizations to prove Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is a violent sexual predator and a lying alcoholic. The reckless and grossly irresponsible scramble by the New Yorker, NBC News, the New York Times, and others to make Kavanaugh into a monster produced some of the worst journalism of the Trump era to date – and that's a pretty high bar.

There were plenty of minor fouls, including when the Times assigned a news story on Kavanaugh to a magazine opinion writer who openly opposed his nomination. Others were much greater, including when NBC published an anonymously written letter alleging (with zero corroboration) that Kavanaugh was observed by an anonymous woman in 1998 to have pushed another anonymous woman.

Journalists make mistakes, of course. But had all of the sloppy and often unethical reporting on Kavanaugh been the product of mere negligence or human error, the law of averages suggests that some of the errors would have been in his favor. None of them were. From great to small, they all tried to prove Kavanaugh unfit to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. It would be hard to blame a viewer or reader who concluded that these newsrooms acted not as the gatekeepers of truth, but as willing agents in the Democratic Party’s 11th-hour effort to destroy the judge’s good name, along with his chances of becoming the swing vote on the Supreme Court.

It began on Sept. 12. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim first reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., possessed a confidential letter alleging an “incident” between Kavanaugh and a woman “while they were in high school.” Soon after the publication of the Intercept report, Feinstein referred the secret letter to the FBI.

Once the story of Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, had been made public, all kinds of far less credible accusers were emboldened to come forward with absurd and fantastic stories. Usually, journalists exercise an amount of caution in such cases. But so eager were certain reporters and editors to create a pattern of behavior for Kavanaugh that all caution was thrown to the wind, leading to what is easily one of the worst, most humiliating chapters in modern journalism.

Uncorroborated stories fly

On Sept. 19, NBC published a story that in any other time or place would’ve been quashed by even the laxest editorial standards. “Accuser's schoolmate says she recalls hearing of alleged Kavanaugh incident,” read the attention-grabbing headline to a story co-authored by reporters Ken Dilanian, Brandy Zadrozny, and Ben Popken. The report was based entirely on a Facebook post written by one Cristina King Miranda. She claimed to have been a schoolmate of Ford.

By the time NBC News published the report, Miranda had already deleted her Facebook post. Miranda had also already admitted to having no first-hand knowledge of the alleged assault. She announced later on social media that she’d give no interviews. She then deleted her tweets. Miranda said later in an interview with National Public Radio that “I have no idea” if Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, adding, “I can't say that it did or didn't” happen.

Of course, anyone can say anything online – or claim to be anyone or to know anyone, for that matter. The bar for publication has to be pretty low for such a story to make the news without any follow-up, but this is exactly what happened, and the story stayed atop results pages on Yahoo News for days.

Days later, on Sept. 23, the New Yorker surpassed NBC in terms of having the worst coverage of the Kavanaugh allegation news cycle, publishing what stands out even now as a uniquely irresponsible report. A woman named Deborah Ramirez told the magazine's Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer that Kavanaugh once exposed himself during a drinking game when they were both students at Yale.

The reasons to doubt the story were many.

Ramirez said she didn’t feel "confident" it was Kavanaugh who committed the act until after she “assessed” her memories 30-plus years later and talked it over with her attorney. Every person named by Ramirez as being present at the party said that they had no memory of what she alleges. Ramirez's close friend since college claimed that she had never once mentioned the alleged incident. The only “corroborating” witness provided by the New Yorker is an anonymous source who claimed to have heard about the supposed indecent exposure because "another student told him about the incident either on the night of the party or in the next day or two." Farrow and Mayer conceded in their own report that they couldn’t confirm whether Kavanaugh was even at the alleged party. Of course they published it anyway, despite having themselves debunked every piece of evidence and every lead toward which Ramirez had pointed them.

As if the lack of corroborating evidence weren’t disturbing enough, Farrow and Mayer later gave conflicting accounts of how their report came to be. Mayer claimed the "story came out" after she and Farrow "reached out to" Ramirez. But Farrow said elsewhere that Ramirez came forward after being approached by Senate Democrats.

Meanwhile, the New York Times had also been tipped off about Ramirez. The paper reported it hadn't found a hint of evidence that the incident had occurred at all, even after interviewing multiple supposed witnesses. Much worse, the Times also discovered that Ramirez had been contacting old Yale classmates about the incident before going public. This could be interpreted as an attempt to plant a memory in their minds from the 1980s.

Later, on Oct. 3, the New Yorker’s Mayer and Farrow resurfaced to report that the FBI, which at the time had reopened its background check of Kavanaugh, was ignoring a “primary witness” to Ramirez’s allegation of indecent exposure. This second report turned out to be even worse than their original uncorroborated story.

