Admit It, Sexual Assault Allegations Are More Credible When They're Against Republicans

April 16, 2020

On March 25, Tara Reade accused former vice president Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. Imagine if, instead of airing the allegation on a podcast, Reade had sent an anonymous letter to a leading Republican senator. Imagine if the reporters couldn't track down a single person who recalled Reade telling them about the assault around the time it was alleged to have occurred. How would the New York Times cover the story? Would it cover the story at all?

Times executive editor Dean Baquet recently explained that the journalistic standard for assessing the credibility and newsworthiness of sexual assault allegations against political figures is "very subjective." Baquet is right, but he should have said what everyone knows: Accusations of sexual assault against Democrats simply aren't as credible as accusations against Republicans.

Baquet could not provide a more coherent explanation for the Times's (meticulous, cautious) handling of Reade's allegation against Biden, especially compared with the paper's (hysterical, credulous) coverage of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

It was Ford, not Reade, who submitted her allegation in an anonymous letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) after it was reported that Trump was considering nominating Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Reporters for the Times never spoke to anyone who remembered discussing the alleged assault with Ford at the time. Baquet now says such "contemporaneous" conversations—which Reade has been able to produce—are an important factor in determining an accuser's reliability.

The Times interviewed Reade "on multiple days over hours" and dozens of others while "seeking corroboration" through documents and other sources. The paper published its findings under an innocuous headline—"Examining Tara Reade's Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden"—more than two weeks after Reade made her accusation.

The Times's report on Ford's allegation—which came to light days before a scheduled Senate committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination—was slightly different. Headlined, "Kavanaugh’s Nomination in Turmoil as Accuser Says He Assaulted Her Decades Ago," it was based on nothing more than the anonymous letter to Feinstein, as well as an interview Ford gave to the Washington Post, published earlier in the day.

The Times did note the lack of evidence for Ford's accusation, but only as something Republicans "seized" on for their political advantage. One story, published prior to Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Republicans "quickly seized on the potential witness statements" of individuals identified by Ford that would contradict her testimony. Another described White House advisers as "hoping that the lack of contemporaneous corroboration for Ms. Ford's account would mean that Senate Republicans could move ahead without addressing it in detail."

Democrats, on the other hand, did not "seize" on Ford's accusation for their own purposes, per the Times. Rather, the allegation came "as Democrats are already raising questions about Judge Kavanaugh's truthfulness."

The Times story on Reade's accusation is slightly different. It notes early on that the Times was unable to find a "pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden." The print edition of the story included a qualification—"beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable"—that Baquet admitted was removed after the Biden campaign complained.

Before getting to the details of Reade's allegation, the reader must scroll through three paragraphs on the allegations of sexual assault made against President Donald Trump, a long paragraph on Reade's political affiliations, and a bizarre disclaimer "that filing a false police report may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment." The story devotes less column space to the evidence in support of Reade's allegation.

The story also notes that, at the time of the alleged assault, then-senator Biden was "working to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which [he] has described as his 'proudest legislative accomplishment.'" It includes a photo of him discussing the legislation. This passage is immediately followed by four paragraphs describing instances in which Reade has expressed praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Times's reporting on Ford's political affiliations was less extensive. Her testimony before the Senate committee, meanwhile, was recounted under dramatic headlines such as, "With Caffeine and Determination, Christine Blasey Ford Relives Her Trauma."

The paper referred to Ford as a "sexual assault survivor" who "delivered a harrowing tale of casual teenage violence that ... captured the attention of the nation in the throes of a profound reckoning with the realities of sexual assault." One report described Ford's testimony as "compelling," while noting that "she appeared to have little trouble" appearing "credible."

Following her appearance before the committee, when a former boyfriend of Ford's gave a sworn statement challenging details of her testimony, the Times pounced—on Republicans, who were "stepping up efforts to challenge [Ford's] credibility."

The Times had no trouble finding a "pattern of sexual misconduct" with respect to Kavanaugh, but only because it refused to afford him the same due diligence with which it handled the allegation against Biden. The paper published a profile piece on "The Women Who Have Accused Brett Kavanugh," which included lurid allegations from two women—Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick—whose stories fell apart under minimal scrutiny. Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti, wound up in prison for fraud.

"Dr. Blasey is not a lone accuser," wrote former Times editor Jill Abramson in the paper's opinion section, describing Ramirez's and Swetnick's dubious accounts as "considerable corroborating evidence" that Republicans were "airbrushing." Opinion columnist Frank Bruni praised Ford's "riveting, persuasive" testimony while describing her as "impossible not to like" and "difficult not to believe."

Opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg is currently the only Times writer who has attempted to grapple with Reade's accusation against Biden. Her assessment of Reade's case, compared with her assessment of Ford's, provides a better explanation than Baquet could ever muster for why the Times has handled the two cases differently.

Goldberg's column about Ford, "Christine Blasey Ford's Sacrifice," begins by acknowledging that the author "absolutely" believes Ford's account. It goes on to praise the "heroic" testimony of a "victim." While it was possible, the columnist assessed, that Kavanaugh did not assault Ford as she claimed, it was "more likely" that he was too drunk to remember doing it.

Goldberg's most recent column, "What to Do With Tara Reade's Allegations Against Joe Biden?" is slightly different. She laments the "ambiguous" nature of the case, concluding that, "No one ... can claim to have more than a hunch about what happened," as if that ought to distinguish it from Ford's story. Goldberg's point would be a lot more convincing if anyone who expressed similar hesitation about Ford's allegations had not been angrily dismissed.

In any event, Goldberg argues, the real villains are the right-wing trolls attempting to bully feminists into expressing a "certainty they have no reason to feel" with respect to Reade's allegations. Which is just another way of saying "shut up" without having to admit what we all know to be true: Accusations of sexual assault against Democrats simply aren't as credible as accusations against Republicans.