What if I told you there is a world leader with approval ratings in the low 40s, being dogged by allegations of an unwanted sexual advance, and his name is not Donald Trump?
In early June, an editorial from August 2000 began resurfacing online. Written by a young female reporter, the editorial recounted how Justin Trudeau groped her at the Kokanee Summit music festival.
Always the gentleman, Trudeau apologized to the woman. After realizing she was a reporter, of course.
"I'm sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward," the reporter quoted Trudeau as saying.
I wonder if the New York Times thinks this is "crossing the line"? It certainly is no offering a swimsuit to a woman who doesn't have one at a pool party. Does Trudeau have a history of "unwelcome advances" and a "shrewd reliance on ambition," perhaps?
In fact, the New York Times hasn't had much interest in a story involving a politician's unwanted sexual advances on a reporter, except in the context of a conspiratorial notion that Trudeau's gropey past might benefit Trump.
"Hours before President Trump landed in Canada on Friday, 18-year-old allegations that Justin Trudeau once groped a reporter resurfaced on a website sympathetic to the president," read an actual lede of a Times report on the G-7 summit.
"Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not."
Or maybe the media aren’t very interested when liberal politicians grope reporters. Since its first passing mention of the grope in the G-7 piece, the Times has posted just two stories on the incident. One was written by the Associated Press.
The story isn't gaining much traction on cable news these days, either, despite Trudeau's prominence on the world stage, his fumbling answers on the scandal, and its relevance during the #MeToo era.
Trudeau should be able to muster a better explanation for his actions—which now has the backing of two named sources and the woman herself on record—at Kokanee.
First he said he didn't remember any "negative interactions" at the festival. (But, judging by appearances, would he?) Then, after "very" long and careful reflection, he concluded remembering he apologized for something he thought was "not inappropriate."
Reporting by the National Post confirmed from multiple sources the young woman's account of the "unsettling encounter" with Trudeau that left her "distressed."
At the time the reporter worked for the Creston Valley Advance, a paper in British Columbia. She has now identified herself as Rose Knight. The Advance‘s then-editor, Brian Bell, told the paper he has "no doubts" the incident happened as described.
How was the incident detailed? Knight said in the editorial she was "blatantly disrespected" and groped.
"It's not a rare incident to have a young reporter, especially a female who is working for a small community newspaper, be considered an underling to their ‘more predominant' associates and blatantly disrespected because of it," she wrote in the unsigned editorial entitled "Open Eyes." "But shouldn't the son of a former prime minister be aware of the rights and wrongs that go along with public socializing?"
She continued: "Didn't he learn, through his vast experiences in public life, that groping a strange young woman isn't in the handbook of proper etiquette, regardless of who she is, what her business is or where they are?"
Bell said he considered Knight to "be of sound character." "She would not have made this up," he said. The National Post also tracked down Valerie Bourne, the Advance‘s publisher at the time, who confirmed the story.
"She came to me just because she was distressed," Bourne said.
Bourne has also described the incident as "an inappropriate touch which in the context of today would be called ‘sexual' in nature."
Trudeau's first response to the allegation was he remembers being at the festival but "doesn't think he had any negative interactions there."
He doesn't remember. (The festival was known for its "mix of booze and testosterone," after all.)
And besides, Trudeau has done plenty for women politically. Why should a grope he can't recall damper his liberal credibility? He doesn't even use the word "man."
"As the PM has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect," a Trudeau spokesperson told the National Post in response to the grope allegation. "His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful."
The National Post echoed the sentiment.
"As prime minister, Trudeau has earned an international reputation as an advocate of women and women's issues, naming a cabinet containing an equal number of men and women, submitting the federal budget and other government initiatives to gender-based analysis, and pursuing an explicitly feminist foreign policy," the National Post wrote.
What's a grope here and there when you are "pursuing an explicitly feminist foreign policy"?
Trudeau was forced to address the scandal again last week, saying he's confident he did nothing wrong, but admitted he apologized to Knight at the time.
Hmm, maybe something to the effect of, "I'm sorry, I wouldn't have groped you if I had realized you were a reporter"?
"I've been reflecting very carefully on what I remember from that incident almost 20 years ago, and again, I am, I feel, I am confident that I did not act inappropriately," Trudeau said. "If I apologized later then it would be because I sensed that she was not entirely comfortable with the interaction we had. Like I said, I've been working very hard to try and piece it together and even when the original editorial came out at the time, I was fairly confident, I was very confident, that I hadn't acted in a way that I felt was in any way inappropriate."
Trudeau added he is "responsible" for his side of the interaction, which he does not believe was "in any way untoward," though it may have been.
"But at the same time, this lesson that we are learning—and I'll be blunt about it—often a man experiences an interaction as being benign, or not inappropriate, and a woman, particularly in a professional context can experience it differently," he said. "And we have to respect that, and reflect on it."
When Knight finally stepped forward, she was clearer.
"I issue this statement reluctantly, in response to mounting media pressure to confirm that I was the reporter who was the subject of the Open Eyes editorial, published in the Creston Valley Advance," Knight said. "The incident referred to in the editorial did occur, as reported. Mr. Trudeau did apologize the next day."
Maybe the politician with the real "problem with women" is Justin Trudeau.