Mainstream Media Fumbles through Initial Coverage of Sexual Assault Allegations against Biden
The original story and a tweet included this now-deleted sentence, “we found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”
The sexual assault allegations against presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will be one of the biggest stories throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, and mainstream media outlets are beginning to pick up the story now that Biden’s competition is out of the way.
Tara Reade, a Biden staffer in the early 90s, publicly accused Joe Biden in late March in a story first alluded to in reporting by The Intercept. In a subsequent interview with Katie Halper, Reade provided the full story behind the allegations, including Biden pressing her up against a wall and reaching down her skirt.
At the outset, mainstream media outlets did not pick up the story despite Biden’s former run-ins with sexual misconduct allegations.
Reade’s newest allegations came when former Vice President Joe Biden still had competition for the Democratic nominee. But Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race on April 8, leaving Biden unopposed heading into the Democratic National Convention.
This weekend, the New York Times released a story titled “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden”. The original story and a tweet included this now-deleted sentence, “we found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”
Despite often-bizarre framing, The Times did reveal some new and important information about the accusations.
Reade accused Biden’s Senate office of demoting her and taking away her duties which included overseeing the office’s interns. She was later fired from Biden’s office and never found another job in Washington D.C.
The Times interviewed various people at Biden’s office at the time, and they confirmed that Reade was abruptly removed from her position of overseeing them before their internships ended.
The story also includes multiple rejections of the allegations from long-time Biden staffers. Two of Reade’s friends spoke to The Times and confirmed that Reade shared parts of the allegations at the time when Reade said she had.
While the Time’s reporters include strange details in the story, including three paragraphs on allegations against President Trump before addressing Reade’s claims, the coverage shows the accusation will not go away for the Biden campaign. Whether or not Tara Reade is treated fairly is a whole different story.
To pair with the comparison to Trump, “President Trump has been accused of… a pattern of behavior that went far beyond the accusations against Mr. Biden,” The Times and other outlets have provided many caveats in their story that appear to be an attempt to undermine Reade’s claims.
The Times reported, “no other allegation (against Joe Biden) about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting.” But, three paragraphs later the reporters wrote they interviewed seven women who had complained about Mr. Biden, including several who believed Reade’s story.
Reade also filed a police report against Biden last week about the alleged assault 1993. However, The Times reporters found it important to add that “filing a false police report may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment.” MSNBC’s Ali Vitali also added a similar sentiment to the end of her coverage of the story, “it is illegal to falsify police reports.”
The lack of original coverage and silence from much of the Democratic establishment has caused many to compare the coverage of Tara Reade with the accusations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate hearings.
While partisanship was flipped when Christine Blasey Ford accused Trump-appointee Kavanaugh, media outlets failed to accurately and fairly report on Ford. With Fox News calling the accusations an “improvable” ambush to The New York Times Opinion Section tweeting an insensitive poll about Ford’s testimony, media corporations showed accusers the dangerous media environment they would find themselves in.
In the case of Tara Reade and Joe Biden, powerful corporate media is once again questioning motive (The New York Times and the Washington Post refer to her support of Senator Sanders during the primary) the motive of a woman accusing one of the world’s most powerful men of sexual assault. While outlets originally adopted silence, they have moved onto investigation with a tone much more suspicious of the accuser than the accused.
As the presidential nomination ratchets up and partisan lines are drawn more starkly, we will see Reade run through the media circus with little consideration of her well-being. So far, the media seems unwilling to learn its lesson, resulting in damaging impacts for accusers in the future.