From senior centers in Roswell to a college campus in Kennesaw to downtown Atlanta, people watched the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday and tried to decide which one was telling the truth.
Was it Ford, who said she was “100 percent” certain that while in high school she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh while one of his friends looked on? Or was it Kavanaugh, who angrily and unequivocally denied the accusations and said he and his family had been through “hell” during his pursuit of a seat on the Supreme Court?
Here is what some in the metro area had to say as the hearing unfolded:
“It is going to be hard to distinguish what is true”
Professor J. Benjamin Taylor wrapped up his political science lecture early Thursday morning and flipped on C-SPAN so his students at Kennesaw State University could witness history.
For Nia White, a political science major from Loganville, the hearing started off on the wrong note when Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley briefly interrupted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the panel. As White took in the hearing, she crossed her arms and muttered under her breath: “We are starting early.”
“She is the ranking member,” White said of Feinstein. “And you sit here and you cut her off?”
White questioned why the committee wouldn’t focus on allegations of sexual misconduct brought against Kavanaugh by two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.
David Clarke, a political science major from South Georgia, bemoaned how the hearing quickly became politicized.
“Certain senators wanted to jump to conclusions on both sides — they didn’t believe her or they do believe her,” he said. “It is important that we work this out instead of pointing blame so early on.”
Ford’s testimony, Clarke added, sounded “genuine.”
“It sounded like she was telling the truth,” he said. “But I’m sure Brett Kavanaugh will sound like he is telling the truth as well. And it was over 30 years ago so it is going to be hard to distinguish what is true, especially with not having another witness there besides them two.”
“This is a ridiculous waste of time”
Camille Smith of Atlanta isn’t convinced the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are true.
“If he is indeed guilty of criminal activity then that's one thing,” she said, noting the recent sentencing of comedian Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of drugging and molesting a woman in 2004.
“If he's just been accused of actions that over 85 percent of drunk high school males have done, with no valid proof that an illegal crime was committed, then why are we here? Republican or Democrat, this is a ridiculous waste of time for everyone involved not to mention the insane waste of OUR tax dollars.”
She hopes people will disregard comments from President Donald Trump, given his history of sometimes incendiary tweets, when it comes to assessing Kavanaugh.
“Forget what Trump has said; it has nothing to do with whether or not this man has done anything,” she said.
“I believe the women”
The televisions at the Roswell Adult Recreation Center were turned off Thursday morning, but what was about to happen hundreds of miles away on Capitol Hill was the center of conversation between Alice Inman, 70, Anne Green, 75, and one of their friends as the three sat in a break room.
“And the Republicans are going to have a woman prosecutor ask her questions instead of doing it themselves,” said Inman. “I mean, that is ridiculous.” “They’ve already made up their minds,” said Green.
“It’s a bunch of rich, white males who want it their way.” “It’s a witch hunt,” replied Inman.
“I believe the women. They’re the ones calling for an FBI investigation. That’s a gutsy thing on their part.”
The retired educators come to the senior center regularly and Thursday morning was no different.
“I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying the whole story about him being so innocent,” Inman said. “To drink that heavy in high school, college and after and still be a virgin? Oh, come on! Please!”
“Some parent would have heard something”
John DeLeon, 79, sat playing dominoes with three other men in the cafeteria of the Roswell Senior Center while the Kavanaugh hearings began airing on the television set behind them.
“I gotta listen to this,” DeLeon said as he finished the game and pushed away and took a seat at another table.
The former Democrat, who said he long ago became a Republican, is convinced that something had happened to Ford. He just wasn’t sure it was at the hands of Kavanaugh, he said. As a father of three daughters, he couldn’t believe that any woman would stay silent.
“If there’s that much sex going on, somebody, some parent would have heard something,” DeLeon said. “All those daughters coming home drunk? Please. Somebody would’ve said something way back then and somebody would be in jail.”
The former Marine watched Dr. Ford begin her testimony, listening intently, but interrupting with his own commentary when she said something he found incongruent with his beliefs on how an alleged victim of sexual assault should behave. At one point, when Ford was going through her notes, DeLeon reared back in his seat.
“See, she’s reading too much. If you know that happened to you, you wouldn’t have to read it. You’d say, ‘Yes,’” DeLeon said.
When Dr. Ford said some details “are not in the purview of my memory,” DeLeon saw a fissure in her testimony.
“’I don’t remember,’” he said. “See?”
“He isn’t the best”
Linda and Paul Byrne had just wrapped up a tour of CNN’s studios in downtown Atlanta when they sat down in the CNN Center food court to watch the hearing over coffee. Linda Byrne thought both parties could technically be telling the truth: Kavanaugh could have been so drunk that he would have no memory of the incident.
“Drinking excessively, you kind of don’t remember everything,” Linda Byrne said.
“He could remember, but would you admit it if you were going to be a Supreme Court justice?”
The couple, visiting Atlanta from California, saw no reason for Ford to lie.
“I don’t think any woman would expose herself to this media scrutiny for any reason but the truth,” Linda Byrne said.