The supposed "primary witness" they cited turned out be Kenneth G. Appold, and he was not an actual witness to the allegation. He had been the anonymous source in their original Sept. 23 article – the one who claimed he had once heard some gossip about the alleged incident, second- or third-hand. Even worse, Farrow and Mayer reported that they had tracked down the source from whom Appold claimed to have heard this gossip. This source told the New Yorker duo that he had no memory of such an incident, or of hearing or saying anything about it.

Farrow and Mayer published the second story anyway. That they were upfront about the fact that they were unable to corroborate any portion of Ramirez’s allegation doesn’t insulate them from criticism that this was poor journalism. It just means they were comfortable publishing these stories even though all available information pointed towards the likelihood that Ramirez’s story is bogus. Mayer admitted later in an interview with Elle that her “reporting” was done with an eye to establishing "a pattern of similar behavior," not on figuring out whether Ramirez’s story had any truth it. And that certainly appears to be the case.

Printing fantasy

On Sept. 26, NBC published yet another thin, uncorroborated accusation. It reported that another woman had come forward to allege a violent incident involving “her own daughter, Kavanaugh and several friends in 1998.”

The accuser said in a letter addressed to the office of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., that, “When they left the bar (under the influence of alcohol) they were all shocked when Brett Kavanaugh, shoved her friend [who was supposed to be Kavanaugh's girlfriend] up against the wall very aggressively and sexually,” adding that, “There were at least four witnesses including my daughter.”

This supposed scoop, authored by NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Heidi Przybyla, and Frank Thorp V, was based entirely on an anonymously written letter, citing further anonymous sources. It was something literally anyone could have written and put in the mail. It was a single unnamed source who didn't even speak in person.

The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately discarded the letter as lacking credibility. Their initial determination was further supported after federal Judge Dabney Friedrich, who claims she dated Kavanaugh in 1998, came forward later to deny that he had done any such thing as described in the letter.

On the same day that NBC was publishing anonymous accusations, USA Today’s Steve Kiggins and Richard Wolf had their own time in the limelight with a promising-sounding scoop titled, “Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford offers Senate four people who corroborate her assault claims.” The story doesn’t live up to the headline.

No one mentioned in the report corroborated anything about an incident that allegedly took place in the early 1980s. All four of the people cited in the story say Ford told them between 2012 and 2017 about an episode from her youth involving a sexual assault. Two of the supposedly corroborating witnesses did not even claim Ford mentioned Kavanaugh, who was by then a federal circuit court judge. None of their testimonies offered a date, a location, or any sort of contemporaneous account of events or of Ford sharing information about events around the time they supposedly happened.

On Oct. 1, NBC broke ranks with the news outlets that had wisely stayed away from the third accuser, Julie Swetnick, who claimed in an affidavit that she witnessed Kavanaugh participating in gang-rapes when he was roughly 15-years-old.

Swetnick, who could never really keep her salacious and over-the-top allegations straight, said originally that Kavanaugh would get girls "inebriated and disoriented so they could then be 'gang raped' in a side room or bedroom by a 'train' of numerous boys." Swetnick, who is being represented by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, added, “I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their ‘turn’ with a girl inside the room. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh.”

She never did produce a single witness to corroborate a story which, if true, should have produced multiple eyewitnesses and victims and implicated many other men. Avenatti himself admitted later she didn't actually witness any of Kavanaugh's alleged criminal behavior firsthand.

In that context, you can start to appreciate the boldly unethical decision by NBC to air a one-on-one interview between Kate Snow and Swetnick. It gets worse. Snow felt the need to begin her broadcast with a disclaimer that the alleged victim had said things in the interview inconsistent with what she had originally charged in her affidavit. Snow even ended the segment by noting that of the four corroborating witnesses named by Swetnick, one had no idea who the accuser was, one was deceased, and they hadn't managed to contact the other two.

Under normal circumstances, an interview like that one would be left on the cutting-room floor. But as the lopsidedly unfair coverage of the Kavanaugh affair might already suggest, these were not normal circumstances. There was a nomination to kill.

On the day NBC aired the Swetnick interview, the New York Times published a report titled, “Kavanaugh Was Questioned by Police After Bar Fight in 1985.” The Times article, written by Emily Bazelon and Ben Protess, centered on allegations that Kavanaugh once threw some ice at another bar patron in New Haven. Kavanaugh wasn’t arrested. The police report upon which the Times report hinges doesn’t say that charges were filed.

As if the story itself weren’t ridiculous enough already, it turns out that the writer the Times had tapped to do the on-the-ground reporting in New Haven had also been an outspoken anti-Kavanaugh partisan on social media ever since his nomination.

“As a [Yale Law School graduate and lecturer], I strongly disassociate myself from tonight’s praise of Brett Kavanaugh,” Bazelon tweeted on July 9. “With respect, he’s a 5th vote for a hard-right turn on voting rights and do so much more that will harm the democratic process and prevent a more equal society.”

