Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

A very friendly Fox interview for Brett and Ashley Kavanaugh

With his wife, Ashley, at his side, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh went on Fox News Monday to say he will not back down in the face of allegations of sexual impropriety lodged against him by two women when he was a student in high school and college.

"What I know is the truth, and the truth is I've never sexually assaulted anyone," Kavanaugh told Fox host Martha MacCallum in a taped interview that aired Monday night.

Citing what he described as his “lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting when I was 14 years old,” the embattled nominee told MacCallum, “I’m not going anywhere.”

It was said in answer to a question from the Fox show host as to whether the couple had ever thought enough is enough and contemplated asking President Donald Trump to withdraw the controversial nomination. It was clearly asked to elicit sympathy for the Kavanaughs.

Throughout the interview, Kavanaugh kept repeating that “all” he wanted was a “fair hearing and process.”

“I just want a fair hearing and process to defend my integrity,” he said several times as if repeating from a script.

He also mentioned several times how his high school years were consumed with going to mass on Sundays, trying to get the highest grades in his class, participating in sports, “service” and being a good friend to male and female classmates.

MacCallum did not ignore the allegations of sexual assault leveled. against Kavanaugh. But the interview was structured so that it felt as if you were watching a defense attorney leading her client through questions and answers that would raise the allegations and then allow the client to knock them down without serious pushback. It is a trick sympathetic TV interviewers have borrowed from the courtroom.

We thought we had the perfect historical moment with which to contextualize the Kavanaugh hearings with Anita Hill’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and TV cameras in the Clarence Thomas nomination in 1991. One of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, is expected to testify Thursday.

But it turns out that maybe the more apt comparison would be the appearance of Bill and Hillary Clinton on “60 Minutes” in 1992 in advance of the New Hampshire primary to take on allegations that the candidate had a 12-year extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers. Except as friendly as “60 Minutes” interviewers can be to celebrities who give them access, that interview was not structured and edited to so obviously drive the viewers toward sympathy for the accused as MacCallum’s was.

It was laughable to hear Fox News anchor Bret Baier congratulate MacCallum during his 6 p.m. newscast for getting the interview with the Kavanaughs.

Where else would the Trump appointee go except the channel that has become an arm of the Trump public relations operation? White House communications are now run by a former Fox News co-president, Bill Shine.

Near the end of the interview, MacCallum asked Ashley Kavanaugh how hard it has been for their family, which includes two daughters, to go through the ordeal of this confirmation.

It was the most emotionally powerful moment of the conversation. Not so much for Ashley Kavanaugh’s words about how “difficult” it has been, but for the pained look on her husband’s face as she talked about telling her daughters their dad did not do the things people are saying he did.

The look was one of controlled anger and helplessness in the face of what Kavanaugh had been characterizing as smears and lies for more than 20 minutes.

The camera made sure we saw the look on the nominee’s face, and that the image would stick in our minds.

That’s what I mean by a sympathetic and friendly interview.

The Kavanaughs’ appearance on Fox Monday in the midst of this firestorm is yet another indication of what a TV culture we have become with the overwhelming majority of our most important and historical moments played out on the screen one after another like prime-time dramas. In this case, it even included scripting and editing before the public saw it, just like a prime-time series.

The thing to remember is the fact that scripting, editing and staging are involved in an interview like this. It’s not necessarily truth. It’s just partisan cable news television. That's what some of our most serious political processes have been reduced to.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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