CNN aired some pretty depressing footage from a Miami-based Brett Kavanaugh "focus group" last week. The network claimed to have found five typical Latina voters who all believe that Supreme Court nominee and very normal carpool dad Kavanaugh did not try to rape Christine Blasey Ford when the two were in high school. All five women appeared to live in the feminist version of the Sunken Place.
Only it turns out these so-called everyday voters were nothing of the sort. All five women were, in fact, deeply involved members of the Republican Party from Miami — which, as many users on Twitter pointed out over the weekend, means their allegedly organic worldviews are pretty suspect. These weren't neutral parties at all.
The piece worked to hoodwink regular viewers who aren't attuned to Miami politics by presenting a so-called focus group with the clear message that it's fine and dandy to support political candidates accused of trying rape girls when they were teens before any kind of investigation is complete into the claims.
“We’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school, with testosterone running high,” one woman, former Miami congressional candidate Gina Sosa, said onscreen. “Tell me, what boy hasn’t done this in high school? Please, I would like to know.”
This act of journalistic malfeasance is bizarrely similar to the scandal engulfing New York Post reporter Salena Zito, who continues to get caught pretending that Republican operatives are just regular old voters she met at gas stations.
Similarly, all five women who appeared in the CNN segment have been deeply involved in Miami politics for years:
- Miami restaurateur Irina Villarino has appeared onstage repeatedly with Donald Trump, including just last week at a September 17 event, where she suggested the United States create some sort of "American Heritage Month" to celebrate the achievements of native-born Americans.
- Gina Sosa was a Republican congressional candidate in Miami as little as a month ago. Sosa, who ran for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's vacant seat, appeared on TV in what looks like the same shirt she wore in campaign photos. It's not difficult to identify these people.
- Rhonda Rebman-Lopez, seated on the far left of the couch (whom CNN did not even name), also recently ran for Congress, as local blogger Grant Stern noticed over the weekend. Just one month ago, the Miami Herald published a piece about the Alabama-born Rebman-Lopez, who ran as "Rhonda Lopez" in a move critics said was a cynical attempt to pander to Miami Hispanics. She lost.
- Angela Vazquez is the vice chair of the Kendall Community Council. She's also the past president of the Women's Republican Club of Miami.
But the fifth woman on the panel was perhaps the most outrageous choice: She appears to be working on Ron DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign. Lourdes Castillo de la Peña, a former Ted Cruz fundraiser in 2016, was DeSantis' campaign coordinator in Miami-Dade County during the Republican gubernatorial primary. It's hard to get a less neutral voice than a prominent campaign worker for a candidate whose sole platform is sucking up to the guy who nominated Kavanaugh.
Castillo said she had "no sympathy" for Ford.
“Perhaps maybe at that moment she liked him," Castillo added. "And maybe he didn’t pay attention to her afterwards and he went out with another girl. She got bitter. Whatever the situation is, they’re kids.”
The Florida Democratic Party has already seized on Castillo's TV appearance and called for DeSantis to fire her. Party Chair Terrie Rizzo released a statement yesterday lambasting DeSantis for employing Castillo, though New Times is certain DeSantis could not care less.
“Lourdes Castillo de la Peña’s attacks on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford were horrifying and have rightfully drawn national condemnation," Rizzo said yesterday. "DeSantis should immediately fire de la Peña from his campaign and denounce the shaming of victims of sexual assault. Ron DeSantis needs to make clear that women must be believed."
Of course, New Times was not the first outlet to call out the bogus focus group: A few Twitter users, including the New Yorker's former finance writer James Surowiecki, posted about the supposed focus group over the weekend:
1. CNN's framing of this segment was really irresponsible. This purported to be a focus group that would show what "Republican women" think of Kavanagh now. So each woman is identified as a "Republican voter." https://t.co/sV5eFUWTRL— James Surowiecki (@JamesSurowiecki) September 23, 2018
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Lourdes Castillo de la Peña, in the white sweater, is a Republican operative who worked on Ted Cruz's campaign and hosted a $1000/plate luncheon as a fundraiser.https://t.co/vFeBCzv371— Shawn Brandt (@realshawnbrandt) September 21, 2018
Gina Sosa, second from the right, was a failed Republican candidate to win Iliana Ros-Lehtinen's seat open House seat in Florida's 27th (impressively, she got less than 2% of the primary vote!):https://t.co/QOhxxqaUcr— Shawn Brandt (@realshawnbrandt) September 21, 2018
So congrats to the anti-Trump Fake News CNN for running what appears to be a blatant piece of Republican agitprop designed to cover for an accused rapist. New Times asked CNN how in hell this piece came together but hasn't heard back yet.
In the meantime, a second woman has come forward, accusing Kavanaugh of forcing her to touch his penis.