Kavanaugh threat: New York Times, mainstream networks under fire for downplaying near-assassination

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Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh came alarmingly to being the victim of an assassination attempt last Wednesday, but for the mainstream media, it was old news by the weekend.

Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, was carrying a gun, ammunition, a knife, pepper spray, a screwdriver, zip ties, and other gear when he was arrested early Wednesday by Montgomery County Police Department officers. Roske called 911, said he was near Kavanaugh’s home and having suicidal thoughts, and later told police he had traveled to Maryland to kill the conservative judge, in part because of his opinions on abortion and gun control. 

After an initial wave of coverage of the breaking news, the media largely yawned at the development. The New York Times put the story on page 20 the following day, and the threat to Kavanaugh didn’t make the front page of USA Today or Chicago Tribune. MSNBC’s primetime shows between 8 and 11 p.m. ignored it that evening, and the Sunday talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN ignored it completely. 

“It’s interesting but not surprising that a lot of the Sunday shows, all of them except ‘Fox News Sunday,’ ignored it,” NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News Digital. “I think a lot of them might say something to the effect of, well, the person was caught very quickly… And because nothing came of it, they didn’t give it as much coverage as if something horrible had happened. Well, first to that, I would say what an indictment of our news media…  What he was looking to commit allegedly was a very serious and heinous act, and that, based on the equipment, was going to be brutal and graphic in nature.”

Kavanaugh threat: New York Times, mainstream networks under fire for downplaying near-assassination

A drumline marched outside of Kavanaugh’s house after an alleged assassination attempt
(Fox News)

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“It’s striking how quickly the press moved on,” Fox News “MediaBuzz” host Howard Kurtz said on “Special Report” last week, while comparing the casual coverage to the nonstop attention afforded to the Jan. 6 House committee hearings.

Journalist Ashley Rindsberg, who wrote “The Gray Lady Winked” about the New York Times, told “Fox & Friends First” on Monday that the media’s handling of the incident was “dangerous.”

“That is front page news no matter what,” he said. “But you can see just how far the desire and the need to protect the narrative goes when something like that is crowded out of the front page and gets barely, I mean, to call it below the fold is to be a little bit too generous… It was completely shut out of Sunday morning news and of the rest of the news media for the simple fact that it just doesn’t comport with the narrative that’s being sold.”

Even “Real Time” host Bill Maher, a progressive who is often critical of the media and the Democratic Party, took a shot at the New York Times for burying the story the next day.

Kavanaugh threat: New York Times, mainstream networks under fire for downplaying near-assassination

A suspect attempted to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on June 8, 2022.
(Reuters)

“If this had been a liberal Supreme Court justice that someone came to kill, it would have been on the front page,” he said on Friday. “And that’s what’s so disappointing about a paper like The New York Times because they just wear their bias on their sleeves, and if it’s not part of something that feeds our narrative, ‘f— it, we bury it.’”

A study by Houck for NewsBusters, a right-leaning media watchdog, found ABC, CBS and NBC’s morning shows on Thursday, the day after the incident, devoted three times more coverage to previewing that evening’s primetime Jan. 6 committee hearing than the threat to Kavanaugh’s life.

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That the threat to came in the aftermath of the controversial Politico report of a leaked draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as years of attacks from the left toward Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett and the institution itself, wasn’t lost on conservatives. 

The Jan. 6 committee has made the case that former President Trump’s rhetoric about a “stolen” 2020 election, despite being told the contrary by members of his own circle, in the weeks up to the Capitol riot made him responsible for that day’s melee, but little has been made of the language from the left toward the Supreme Court for years, to the point that judges require personal protection and now an attacker flew across the country with designs on murdering one.

Houck recalled the 2017 congressional baseball shooting by a far-left follower of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., amid a fierce debate over Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. It wasn’t uncommon at the time to hear that if the GOP was successful, people would die. Then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in 2020 that Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would “pay the price” for their decisions on the Supreme Court, and a guest on CNN this year hoped for a “national uprising” over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh threat: New York Times, mainstream networks under fire for downplaying near-assassination

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to the media after a Democratic policy luncheon, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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“It only takes one person to say, ‘I have to do something about it’ … I think there needs to be a lot more introspection, not surprisingly, on the part of the news media, because they do often say words matter,” Houck said. “But very often that adage, they don’t take to heart themselves.”

So-called “bias by omission” is a frequent complaint on the right; oftentimes, they argue, the media ignoring a particular issue or story is as, if not more, significant than slanted coverage. But Houck said in a way this saga in media bias was worse, pointing in particular to the New York Times.

“I think this is an example of how conservatives should be careful in saying that the media didn’t cover something,” Houck said. “They did cover something, but I would argue sometimes the bias is even worse by the fact that when they do cover something, they minimize a story and then put it in the back.”

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Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.

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