Robin Pogrebin, New York Times reporter, just gave an interview with CNN on Tuesday morning that was striking in what was not discussed. Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, who are co-authors of the new book “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,” have have been under attack for an opinion piece that highlighted a new and salacious allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The column omitted the critical fact that the woman involved in the incident reportedly has no memory of it. Pogrebin and Kelly have stated in the last 24 hours that it was an editing error and that they originally had the information in their article. As someone who has written for various newspapers as a columnist, I am perfectly willing to believe their account. Such things happen in editing. However, I was more surprised by the refusal to answer questions this morning, including Pogrebin’s alleged authorship of a controversial tweet.
The two reporters first attempted to get their book featured on the news side of the New York Times, but the editors reportedly rejected the story. They then went to the opinion section.
The authors clearly understood that the new allegation would be explosive and that response was magnified by a tweet sent out before the column ran. On Saturday evening, the Times promoted the column with a tweet reading “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.”
A firestorm erupted over the language and the tweet was deleted. According to Politico, the author was culture reporter Pogrebin.
In her appearance (with Kelly) on CNN with Alisyn Camerota, Pogrebin was repeated asked a simple question. Did she author the tweet? She repeatedly refused to answer and called the question a “distraction.”
At first, Pogrebin simply said “all I can say is the tweet was written, and the tweet was sent out, and it shouldn’t have happened.” Then, when Camerota properly pressed the question, she said “I just feel it’s a distraction to try and go back over that.”
But she did not “go over that.” She has refused to go over that, including her role and why she wrote it (if she did). I can understand if she says it was bad wording, but it is a public controversy. Moreover, why is that a “distraction” as opposed to part of the story? A journalist is accused of making an insensitive and sensational public statement on a column that was later corrected for omitting material information. Her judgment is being raised in both the writing and promotion of the piece. The tweet is material to that story. Yet, when another journalist asks about her authorship, she refuses to answer. If the tweet was viewed by Pogrebin as worthy for public consideration on the story, it is hard to see how she can dismiss the authorship of that now controversial tweet to be a mere distraction. A public embarrassment may be a distraction to some but it is not generally viewed by journalists as a valid reason to refuse to answer questions.
I am more concerned about the refusal to answer than the tweet. Sometimes wording can be ill-considered. President Trump is the ultimate example of how tweets can be self-defeating and harmful. Yet, the media routinely confirms whether Trump was the author of a given tweet. It would not stand for the White House calling such information a mere “distraction.”