Last night, in a remarkable act of bad faith, Ed Whelan accused another person without credible evidence of the attempted rape of Dr. Ford, in an effort to claim that Judge Kavanaugh was a victim of mistaken identity. The extensive claim on Twitter, since deleted, was completely unsupported, and named as the perpetrator former classmate of Kavanaugh’s who is now a middle school teacher. It was an attempt to use Zillow and Reddit-type conspiracy theories to connect the dots in a desperate effort to save the Kavanaugh nomination by having Senate Republicans attack Ford not for lying but for being “mistaken.” He did not check with Dr. Ford, who has since stated she knew the other person well and there is no way she would have confused this other person with Kavanaugh. Nor did he follow basic journalistic ethics and give this other person a chance to respond to these charges. (Although Whelan posted on Twitter, he regularly writes for National Review online).
Whether or not the named person can sue Whelan for defamation (something I think is quite plausible), it was based on no evidence and showed a kind of desperation to save this nomination as the right gets tantalizingly close to a five-Justice majority to overturn Roe v. Wade and to reverse advances in gay rights, voting rights, and many other areas. It seems clear that Whelan had help with this mendacious attack, and the question is whether it was coordinated with Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, Kavanaugh, the White House, or others. (Josh Marshall lays out the evidence of possible coordination).
But Whelan’s trial balloon landed like a thud. People on the Kavanaugh side denied knowledge of this in advance and Whelan himself (perhaps under pressure from his funders or seeing that his attempt to save Kavanaugh only created more reasons for an independent investigation about the facts of the case rather than a rushed confirmation vote for Kavanaugh) deleted the series of tweets.
This morning Whelan issued an apology. But he apologized only for naming the individual, and not for raising a false claim based on no credible evidence in order to undermine the testimony of Dr. Ford for purely political reasons. Some news outlets have missed this point, simply characterizing Whelan as “apologizing” for a series of tweets. He’s still making the same claim about Dr. Ford and this other person, just without the name. As Steve Vladeck writes: “The Whelan thread makes no sense _except_ insofar as it both suggests mistaken identity _and_ attempts to identify a superficially plausible doppelgänger. As such, the ‘apology’ is utterly disingenuous, because he’s not disavowing the entire misbegotten thread.”
As readers of this blog know, Whelan consistently operates in bad faith. People should keep this in mind when considering including Ed in symposia and events where people with diverse views come together for reasoned discussion. He showed spectacularly bad judgment for a guy who is very smart but who seems to have lost his moral compass.