Media

NY Times Editor Admits Editing Article on Biden Sexual Assault Allegation After Campaign Complained

Cites 'very subjective' standard in defense of paper's aggressive reporting on Brett Kavanuagh accusations

The New York Times edited a controversial passage in an article about a sexual assault allegation against former vice president Joe Biden after his campaign complained, the paper's executive editor said Monday.

Dean Baquet, in an interview with Times media columnist Ben Smith, explained why edits were made to the following sentence, which appeared as follows in the print edition of the paper, on page A20: "The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable."

Baquet said the Times decided to delete the second half of the sentence, without explanation in the form of an editor's note, because "the [Biden] campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward and made it look like there were other instances in which he had been accused of sexual misconduct."

Smith asked a number of questions challenging Baquet to defend the Times‘s excessively cautious approach to reporting the sexual assault allegation against Biden—first made public by a former staffer, Tara Reade, on March 25—in light of the paper's decidedly more aggressive approach to publishing similar allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Baquet failed to muster a coherent response beyond noting that the standard for reporting on such allegations is "very subjective." He explained that the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in 2018, which included testimony from a woman, Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her in high school, constituted a "hot story" that required a "different news judgement."

Kavanaugh vehemently denied Ford's allegation, and the Times did not interview anyone who recalled Ford telling them about the alleged incident at the time. Baquet, in the interview with Smith, cited the importance of "contemporaneous" conversations in determining the credibility and newsworthiness of sexual assault allegations. Like he said, the standard is "very subjective."

Baquet also defended the Times‘s decision to immediately publish Julie Swetnick's allegations against Kavanaugh. Swetnick, a client of former attorney and convicted felon Michael Avenatti, accused Kavanaugh of gang rape at frat parties. She turned out to be about as credible as her attorney. But the Times chose not to spend two weeks investigating her claims, Baquet said, because Kavanaugh "was already in a public forum in a large way" and had become "the biggest political story in the country." Apparently the same can not be said of Joe Biden or the 2020 presidential election.