Growing up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid in Bible Belt Texas, I was quite familiar with the word “virgin.” (Click here for a dictionary reference, if you need one.)
It wasn’t a curse word and, for most people, it wasn’t a punch line. At the same time, it wasn’t something folks in my high school discussed in public very much. Yes, there were people who gossiped about who was doing or not doing what. However, as a nerd, bookworm and choral musician I wasn’t up to speed on all that. I was an uncool guy, even among the Baptists.
My point is that this wasn’t a mysterious word. No one needed to put the V-word inside “scare quotes” (dictionary definition here), as if it was a concept from an alien planet.
Take this USA Today headline, for example: “Brett Kavanaugh: He was a 'virgin' in high school and other takeaways from Fox interview.”
What, pray tell, is the purpose of the quotation marks around “virgin”? Is the point that (a) editors at Gannett are not sure about the meaning of the word or (b) that Kavanaugh — wink, wink — said that word so we are putting it inside quotation marks because, well, you know.
To make sure readers got the point, editors repeated this reference later in the story. This word was, apparently, the most important, the most shocking, takeaway from this interview.
Kavanaugh a 'virgin' in high school
The judge said he never had sexual intercourse "or anything close to (it)" until long after he left Georgetown Prep, the elite all-boys Catholic high school he attended in Rockville, Maryland.
“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” MacCallum asked Kavanaugh.
“That’s correct," he replied.
She pressed on: “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”
“Many years after, I’ll leave it at that," he answered. "Many years after."
Here is my question about that passage: Is the most important word in it “prep” or “Catholic"?
If you have followed the story of the Kavanaugh nomination, you know that his Catholic faith plays a major role in it. At least, it does when the man himself is allowed to describe who he is and how he attempts to live his life.
Here is an important quote from America magazine — linked to the Jesuits — that I mentioned early on, when he was nominated. His remarks on that day were intensely Catholic, although few mainstream news outlets noted that.
During his remarks, Mr. Kavanaugh highlighted his Catholic faith and Jesuit connections.
“The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘men for others,’” Mr. Kavanaugh said, referencing Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1983. “I have tried to live that creed.”
(The motto “Men for Others” was popularized in a 1973 speech to alumni of Jesuit schools by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., who was then the superior general of the Jesuits. Today, many Jesuit schools use the phrase “Men and Women for Others” or “People for Others,” though Georgetown Prep educates just young men.)
I could cite several other references of this kind.
Why bring this up? To be blunt, if the USA Today editors thought the strange word “virgin” was the big issue in this interview, I wonder why this story contains zero information about Kavanaugh’s faith. There was a time when the word “Catholic” was frequently linked with conservative doctrines, and even conservative behavior, on issues of this kind.
Now, it could be that Fox News is to blame and the interview didn’t probe religious or ethical issues in any meaningful way. (Fox is not known for serious coverage of religion news.)
A confession on my part: I am not watching cable-TV news these days, for the sake of my soul and my sanity. I am a reader, right now, and that’s stressful enough. Glancing at Twitter is more than enough. The Washington Post has offered a transcript, with editorial comments. Here is a key passage:
There are multiple witnesses that will corroborate these facts, and each of them must be called to testify publically. Did you ever participate in or where you ever aware of any gang-rape that happened at a party that you attended?
KAVANAUGH: That’s totally false and outrageous. I’ve never done any such thing, known about any such thing. When I was in high school – and I went to an all boys catholic high school, a Jesuit high school, where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship, friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all girls Catholic schools.
The faith language in this interview is all introduced by the Kavanaughs.
Frankly, I would have thought that a faith-defined follow-up question would have been appropriate during the discussion of the Kavanaugh family. Here is what USA Today offered there, and it’s really thin:
He spoke with his wife at his side
Ashley Kavanaugh sat next to her husband as he forcefully defended himself. Often nodding in agreement as the judge spoke, Ashley Kavanaugh said she's known him for 17 years and described him as "decent ... kind ... and good" as she defended him.
"It's been very difficult to have these conversations with your children," she told MacCallum. "But they know Brett and they know the truth. And we told them from the very beginning of this process this will be not fun sometimes. You're going to hear things. People feel strongly and you need to know that. Just remember you know your dad."
Ashley Kavanaugh was the personal secretary to President George W. Bush when Brett Kavanaugh worked in the White House. His first date with his future bride was Sept. 10, 2001. The next morning, they were among those whisked out of the White House during the 9/11 attacks.
Showing admirable restraint, editors elected not to place the word “wife” inside scare quotes in that sub-headline.
What a world.