You can be forgiven for having suspicions about whether she may have withheld pertinent information her reporting. A Times spokesperson conceded later that giving Bazelon a byline on the story probably wasn’t the best editorial decision.

Paraphrases and perjury accusations

Perhaps giving up on pinning a sexual assault charge on Kavanaugh, certain national newsrooms also spent plenty of time trying to make a perjury charge stick. Contrasting a public official's words to established facts is a central function of the media. In this case, though, most of these fact-checks involved actively ignoring what the nominee had said.

On Sept. 25, for example, the Washington Post sought to portray Kavanaugh as a liar following his primetime appearance on Fox News. In a pre-taped interview with Martha McCallum, the judge defended himself from the allegation he tried to rape Ford back in the early 1980s.

The following Post headline read, “Kavanaugh’s ‘choir boy’ image on Fox interview rankles former Yale classmates.” The problem here is that that the “choir boy” bit comes from a Kavanaugh critic, meaning the story’s authors, Aaron C. Davis, Emma Brown and Joe Heim, go to a lot of effort to disprove a thing the judge didn’t actually say.

In fact, Kavanaugh himself said in his interview with McCallum, “[Y]es, there were parties. And the drinking age was 18, and yes, the seniors were legal and had beer there. And yes, people might have had too many beers on occasion and people generally in high school – I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”

Kavanaugh did indeed stress he spent a good deal of his youth playing sports, focusing on academics, going to church, and doing charitable work. But he also conceded he went to parties that included alcohol, and that he did regrettable things when he was younger. It’s possible that someone can be a regular churchgoer and charity volunteer and also drink a few too many at parties.

Similarly, on Sept. 28, the New York Times sought to find lies or inconsistencies in Kavanaugh’s Sept. 27 reappearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Times’ Mike McIntire, Linda Qiu, Steve Eder, and Kate Kelly reported that “Judge Kavanaugh portrayed himself in his testimony as enjoying a beer or two as a high school and college student, but not as someone who often drank to excess during those years.” But this effort to frame the conversation largely dismissed what Kavanaugh had admitted to in his testimony: “Sometimes I had too many beers. I liked beer. I still like beer." The only denial he had given was that he had drunk to the point of memory loss. They were "fact checking" a claim Kavanaugh never made.

On Oct. 2, NBC was at it again. It published a story that suggested Kavanaugh perjured himself before the Senate Judiciary Committee when he said he had first heard of the Ramirez allegations from the "the New Yorker story."

Before it was quietly amended, this article, authored by Heidi Przybyla and Leigh Ann Caldwell, insinuated that Kavanaugh lied because friends from Yale had texted him before the publication of the New Yorker report to let him know that Ramirez was reaching out and trying to find classmates who might match her story.

But this NBC story failed to pass the test of common sense. First, the New Yorker article in question had itself quoted Kavanaugh as denying Ramirez’s allegation. So, clearly, he had heard of it before it was published. Second, and certainly more important, Kavanaugh had also testified under oath on Sept. 25 to congressional investigators about the texts he had received telling him that Ramirez was looking around for dirt. The transcript of Kavanaugh's testimony had been made publicly available on Sept. 26, but neither Przybyla nor Caldwell apparently bothered to read it. In that light, it's clear that Kavanaugh's reference to "the New Yorker story" referred not to the date of its publication, but to the entire process of reporting on the piece.

NBC stealth-edited its story shortly after publication to include details of Kavanaugh’s Sept. 25 interview with investigators. There is no editor’s note or any other sort of clarification calling attention to this update, which is really a correction.

The errors all pointed in one direction

Taken separately, a fair-minded person could say the authors of these and still more unfairly anti-Kavanaugh reports were merely ignorant or sloppy. But taken all together – and mind you, this doesn't even include the commentaries – it paints a far more damaging picture for some of the nation’s most prestigious and vaunted newsrooms.

From the smaller errors to the more egregious ones (like NBC's decision to air the Swetnick interview), there’s only one thing that ties all the awful reporting together. Every single story worked against Kavanaugh, as if with a unity of purpose intended to ensure that he would never be given a fair chance to clear his good name and reach the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh has a lifetime appointment now, which may or may not be worth what he had to put up with to get it. But the clear victim here is the credibility of the news media itself, which has suffered far more damage than any number of attacks President Trump could inflict upon it.

No one forced the New Yorker to publish allegations that its reporting had effectively refuted, or to treat second-hand gossip as genuine news. No one forced NBC to air an interview with a woman who couldn't keep straight her fantastic story about Kavanaugh orchestrating gang-rapes at age 15. No one forced USA Today to refer to non-contemporaneous witness testimony as “corroborating” evidence.

Not long ago, only 32 percent of the public said they viewed the news media as trustworthy. Don’t be surprised if you see those numbers fall again in the coming months.