But amid that furor, the Times also weathered fierce criticism over how it framed the news and promoted it on social media. On Sunday, the newspaper apologized for a tweet that said the type of misconduct in the claim against Kavanaugh “may seem like harmless fun” and updated the article to reflect that the woman at the center of the latest allegation reportedly does not recall the incident.
The Times wrote that the tweet “was clearly inappropriate and offensive. We apologize for it and are reviewing the decision-making with those involved.”
Drawing on reporting from an upcoming book by two Times reporters, Saturday’s piece focused largely on Deborah Ramirez, who came forward last year to accuse the then-Supreme Court nominee of exposing himself to her during a dorm party at Yale University in the 1980s. The article, an essay adapted from the book, was published in the Times’s Opinion section and was titled “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not.”
Through their reporting, the writers said they corroborated Ramirez’s account with at least seven people and also uncovered an allegation that Kavanaugh displayed inappropriate behavior toward another woman in college. A classmate named Max Stier alleged that he saw Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different dorm party, where he said friends pushed Kavanaugh’s penis into the hand of a female student. The reporters wrote that senators and the FBI were aware of Stier’s claim but that the FBI did not investigate. (Last year, The Washington Post independently confirmed that lawmakers and authorities knew of the claim, but did not publish a story because the alleged witnesses were not identified and the woman said to be involved declined to comment.)
Kavanaugh has denied the previously reported allegations and declined to speak with the Times about the newly surfaced account.
Backlash against the Times came shortly after the publication’s opinion account tweeted out the story with a message that read in part, “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun.”
“This is.... such a profound lapse in judgment and common sense,” tweeted author Roxane Gay. “What the hell is going on at the NYT?”
Though the Times swiftly took down the tweet Saturday night and apologized, the mea culpa did little to quell the blowback, which continued well into Sunday with other prominent figures, and even the Merriam-Webster dictionary company, weighing in.
“As someone who’s still opening up about my experience with sexual assault, it angers me to the bone,” Chasten Buttigieg, husband of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, tweeted.
The tweet also earned a rebuke from Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Who thought an act of sexual assault was ‘harmless fun’ @nytopinion?” Christine Pelosi tweeted. “For the safety of their colleagues @nytimes HR should investigate.”
Like many others, Pelosi’s criticism went beyond the tweet as she called attention to the article’s content and presentation. Commentators wondered why the headline lacked any mention of the new allegation and instead appeared to frame the piece as an examination of Yale’s campus culture in the 1980s. Stier’s account, critics noted, was first mentioned in the article’s 11th paragraph.
“You buried the lede: @FBI failed to investigate credible charges of assault by a Supreme Court nominee,” Pelosi tweeted.
Others zeroed in on the headline.
“The whole framing of the NYT article - as a story about a middle-class girl struggling to have a place among the rich privileged kids at Yale, instead of we found corroborating evidence that a Supreme Court ‘Justice’ is a serial sexual abuser - is odd and infuriating,” one person tweeted.
Another person wrote that it seemed like the Times was trying to “diminish” its “bombshell reporting” with “soft cultural context.”
The backlash prompted the Times to issue tweets from its official public relations account Sunday afternoon explaining that the news was part of book excerpt published in the Sunday Review, a section that “frequently runs excerpts of books produced by Times reporters.”
“The new revelations contained in the piece were uncovered during the reporting process for the book, which is why this information did not appear in The Times before the excerpt,” the Times tweeted.
In another post, the Times reiterated its apology for the tweet.
Late Sunday, an editor’s note also appeared at the bottom of the article informing readers that part of the book’s reporting on the new allegation against Kavanaugh had been left out.
“The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident,” the note said. “That information has been added to the article.”
That update fueled criticism from conservatives who had slammed the article as a “smear” on Kavanaugh.
In recent months, the Times has faced scrutiny over editorial decisions and its staffers’ social media interactions. The newspaper amended a front-page headline about Trump following mass outcry in August. That same month, the Times’s Washington editor, Jonathan Weisman, was demoted after sparking controversy with tweets that were denounced as racist, and columnist Bret Stephens was widely panned for his role in the now-infamous “bed bug” exchange.