A Saturday New York Times op-ed that detailed a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was overshadowed in part by a bungled tweet for which the publication apologized and quickly deleted.
One of the reporters who wrote the article acknowledged on Tuesday that she authored the tweet.
“It was a misworded tweet, but what happens at the Times is the reporters are asked to draft tweets,” Robin Progrebin said on ABC’s “The View.” She added that while the posts aren’t often used, this time, hers was.
The offensive tweet went live on the Times’ opinion account shortly after publication of the article by Progrebin and Kate Kelly that offered a glimpse of their new book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.” The article received immediate attention for its disclosure of the new allegation against Kavanaugh, but the tweet concerned a sexual misconduct accusation by a former classmate of his at Yale University that had come to light during his contentious confirmation hearing last year and is covered in the book. The tweet appeared to make light of that alleged incident.
“Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun,” it read. “But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.”
The post sparked an immediate backlash from social media users who called out its insensitivity, prompting the Times to issue a follow-up tweet, writing, “It was offensive, and we apologize.”
Progrebin on Tuesday said she drafted the tweet “to have actually the opposite effect, which is to anticipate those who would say, ‘A guy pulling down his pants at a party when they’re drunk is ― on the spectrum of sexual misconduct ― it’s not sexual assault, it’s not rape, what’s the big deal?’”
Progrebin said she also aimed to contextualize “Ramirez’s experience and to say actually it was a big deal and that this can be quite meaningful, depending on what you come from.”
Ramirez is described in the essay as the product of a sheltered Catholic household who spent summers working at an ice cream parlor and financed her tuition with loans and work-study gigs. She is also a person of color born to a Puerto Rican father and, Progrebin said, “felt like maybe she didn’t deserve to be at Yale in the first place.”
“And so having that happen, to have people laugh at her and target her, was actually hugely meaningful and made an impact on her life for the rest of her life,” Progrebin added.
Partially overshadowed by the controversy over the tweet was the new allegation that Kavanaugh exposed himself to another woman at Yale during a drunken party.
The new account was attributed to another of the justice’s former classmates, Max Stier, who according to Progrebin and Kelly contacted the FBI about it during the confirmation process for Kavanaugh. Stier supposedly witnessed Kavanaugh with his pants down at the dorm party while friends pushed his penis into a female student’s hands.
The reporters said Stier declined to discuss the allegation publicly, but that they corroborated the account story with two unnamed officials who have communicated with him. The Times later made an addition to the online version of the article noting that Progrbein and Kelly’s book says that the female student in question “declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.”
The oversight in the original version of the article, in addition to the uproar over the tweet, spurred criticism that the story was mishandled by the Times’ opinion desk, which operates separately from its news department.