The current Senate hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court have put the court of public opinion on full display. And both sides are strenuously using rhetorical tactics to win their case.
One such tactic has become especially conspicuous – the misrepresentation of statements. Perhaps the most prominent example pertains to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of attempted rape against Judge Kavanaugh. The only direct witness to the event, Kavanaugh’s good friend Mark Judge, claims he has “no recollection” of it. Several other attendees of that same house party have said the same thing: they “don’t remember” the party at all.
A second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has now emerged as well, asserting that she was sexually victimized by Kavanaugh and friends at Yale. Again, the alleged participants and witnesses all claim to have no memory of such an incident.
Given their degree of inebriation at the time, it’s reasonable to think that these various people might indeed have little or no recall about events that occurred decades ago in an adolescent world of frequent drinking parties and sexual activities.
Yet these testimonials are being routinely misrepresented by Kavanaugh and his supporters to mean that there were no sexual assaults at all, that Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez are therefore either liars or, in Orrin Hatch’s words, “mixed up, confused.”
There’s a world of difference between “I don’t recall” and “It didn’t happen.” The former lets witnesses off the hook while the latter blames the victim. Yet many of Judge Kavanaugh’s fans on social media, comment boards, and FoxNews are blurring the distinction, taking claims of amnesia and misrepresenting them as refutations of Dr. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’s assertions.
The Zen poet (and former Secretary of Defense) Donald H. Rumsfeld might put it thusly:
As Ford and Ramirez know There are known knowns Things they know they know. There are also known unknowns. That is to say There are some things Brett and his friends used to know But now, somehow, No longer know. For Brett’s fans However It means those things Never happened. They are What might be called Unknown knowns.
Rumsfeld, D. (2005). “The Unknown.” In Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld. NY: Free Press, p. 2. [altered by TH]