The paper that advertises itself as containing “All the News That’s Fit to Print” finally decided that a sexual assault allegation against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was fit to print. It wasn’t fit to consider seriously, but that’s another issue entirely.
On Sunday, The New York Times published an article by political reporters Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember titled “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.” It did just that, albeit with a more critical eye than typically given to uncorroborated allegations — at least, if the way The Times covered now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination battle was a polestar of how much credibility should be given to women who are willing to come forward to make accusations of sexual impropriety against major political figures.
Reade, who worked for half a year as an aide in Biden’s Washington office in 1993 when the 2020 presumptive Democratic nominee was representing Delaware in the Senate, has told media outlets that while she was working for the then-senator, Biden pushed her up against a wall and used his fingers to penetrate her.
“He said ‘come on man, I heard you liked me,'” Reade told journalist Katie Halper in an interview. “For me, it was like, everything shattered. I looked up to him.
“He was, like, my father’s age. He was, like, this champion of women’s rights in my eyes, and I couldn’t believe it was happening. It seemed surreal.”
Reade had previously been part of a group of women who came forward last year to accuse Biden of untoward behavior, although nothing that would qualify as sexual assault. Biden’s faced a litany of allegations regarding inappropriate closeness to women. In April 2019, Readetold the northern California newspaper The Union that Biden had touched her neck and hair in public.
If these complaints seem antediluvian to you, it’s probably because a) even Super Tuesday feels that way now and amid the coronavirus pandemic, and b) the media made sure the smear on Biden’s reputation dissolved quickly. Biden issued an apology which was none too specific about what he was apologizing for, everyone assumed that he was going to do better and the matter was relegated to background noise.
Reade’s allegation brought this ugliness back up — if slowly. No one was particularly willing to cover the story at first, least of all The Times. Her allegation was made on March 25; 18 days later, on April 12, The Times released its first serious deep dig on the matter and didn’t find her story terribly convincing.
“The Times interviewed Ms. Reade on multiple days over hours, as well as those she told about Mr. Biden’s behavior and other friends,” the story stated. “The Times has also interviewed lawyers who spoke to Ms. Reade about her allegation; nearly two dozen people who worked with Mr. Biden during the early 1990s, including many who worked with Ms. Reade; and the other seven women who criticized Mr. Biden last year, to discuss their experiences with him.
“No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation. The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.”
That last paragraph is the matter of some discussion, because this is how it originally read — with the crucial, embarrassing words “beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”
Remember the press spent a month essentially arguing that underage drinking was evidence that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, but a long pattern of “hugs, kisses, and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable” proves Biden’s innocence. pic.twitter.com/CPGr48o8nK
— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) April 12, 2020
So, there was no pattern of Joe Biden engaging in a pattern of inappropriate behavior — aside from the pattern of inappropriate behavior that Biden had been alleged to have engaged in prior to this.
This was amplified by the fact The Times actually tweeted that paragraph out, unsurprisingly to widespread derision. The tweet was also deleted:
We’ve deleted a tweet in this thread that had some imprecise language that has been changed in the story.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 12, 2020
“We’ve deleted a tweet in this thread that had some imprecise language that has been changed in the story,” The Times explained.
Imprecise? Or too precise? You be the judge. In any event, there wasn’t any correction or editor’s note on the piece itself. As Fox News notes, The Times’ editorial guidelines state that editor’s notes should be added “generally to acknowledge a journalistic lapse other than a factual error.”
It wasn’t just that paragraph that invited comparisions to the media’s coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings and the allegations by the Palo Alto University psychology Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers in the early 1980s, and Kavanaugh accuser Deborah Ramirez, who alleged Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a dorm party at Yale in 1982 or ’83.
See if you can envision this last sentence being inserted in a piece about a sexual impropriety allegation that involved a Republican:
“On Thursday, Ms. Reade filed a report with the Washington, D.C., police, saying she was the victim of a sexual assault in 1993; the public incident report, provided to The Times by Ms. Reade and the police, does not mention Mr. Biden by name, but she said the complaint was about him. Ms. Reade said she filed the report to give herself an additional degree of safety from potential threats. Filing a false police report may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment.” [Emphasis ours.]
They’re not saying it’s false, they’re, you know, just pointing it out in case you weren’t aware.
And guess what this transitioned to not 12 graphs into the story: “President Trump has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen women, who have described a pattern of behavior that went far beyond the accusations against Mr. Biden. The president also directed illegal payments, including $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, Stormy Daniels, before the 2016 election to silence women about alleged affairs with Mr. Trump, according to federal prosecutors.”
This couldn’t just be a story about unproven allegations against Joe Biden, mind you. It had to be a segue into how unproven allegations about President Donald Trump were way worse.
This isn’t to say Reade’s allegations are true or false; I have little idea and I gather that, given the amount of time that’s passed, few aside from Biden, Reade and God will know what really happened, and the final entity isn’t likely to officially weigh in on the matter — at least before November.
Then again, Biden himself has said Reade should be believed — if in a roundabout sort of way.
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real,” he told reporters during the sturm und drang regarding Brett Kavanaugh, according to The Washington Post.
You don’t made a comment like that with an asterisk that says “… except if it’s about me, because then it wouldn’t be true.”
As for The Times, the newspapers’ take has also changed. Consider its articles about Kavanaugh’s accusers. There was “For Christine Blasey Ford, a Drastic Turn From a Quiet Life in Academia,” which, like The Times’ clinical profile of Reade’s allegation, was written just weeks after Ford’s allegation was revealed. If you don’t want to read it, you can safely assume that piece was about as anti-clinical as the title indicates.
In terms of Ramirez, The Times published an excerpt of a book on Kavanaugh’s confirmation under the title, “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not.” That last article was notable because it included a new allegation of sexual impropriety against Kavanaugh while failing to mention the alleged target of the act denied it ever happened and the authors had never spoken to her.
The approach has drawn The Times plenty of criticism, of course. But still, the newspaper has set its own standards for this sort of reporting, which is that women are to be believed — indeed, practically venerated — when they come forward with an accusation against a major public figure. While some of those caught up in the #MeToo movement have been liberals, almost none of those liberals have been a political figure whose downfall could tip the balance of political power.
In that respect, Biden is different. So, too, is The Times’ response. Correlation may not be causality, but it certainly feels a lot like it here.
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