Accuracy in Media

On a day when Democrats admitted to creating a sideshow of protest to try to derail the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, one incident provided the media an opportunity to join in the pile-on.

It came when the hearing broke for lunch, and Fred Guttenberg, father of one of the victims of the Parkland, Fla., shootings last February, tried to shake Kavanaugh’s hand as he was leaving the witness table.

Kavanaugh looked at him, then turned away as a security officer intervened.

Several media outlets were careful to convey the uncertainty regarding several aspects of this because it’s impossible to say what Kavanaugh heard from Guttenberg, who was there as guest of anti-Kavanaugh Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and has said Kavanaugh “must not become a Supreme Court Justice” because he was a “risk to public safety.”

After the interaction, Guttenberg tweeted: “Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as morning session ended. Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back on me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”

The White House responded by tweeting: “As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him. Before the Judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened.”

There was just enough uncertainty surrounding whether Kavanaugh heard Guttenberg or understood what he was saying or knew who he was or was hurried along by security for most of the media to show restraint on how it was covered.

The Washington Post acknowledged the uncertainty.

“Some liberals saw Kavanaugh’s decision not to shake the man’s hand as a contemptuous act, a snub to the family of a victim of a heinous crime, and perhaps, by default, the causes of liberal America, not the least of which remains the issue of gun control.”

Later, the same story – by Eli Rosenberg and Seung Min Kim – stated: “For some conservatives, it was a sign of liberal overreaction and hypocrisy. To them, Kavanaugh’s response was a sign of his confusion at the site of a man whom security was trying to spirit away.”

In both cases, the paper said, voters would have reacted differently if the roles were reversed.

But Salon’s Matthew Dessem did not see the logic behind such balance. Under “Did Brett Kavanaugh Snub the Father of a Slain Parkland Teen?” he wrote, “Much like the size of the crowd at Donald Trump’s inauguration, the facts of the incident quickly became contested ground, as the Trump administration offered their own interpretation of events captured on camera.”

Later: “Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah had a different take, calling Guttenberg an ‘unidentified individual’ who ‘the Judge’ would have shaken hands with, if not for overzealous security guards.”

Dessem then unfurls a succession of videos of the incident. “Does this show a Supreme Court nominee realizing with alarm that he’s talking to a citizen who disagrees with his beliefs about gun control, then whirling away and rushing off without shaking hands, or does it show a Supreme Court nominee whose eagerness to extend his condolences, father to father, was unfortunately interrupted by security?” Dessem wrote.

He mocks one, submitted by the White House, that shows the scene from the back of the room because other photos were closer. “It’s strange that Shah chose an extreme long shot, in which the interaction between Guttenberg and Kavanaugh is barely discernible, but maybe it’s the only angle from which the gunman on the grassy knoll is visible,” he wrote.

“The only possible way to determine whether what happened between Kavanaugh and Guttenberg was a snub or an accident would be to somehow measure the relative credibility of Guttenberg, who has dedicated his life to the cause of gun safety after the murder of his teenage daughter, against that of Shah, a man who voluntarily took a job working for Donald Trump. It’s a real pickle!”

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