Pictures Worth a Thousand Kavanaughs

Today, September 28, 2018, at 1:30PM, the Senate will vote whether or not to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

This has obviously been a very large and newsy type issue with many think-pieces flying on all sides; some having gone so far as to declare the Kavanaugh hearings and impending nomination a watershed moment in American politics. At the very least current news events of this magnitude tend to take on a form that is larger than life. They are, dare I say, symbolic.

I spent a good deal of time watching the hearings yesterday. More time than I probably should have.

First, Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, came forward with allegations that when they were teenagers Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed and attempted to rape her but was thwarted in his attempt by another boy, Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, who jokingly jumped on the two of them and toppled the group of them onto the floor, giving Ford time to escape the room, which had been locked.

Ford’s testimony was emotional and heartfelt—obviously symbolic for many women in America who have undergone similar experiences.

Then it was Kavanaugh’s turn. Kavanaugh had previously and unequivocally denied Ford’s allegations, plus those of two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnik, each with their own stories of Kavanaugh’s behavior, but with less consensus in the media as to their credibility.

Since the hearing there seems to be more discussion of Kavanaugh’s testimony in the media, more disagreement as to its merits, as to what it symbolized, etc. Kavanaugh, a usually very mild-mannered person in his many years of public life, was, as you might expect, visibly shaken and angry—either because he was an innocent man wrongly accused of heinous acts or a guilty man rightly accused of heinous acts, on the grandest and most public stage imaginable.

Today the internet is a broiling cauldron of spicy hot-takes in re the Kavanaugh hearings. If you want to find an opinion out there on the internet that matches your own, surely you know where to find it. Or if you want to do some rage reading that calls out all the bleating zombie sheep on the other side, you know where to find that too.

I am not as interested in what the Kavanaugh hearings represent as I am in how the media talks about big events, and how the average viewer or reader’s access to these events is conditioned by the selective use of information or lack of information, and how the internet reinforces over and over the perpetuations of memes or story-lines which are marketed to us based on our taste for certain brands or flavors of media.

In 2014 Pew Research put out one of my favorite charts of all time. It’s a snapshot of the ideological makeup of some of the world’s largest and most influential media outlets:

Pew Research

I decided to do a little experiment after the Kavanaugh hearings. Rather than pour through every article across the ideological spectrum and painstakingly piece together the logic of each position, usually with futile results, as is my usual wont, I decided to simply take the leading headlines and corresponding pictures of Kavanaugh, following the chart above, to see how each spot on the ideological spectrum was telling the story at a visual, gut level.

The results were… interesting.

  1. Breitbart

2. The Blaze

The Blaze

3. Drudge

The Drudge Report

4. Fox News

fox news
Fox News

5. The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal

6. NBC News

nbc news
NBC News



8. New York Times

New York Times

9. Buzzfeed


10. Slate


11. The New Yorker

The New Yorker

Is it just me or does Kavanaugh become more meek the further right you go and more menacing the further left you go?

I don’t know what the overall takeaway from this experiment is. Surely it adds little to the specifics in re the allegations against Kavanaugh, or his impending nomination.

But probably that’s up to you to decide.

Maybe it surprised you. Maybe it didn’t. In either case, it’s interesting to see how editorial decisions are made, how a public personae can be molded to fit a narrative through images so that, wherever we lie on the continuum, we can rest assured, thank goodness, that we have the one true gospel.



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6 thoughts on “Pictures Worth a Thousand Kavanaughs

  1. All I know is, if I had an iota of liberal democratic leanings left in me, these proceedings have swept them away. I find the left despicable, horrible and manipulative lying humans. At Any Cost, is their motto. Yes, the press uses snapshots to enforce their point. Ya don’t even hve to read the article.


  2. My observations on the pictures. #4 Fox and #11 New Yorker look like the may be taken almost the same second and show a very similar combative or disapproving look, with the close cropping of the New Yorker pic emphasizing that element a bit more. Two of the right wing sites #1 and #3 show what appear to be crying or near-crying looks, which I’d think might be read as quite un-flattering even if put in context–odd choices those. #9 doesn’t seem like an attempt to make him look frightful, just very very odd, like he just ate a rancid peanut or something. #5 is by far the most nonthreatening looking pose: jovial, affable even. Put in context you could see it used against him (serious matter, traumatized witness, etc.), though I doubt that was the context given it in whatever WSJ article it accompanied. #2, 6, 7 and 8 seemed pretty vanilla if you were just asked on your arrival from Alpha Centauri if this looks like a stock picture of candidate at a confirmation hearing. #10 does look like a combative, angry person, a bit more than #4 and #11, the later having more elements of “What you just said is wrong” as opposed to someone who’s actively angry.

    I listened on the radio, and only saw clips later. Others would be better at judging if the actual long running testimony in visual appearance was more tearful and crying, disputive or frighteningly combative, affable, businesslike and routine, or bizarre. My read from audio was that the five minute questioning was disjointed and limiting, and his responses often made no logical sense and seemed immaterial or referred to material that when looked at were immaterial or not as represented, so I’m not sure which picture I’d choose from listening to the radio (because none of them reflect that). If it was my blog, probably something off-kilter like Susanna and the Elders or Humphrey Bogart at the Caine Mutiny court-martial. But that’d be informed by my verdict on the matter as opposed to objective observation at how pictures work. For those who support the Kavanaugh side, do note that Wouk wrote his defense of Queeq as a note to his work.


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