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Why Brett Kavanaugh's Fox News interview mattered

As Brett Kavanaugh appeared on Fox News, the significance is not what he said. It's the fact that the on-air interview happened at all.
Image: Brett Kavanaugh
President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, gestures over his notes as he testifies on the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee...

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his wife sat down for an interview with Fox News yesterday, and the conservative jurist said largely what everyone expected him to say. By my count, Kavanaugh used the phrase "never sexually assaulted anyone" seven times in the fairly brief discussion, pushing back against recent allegations of misconduct from years past. (He used the phrase "fair process," meanwhile, 17 times.)

But while viewers probably didn't learn much from the interview, the fact that the on-air Q&A happened at all told us a great deal. This New York Times  report captured the significance of the media appearance nicely:

Even the toughest Supreme Court confirmation battles never quite came to this: a grim-faced nominee, stoic wife at his side, going on national television and describing when, approximately, he lost his virginity.Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's appearance on Fox News on Monday night, submitting to a tough round of questions from the anchor Martha MacCallum about allegations of sexual misconduct, was the first time in memory that a Supreme Court nominee submitted to a televised interview before the confirmation vote.

Since the Eisenhower era, 35 people have been nominated to the Supreme Court -- and 34 of them went out of their way not to speak to the press during their confirmation processes.

And yet, there was Kavanaugh, sitting down for an interview with a network closely associated with Republican politics, as part of an appearance that was reportedly "arranged by White House aides looking to salvage Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation."

The fact that the cable news network has dealt with a series of sexual-harassment allegations in recent years added an odd and ironic twist to the extraordinary developments.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the fight over Kavanaugh's nomination were going well; if Donald Trump's choice for the Supreme Court were well on his way to being confirmed; and if the public were broadly comfortable with his lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, the conservative jurist wouldn't have been on television last night.

If this were simply a matter of allowing Kavanaugh to share his side of the story, he'll have that opportunity on Thursday during televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. The Trump White House decided that wouldn't be enough, and the circumstances warranted a more ambitious -- and unprecedented -- public-relations campaign.

It suggests that, as of yesterday afternoon, Kavanaugh's backers weren't confident he has the votes he needs to be confirmed.

Update: NBC News' First Read added this morning, "[H]ow impartial can a Supreme Court nominee be when he goes on Fox News -- of all possible platforms -- to defend himself?" The piece went on to note that the perception of Kavanaugh "as a partisan warrior" gets "reinforced" by appearing on Fox News.