After Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s emotional and angry testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, one Fox News analyst said: “He came out swinging as he needed to. This was a clear and almost ferocious defense of himself. . . . He went through every allegation . . . and presented a clear and convincing and believable and forceful defense.”
The same analyst had weighed in hours earlier after Christine Blasey Ford told the committee that Kavanaugh was the boy who sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago. Andrew Napolitano’s words were equally sympathetic but carefully chosen.
Ford came across with “great credibility” and “serious intellect,” and is “absolutely believable,” he said.
“She went through a vivid and graphic detail [of] what she says happened. She’s absolutely certain that the person who did this to her was Brett Kavanaugh. Her memory of events before and after is fuzzy, but there doesn’t seem to be any deficiency in the state aspect of her memory,” said Napolitano, Fox News’s senior judicial analyst and a former judge from New Jersey.
At a time of deep political division, Napolitano, also known as Judge Nap, has avoided catering to partisan and tribal outrage, even as he works for the most Trump-friendly major media outlet, those who have known and watched him say. As Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court unfolds with relentless drama and pugnacious rhetoric erupting from both sides of the aisle, Napolitano has walked a fine line. He doesn’t defend Kavanaugh, but he doesn’t defend Ford, either.
“He has set the standard for giving nonideological, nonpartisan, nontribal-based commentary and analysis,” said Nick Gillespie, a self-described Napolitano “fanboy” and editor of Reason, a libertarian magazine. “It just seemed to me that the judge added a really rare but welcome voice.”
Gillespie described Napolitano as someone who places principles over partisanship, and who is outspoken and critical without resorting to ad hominem attacks.
Napolitano, through a Fox News spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed and the network declined to comment.
All this is not to say that Napolitano, who’s been with Fox News since 1998, is not political.
He’s a staunch libertarian who strongly opposes abortion. He’s a fierce advocate of small government and deregulation, and has criticized Vice President Pence for allowing government to keep same-sex couples from getting married. He sees government surveillance and wiretapping as an affront to the Constitution and said in a 2010 C-Span interview that President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney should have been indicted for authorizing the use of torture. He’s highly skeptical of foreign involvement and military intervention, and was against the Obama administration’s prosecution of journalists.
Napolitano, who practiced law in New Jersey for 10 years and was a county judge for eight years before he became a TV personality, has created controversy, however.
Last year, Fox News pulled Napolitano from the air over his baseless claim — repeated by President Trump — that British intelligence officials spied on Trump at the request of President Barack Obama. Nearly two weeks later, he was back on air and doubling down on his claims.
In 2012, he said Obama secretly signed a bill that could restrict free speech when the president is nearby — a claim that PolitiFact rated as “pants on fire” false.
But in this hyperpolarized age of cable networks, Napolitano has become the difference “between an intellectual and a hack,” said Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate who unsuccessfully ran for president multiple times and who has known Napolitano for a decade.
“I’ve always looked at him as much more independent minded than the usual Fox News analyst. They’re more like company people. They know what the brand of Fox News is and they embellish it regularly,” Nader said. “He’s in a tough spot because he can’t be a complete maverick all the time.”
In the Kavanaugh saga, Napolitano’s takes are “more measured and sensible than the rest of Fox News,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog group.
“There’s no doubt that he’s not their prime time, red-meat guy. He’s not out there attacking Professor Ford. . . . He’s not out there shilling on behalf of the Trump administration and Republicans. He is not a fierce advocate of what Kavanaugh’s nomination represents,” Carusone said. But, he added: “He’s also not somebody that is saying, ‘This guy lied and it’s a bad thing.’”
Unlike the network’s prime-time personalities such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, Napolitano has not been an advocate of Kavanaugh and his nomination. When the nomination was announced, Napolitano said the federal appellate judge with strong ties in Washington is “the heart and soul of the D.C. establishment against whom the president railed.”
He does not decry the #MeToo movement, or undermine the accusers. In the past few days, he’s been critical of Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor the Senate Republicans hired to question Ford and Kavanaugh during the hearing, for “applying legal standards and legal tools to what is effectively a political environment.” He’s also critical of the one-week limit on the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh, saying the agency’s duty “transcends the game clock.”
“If they find evidence of criminal behavior — misleading Congress is a crime, lying to Congress is a crime, lying to the FBI is a crime, submitting an affidavit to Congress that is not true is a crime — if they find evidence of this, they have to keep digging,” he said.
It’s worth noting that Napolitano has not been a lone voice that’s been sympathetic of Ford on the pro-Trump network.
Here’s what Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said about Ford’s testimony: “This was extremely emotional, extremely raw and extremely credible and nobody could listen to her deliver those words and talk about the assault and the impact it had on her life — and not have your heart go out to her.”
Wallace also said that his own daughters have since revealed their own experiences in high school. “I don’t think we can disregard Christine Blasey Ford and the seriousness of this,” he said.
And after the president mocked Ford during a rally in Mississippi Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade was critical.
“Last night, he chose to blow it as the FBI is handing in the report as early as today,” Kilmeade said on the show Wednesday. “I wonder about the wisdom, as much as the crowd loved it. I wonder about the wisdom tactically of him doing that.”
Derek Hawkins contributed to this article.