Reporters behind new Kavanaugh book address controversy on 'The View'

PHOTO: New York Times journalists Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly talk with the hosts of "The View," on ABC, Sept. 17, 2019.PlayGiovanni Rufino/Walt Disney Television
WATCH ‘The Education of Brett Kavanaugh’ authors discuss NYT story

“The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation” hit bookstands Tuesday, but it’s already stirred up plenty of controversy for both the Supreme Court justice and the book's authors, New York Times reporters Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin.

On ABC’s “The View,” Kelly and Pogrebin addressed criticism surrounding the rollout of their book. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a report in its Sunday Review Section adapted from their work; both the book and Times article include a previously unreported account of alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh during his freshmen year at Yale University. Kelly and Pogrebin write that a former classmate alleges he saw Kavanaugh "with his pants down” at a drunken dormitory party “where friends pushed [Kavanaugh’s] penis into the hand of a female student.”

In the book, Kelly and Pogrebin name the female student and provide additional information, noting that the friends of the woman allegedly involved in the incident say she does not remember it and that she declined to be interviewed by the reporters. However, the piece that originally ran in the Times did not include these details, leading many to question why it had been omitted.

“There was no desire to withhold important information from our readers. We have all of it in the book and the essay is an adaptation of the book that of course we had to edit for length and clarity,” Kelly said. “During the editing process there was an oversight and this key detail about the fact that the woman herself has told friends she doesn't remember it and has not wanted to talk about it got cut and it was an oversight and the "Times" adjusted it and we're very sorry that it happened.”

PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018.

“We're a team at the "New York Times." We have processes in place. We wrote this. It was edited. There was back and forth as there always is. It's kind of a team effort frankly to make sure that everybody's comfortable with the final product, and there was just an oversight here.” The article was later edited to include the line “the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode,” Kelly said.

Kelly also explained that while the New York Times typically does not name alleged victims without their consent, the authors felt it was important to include it in the book. “We think it's relevant information and we think it's accurate and we know that her name was provided to members of the Senate and the FBI,” Kelly said.

ABC News is not naming the unidentified female student in the report at this time, but she told ABC News on Sunday she “can’t do it again,” referring to speaking about the alleged incident. When asked if there were other sources who could speak to her story, she responded “All I can say is, ask Brett.”

The former classmate who says he saw the incident, named in the Times as Max Stier, now runs a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington called Partnership for Public Service. He declined to comment to ABC News. Through a court spokeswoman, Kavanaugh also declined comment to ABC News on the allegations reported in the New York Times and in Kelly and Pogrebin’s book.

Kelly and Pogrebin say the primary focus of the article adapted from their book was Debra Ramirez, another Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s and the second woman to publicly accuse him of sexual misconduct, after Christine Blasey Ford whose accusation dated back to their high school days. Ramirez told The New Yorker last year that during the 1983-84 school year, Kavanaugh “thrust his penis in her face" at a party, causing her "to touch it without her consent."

PHOTO: New York Times journalists Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly talk with the hosts of The View, on ABC, Sept. 17, 2019. Giovanni Rufino/Walt Disney Television
New York Times journalists Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly talk with the hosts of "The View," on ABC, Sept. 17, 2019.

Because the allegations linked to the unnamed female student are similar to Ramirez’s account, Kelly and Pogrebin said, they chose to include it in the Time’s article. “We thought it was germane. It was a similar type of situation to the Ramirez one,” Kelly said.

Kavanaugh has flatly denied Ramirez’s accusations. “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen," he said in statement soon after the New Yorker report was published. "The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple."

The authors also addressed a tweet linking to the article that has received blowback. The tweet, sent from the New York Times Opinion account, said “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn't belong at Yale in the first place." It was later deleted.

Pogrebin said she was the one who originally drafted the tweet, calling it “misworded.” The New York Times also apologized for the tweet, saying it was “offensive.”

“What happens at the "Times" is the reporters are asked to draft tweets and we're also asked to draft headlines,” Pogrebin said. “I drafted this with this in mind to have actually the opposite effect, which is to anticipate those who would say a guy pulling down his pants at a party when they're drunk is low on the spectrum of sexual misconduct.”

Pogrebin went on to explain she was trying to allude to the impact the alleged incident had on Ramirez. “For those who minimize it and dismiss it, I was trying to help them understand that. It had the opposite effect and seemed to undermine her,” Pogrebin said.

Since the article was first published, President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter multiple times to defend Kavanaugh and attack the New York Times, tweeting Monday “I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story.”

“We appreciate that the president of the United States is paying attention to our book,” Pogrebin said. “But I think what's been lost in all this discussion is that what we try to do is kind of what we always do as reporters which is seek the facts and put them out there and let people come to their own conclusion."

“I don't think we even anticipated to this degree is that people have seized on certain things and magnified them for their own purposes. Frankly, it's fine to have a series of democratic candidates calling for impeachment but that was before the book came out which is today. And you also have Trump kind of jumping on things as if we had an agenda which that was not our intent. Our intent is to revisit these facts with detail and depth and then kind of have people open their minds,” Pogrebin continued.

However, Kelly and Pogrebin say it was the partisan divide that characterized Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing that inspired them to write the book in the first place.

“This was such an incredibly polarizing event in our country's history. Everyone saw in it what they wanted to see.” Pogrebin said. “Everybody can kind of demonize [Kavanaugh] and everyone can kind of demonize these victims and the reality is somewhere in between, considerably more complicated, considerably more nuanced and that's what we're trying to portray in this book.”

Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.