Linda Byrne had no problem with Kavanaugh as a nominee before the sexual assault allegations emerged; she believed he could make judicial rulings objectively, following the Constitution. But the allegations have changed all that.
“You can’t have the high honor of representing our country with that hanging over your head,” Linda Byrne said.
“We should have the pride to say we have the best that we can get (on the Supreme Court). With this, he isn’t the best.”
“Why has she waited this long?”
At Mulligan’s Food & Spirits, down the road from the Marietta Square, the dim interior was illuminated by a Coors Light sign and televisions showing the hearing.
“The whole thing is a setup,” said Brad Breitbach.
“There were, what, 80 women who came out and said he was the most upstanding guy they’d ever known?” he said, referring to a letter of support signed by 65 women who have known Kavanaugh for decades.
For Breitbach, Ford’s sterling professional credentials don’t bolster her claims that Kavanaugh assaulted her when she was 15.
“The point is, she waited 30 years?” he asked.
A couple of seats down at the bar, Matt Pawloski was keeping up with the help of two screens, the television in front of him and his phone at his hand.
Like Breitbach, he’s puzzled at the decades that have passed between the alleged incident and Thursday’s hearing.
“Why has she waited this long? It seems like she’s got an ulterior motive. Maybe she’s getting paid by somebody,” he said.
Pawloski worries about a culture where officially unverified allegations from decades past can spring up and potentially sideline a career. He wonders who’s next.
“The guillotine right now is for all these political leaders,” he said.
“Shoddy way to seek the truth”
Former DeKalb County and one-time sex crimes prosecutor District Attorney J. Tom Morgan, after watching the morning session, called the hearing "a shoddy way to seek the truth."
A sex-crimes prosecutor like Rachel Mitchell, who is asking the questions for the GOP senators, would have first initiated a law enforcement investigation that included interviews of witnesses and those who knew the alleged assailant and the victim, Morgan said.
“With that, you’d know how to frame your questions, but we have none of that here because they wanted no investigation,” he said. “This committee doesn’t want to hear from them.”
Some of the most powerful evidence in a sex-crimes case comes through similar transaction evidence — similar conduct committed by the defendant on other victims, Morgan added, noting the committee is not allowing any of Kavanaugh’s other accusers testify.
“This is not a truth-seeking endeavor,” he said. “It’s just way too partisan.”
“I hope she actually gets heard”
At Georgia State University’s student center, freshmen Ella Krpo and McKinley Freelon stole peeks at the proceedings, projected onto a wall behind them, as they worked on school assignments.
“She gives other women the courage to come forward about sexual assault, rape and other things they’ve felt that they need to hide,” Krpo said.
“I hope she actually gets heard.”
Krpo believes Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh and a friend tried to sexually assault her and thinks it should disqualify Kavanaugh from becoming a member of the nation’s highest court.
“Someone with power in our government should not have done that,” Krpo said.
Freelon thought the hearing would help him form a better opinion as to whether Kavanaugh deserved to be on the Supreme Court, but he already felt inclined to believe Ford’s claim.
“There’s reason to believe her, but I understand why other people are saying that he’s innocent until proven guilty,” Freelon said.
“It’s a big issue in America, whether to believe the accuser or the accused.”
Marc Nelson, also a freshman, was watching the hearings while eating breakfast at the student center. No matter how long ago the alleged assault occurred, Kavanaugh should “face the consequences” if he did assault Ford, Nelson said.
“What is done in the dark always comes to the light,” Nelson said.
“We support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh”
Kathryn Ann Ballou of Atlanta planned to watch the hearing coverage at work while her husband will watch at home. They will watch it again later with their son, when he has time in between school and football.
“It will be educational for him. We are Republicans and both of us think this is setting a bad precedent for future nominations as well as politics in general,” she said.
“We support what the president has done policywise and hope to benefit. We support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh,” Ballou continued.
“I am the same age and lived through the same times. I am not judging (Blasey Ford) on how she feels, but I am questioning the fact that she was 15, but still cannot identify the year it happened or place. The entire situation is so political.”
“Our son has witnessed stories like the Ted Cruz dinner story from the other night,”she said, referring to an incident where anti-Kavanaugh protesters confronted the U.S. senator from Texas and his wife at a Washington restaurant on Monday night, yelling at them until they left.
“There is a loss of civility being fueled by various groups around the country and it is sad,” she said.
“Sadly, we are stumped”
Katherine Michalak said she almost feels guilty for not watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearing coverage.
She said watching the constant news reports brings back her own terrible memories.
“I’m immediately pulled back to my own assault traumas and reaching for a Benadryl to help me fall asleep,” the freelance writer from East Cobb said.
“With reactions like that, the question really is, why WOULD anyone report?”
Michalak and her husband have been reflecting lately.
“When my husband and I show our teen boys some of our top movies from our high school days, we often find ourselves in conversation about sexual sociology and misogyny.”
“I mean, c’mon ... ‘Sixteen Candles’ was my favorite flick back then, but rewatching it now, I’m horrified by the ‘nerd panty swap’ and the trading of Drunk Carolyn.”
“Sadly, we are stumped when it comes to explaining news headlines,” she said.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.