Late Wednesday, a name started trending on Twitter. It wasn’t Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee whose widely anticipated Senate hearing is set to begin Thursday morning. It wasn’t Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez or Julie Swetnick, the three women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
It was Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide turned political strategist and conservative pundit.
Caputo was put in the spotlight after having what many are calling a “meltdown” on Wednesday night during a heated panel discussion about the allegations against Kavanaugh on Anderson Cooper’s “AC360.”
What started as an impassioned, yet civil, debate quickly deteriorated after fellow panelist and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers called Caputo out, as he put it, by declaring that men like him, and Trump, were in fact part of the problem. The alleged offenses involving Kavanaugh happened at “a time when women just simply were not believed and everybody sounded like Donald Trump and Michael Caputo,” Powers said. She added: “Just listen to yourself.”
That’s when Caputo lost it.
The show within the show began after a commercial break. At that point, Caputo challenged the credibility of Kavanaugh’s accusers claiming that they don’t even remember the details of what happened to them.
“I understand something probably happened to Dr. Ford,” he said. “I just don’t think Brett Kavanaugh was involved.”
Caputo then turned to Swetnick, the latest woman to come forward, who alleged that Kavanaugh was present at a party in 1982 where she and others were gang-raped. (She did not accuse Kavanaugh of raping anyone. The judge has denied all the allegations.)
“For some reason, Ms. Swetnick can’t really remember whether she was gang-raped at the first [party] or the 10th [party], and my question to her is: Why the heck would you go back to parties where young girls were in a bedroom getting gang-raped by teenagers when you’re an adult?” Caputo asked incredulously.
CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the show’s other guest, fired back sarcastically, “Yeah, and why do these women wear these short skirts? Aren’t they just asking for it? Come on, Michael.”
As the men argued, Powers, the only woman on the panel and a CNN political analyst, was noticeably silent, until Cooper prompted her.
“It’s just this tactic of attacking a very young woman,” she said, as Caputo shook his head and appeared to mouth the word “no,” before the screen cut to only Powers.
Powers explained that she also went to high school in the 1980s, around the same time as the alleged events.
“This was a time when women just simply were not believed and everybody sounded like Donald Trump and Michael Caputo,” she said, effectively equating Caputo with a man repeatedly accused of committing acts of sexual aggression as though he were entitled to do so.
“So if you’re going to ask why women didn’t come forward, Michael, that’s your answer. Just listen to yourself.”
Caputo cut Powers off and proceeded to talk over her.
“Stop interrupting me,” Powers said.
“When there’s no witnesses,” Caputo said, unfazed.
“Stop interrupting me,” Powers said, her voice calm.
Caputo went on loudly: “As the father of daughters,” he continued, before Powers said again, “Stop interrupting me.”
“You’re going to call me out like that?” Caputo yelled, his face now contorting with visible rage. “Let me tell you this.”
Powers: “I listened to you when you were ranting and raving for two segments. Now you can listen to me.”
Caputo: “You don’t call me out like that on national television.”
Powers: “I know what it was like to be a woman during that time period and you don’t.”
“Would you give me a chance?” Caputo said, visibly exasperated.
Powers did not. Instead, she likened the treatment of sexual assault survivors in the 1980s to how “people like Michael” initially reacted when black people alleged police brutality.
“They said that black people were making it up until there were videos of it,” she said, “and then you can’t deny anymore that it was made up. Unfortunately, there were no cellphones in the 1980s.”
“Enough,” Caputo said, as though it would make any difference. “I don’t get invited on here to be called out by you like this.”
Meanwhile, Cooper’s not-entirely-convincing attempts to moderate what had become a moment of great TV, seemed to go unacknowledged by Powers and Caputo.
“This is inappropriate all right,” Caputo shouted.
“Here’s the downside,” he said. “From now on, every mother of sons, every grandmother of grandsons has to fear for the future of their boys because of people like you, who sit here and take uncorroborated testimony, uncorroborated allegations, against a decent man and ruin him because it gets you ratings,” he said angrily. “Enough of that.”
After a brief, yet deafening, pause, Powers had only one comment: “That’s bonkers, like, literally insane,” she scoffed.
Toobin, who, uncharacteristically, had not made a sound during the entire Powers-Caputo exchange, chimed in, saying, “I hope young men who sexually assault young women get their lives ruined. I’m not worried about that.”
Social media was instantly alight with reactions. By early Thursday morning, there were more than 8,700 tweets about Caputo.
“Kirsten Powers just owned Michael Caputo on CNN, and he is freaking out,” New York Times reporter Cecilia Kang tweeted.
Other responses were along a similar vein.
Many were quick to draw comparisons between how Powers and Caputo handled themselves during the segment.
“This Michael Caputo just took it to CRAZY TOWN on CNN,” Miami New Times reporter Ryan Yousefi tweeted.
Others sided, and sympathized, with Caputo.
“Good for Caputo,” one person tweeted. “But I question WHY he would even consider an interview on @CNN. He should have known he couldn’t have an intelligent, non-biased, civil discussion on that network.”
The debate continued beyond the segment as both Powers and Caputo took to social media after it aired.
“Yes, I called out his victim blaming and he lost it,” Powers wrote on Twitter.
Caputo responded, tweeting, “You got personal with a fellow panelist in your first comment. You’ve got nothing else to offer? Sad.”
Additionally, he retweeted more than 30 tweets in which people applauded him for his appearance on the show, agreed with his opinions, and insulted Powers and Toobin.
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