“If the math doesn’t fit, you must . . . “: a few more words on Kavanaugh/Ford

“If the math doesn’t fit, you must . . . “: a few more words on Kavanaugh/Ford September 24, 2018

Over the weekend, we had a new report, that the last person at the party recounted by Christine Blasey Ford has been identified as Leland Keyser.  This means that the attendees at the party would have been Ford, Keyser, Kavanaugh, Judge, and the previously-identified Patrick Smyth.

Separately, the original letter sent by Ford to Senator Feinstein’s office has now been released.  (Legal Insurrection has the link to a tweet by NBC News.)  This letter makes clear what had been unclear for me previously — how many people there were at the gathering.  She says “me and four others” and I can’t parse that into meaning anything else.  At the same time, back in the earliest report from the Washington Post, with respect to the therapist’s notes from 2012 which form the basis for the claim that this is not a tale invented solely to sabotage the nomination,

The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

This is what troubles me.  In the new telling of who was at the party, or, as the letter more reasonably says, a “gathering,” there were 3 boys and 2 girls, two of whom were very much drunker than the rest.  In the original version, there were 4 boys and Ford.  Neither of these versions fit in with the tales of private D.C. schools in the early 80s as filled with debauchery.  Five people?  This kind of sounds like my high school life, except we wouldn’t have been drinking, but instead watching a movie at the friend’s house whose parents had a VCR.  (We were dorky enough not to hang out with the popular kids, but not nerdy enough to be playing board games or D&D.)  And this is also a strange number for a party that consists of acquaintances rather than good friends.

But leaving that aside, it matters whether there were 4 boys or 3, because of those therapist’s notes that undergird the claim that this is not a new invention.  Ford told the Post that the notes say 4 boys attacked her because the therapist mistranscribed a statement that there were 4 boys at the party.  If there were only three boys, then Ford was being untruthful in her original explanation.  And it seems to me that the simplest explanation for why the therapist’s notes say 4 boys is that this is what she told the therapist, perhaps thinking that she needed to exaggerate the story in order to properly explain why she felt it had such lasting effects.  Is that the only explanation?  Presumably not, but I don’t see another equally-likely one.

And, again, it really makes a lot more sense for this to have been a stereotypical “wild house party” than a small gathering of friends, especially because, of the other identified attendees, only one is said to have been a friend of Ford’s.

In the “wild house party” scenario, it would have been entirely understandable for Keyser not to remember.  But in the “small gathering” scenario?  She’s at a get-together with two very drunk boys and another boy and girl, her friend, who have had just one beer each.  Her friend goes upstairs, the drunk boys follow her, and she never returns, leaving you behind.  If I were in that scenario, I’d be concerned about what happened to my friend.  I’d ask the boys, “hey, where’d she go?”  And I’d ask her, “where did you go last night?  You left me alone with these creeps.”  Again, I was a dork in high school, so I can’t effectively put myself in her shoes, but I picture myself being worried, not just for my disappeared friend’s safety, but my own.  And it would seem reasonable to remember this.

Does it matter?  It’s a small thing.  Could such an assault have happened and she’s misremembering some of the details?  Certainly.  But we, as citizens who won’t sit in judgement of Kavanaugh directly, but will be asked to judge whether (presumably) the GOP did the right thing in, eventually, confirming him, or whether the Democrats were right in demanding otherwise, cannot access what is true, and can only base our judgements on the question of “how likely is it to have been true?”

And I’m not going to pile on to the accusation that she is by definition untruthful because she should have reported this at the time.  Were I a teen in that situation, in which nothing happened but some groping over my clothes, and in which I couldn’t conclusively say that something worse would have happened, I doubt I would have gone to the police.  And in the intervening years, it would likewise seem that the circumstances in which one would, after all, report it, would be elevated.  But at the same time, I don’t believe that she can be relied on to be telling the truth, either, not so much because I think she is deliberately crafting a lie for partisan reasons so much as I do think that memories can deceive us.

The bottom line is that I don’t believe that the 35 year delay means that she’s lying. but I do think that the delay makes it very much more difficult to ascertain the truth.  And every missing detail, or conflicting piece of narrative, adds up.


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Judge_Brett_Michael_Kavanaugh.jpg; By U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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