“I’m no psychology professor but it does seem weird to me that someone could have a selective fear of flying. Can’t do it to testify but for vacation, well it’s not a problem at all.”
That was Donald Trump Jr.’s first public comment while watching Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified about her sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The bizarre comment—one suggesting Ford previously lied when she said she doesn't like to fly—came after investigative counsel Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor Republicans hired to question Ford, grilled her fear of flying in an attempt to poke holes in her story and prove the Republican belief that her wariness about flying was a ploy to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
But Mitchell’s attempt to use Ford’s fear of air travel to poke holes in her credibility overlooked one key fact: People with a fear of flying can and often do travel by plane.
“How did you get to Washington?” Mitchell asked Ford, who resides in California.
“In an airplane,” Ford replied after a pause.
“I ask that because it has been reported by the press that you would not submit to an interview with the committee because of your fear of flying. Is that true?” Mitchell said, referring to the reasoning Ford’s counsel gave for her initial reluctance to appear.
“I was hoping that they would come to me but then realized that was an unrealistic request,” Ford said. "That was certainly what I was hoping was to avoid having to get on an airplane, but I eventually was able to get up the gumption with the help of some friends and get on the plane," she added.
Mitchell, a Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor, then went on to ask about other trips the professor has taken—including one to Tahiti—despite her fear of flying.
“Correct,” Ford said, acknowledging her trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica, and French Polynesia. “It’s easier for me to travel that direction when it’s a vacation.” She reiterated that she only worked up the “gumption” to get on a flight to D.C. with help from friends and family.
The airplane-centric line of questioning followed Ford’s harrowing testimony, in which the psychology professor described how Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge allegedly pinned her to a bed and groped her during a high-school party in the '80s, covering her mouth to try and stifle her screams.
Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations.
“This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life,” she said. “It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
Similar to Trump Jr.’s latching onto Ford’s apprehension towards air travel, National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch tweeted, “I have difficulty buying that a person afraid of flying willingly gets on a plane to fly all over the globe for pleasure.”
The conservative firebrand added, “Remember, this was the reason given as to why she couldn’t fly to DC to testify, which resulted in numerous delays. She said her fear was because of Kavanaugh.”
Loesch concluded, “It was literally the reason given as to why she couldn’t go to DC to testify and resulted in numerous delays. She said Kavanaugh had made her fear planes. It’s ridiculous to be obtuse about it.”
The National Review has also deployed this perceived “gotcha” logic, writing that Ford admitted she has flown for business and pleasure “despite citing her fear of flight in requesting that the hearing regarding her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh be delayed.”
The article fails to concede that uneasiness towards flying does not bar someone from ever getting aboard an airplane.
Similarly, on Monday evening, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed that while he initially intended to give Ford “every benefit of the doubt,” learning about her flying fear pushed him over the edge.
“Could it be possible that Ford’s claiming she can’t fly in order to delay the proceedings long enough that Brett Kavanaugh can’t be confirmed?” Carlson asked. “That might be something that the committee could ask her if she shows up on Thursday as she says she will.”
He further snarked, “They probably won’t ask her though. That would be ‘victim shaming.’ She’s a woman, she’s telling the truth no matter what she says.”
But Mitchell did, indeed, ask about Ford’s fear of flying.
And she later pressed Ford on why she didn’t take up the Republicans’ offer to send staff to California for an interview, thereby avoiding a flight—the implication, again, that her initial resistance was proof she was trying to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation on behalf of the Democrats and had no intention to ever testify.
Ford replied that she didn’t understand the offer but would have “gladly hosted” the Senate staff in her home.
After the airplane questions concluded, CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin felt the need to point out that the flight argument is, in fact, not an argument at all.
“Anyone who could believe that progression of arguments is just a fool,” Toobin said in a panel discussion. "The technical legal term for that is idiotic."