A Republican friend (for me, a unicorn these days) challenged me yesterday on what she called the media’s double standard in pursuing (actually, she said in not pursuing) the claims Tara Reade has made that the presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden sexually assaulted her 27 years ago when she was an aide in his Senate office.
Clearly, the media has pursued the story sufficiently that we all know what she is talking about. We know what Reade has said and that her story has changed from an earlier charge of unwelcome touching of her neck and hair to digital penetration. And we now know, as of this weekend, that Biden has said it never happened.
Republicans are screaming “hypocrisy” and “double standard” because Democrats, even Democratic women, and especially the Democratic women who want to be Biden’s Vice-Presidential running mate, are actively believing Biden rather than Reade. These are the same women, they charge, who were particularly insistent that all women alleging sexual assault are to be heard and believed, especially Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey-Ford.
Heard. And the facts investigated. We’ll come back to this “and the facts investigated” element later. It is important.
In the meantime, let’s just think about this for a moment. For it is rich, indeed. That Republicans in the Age of Trump would used a purported sex scandal to derail the likely Democratic Presidential candidate. (This is not to say that the Democrats didn’t try to derail Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court with a purported sex scandal of their own.) But, really, with a braggadocios self-described pussy-grabber in the White House, with more than 25 accusers, they want to go there? And now, with a pandemic crisis and a concomitant economic crisis overwhelming the country? Of course they do. What sells better than sex? Nothing distracts with greater efficacy in America.
As for the news media my friend disparages, I critique it somewhat differently. I wonder what TV news producers are thinking airing the graphic details of the charge, right there alongside the dreadful — and dead-full — facts and figures of Covid-19. If parents are already muting the news so as not to further disturb their children, I guess journalistic editors figure they can have reporters talk about fingers in the vagina. So, yes, thank you, Mr. Trump; it has come to this. Still, my beef is less about their apparently prurient instincts than about their failure to move beyond the he- said-she-said narrative to a fulsome journalistic investigation which, I would point out (and they should) involves their judgment along with a careful review of all the relevant facts.
What do we know about Joe Biden and his character and his relationships and the way he ran his Senate office and the Vice-President’s office and his campaigns? What do we know about the thoroughness of the vetting process involved when President Obama picked him to be VP? You see, this is relevant, Biden’s record and experience, and the reporters’ experiences with him and research into his vast record of public service. When the reporters did their job with Kavanaugh, looking into his past via a high school yearbook and his strangely elaborate calendars, they learned something about his character, too, which, when reported, gave credence to the very real possibility that in the the alcohol-and-testosterone-fueled party scene portrayed in the justice’s high school and college experience, Blasey-Ford’s story could ring true. It’s the same with Trump, and for that matter, former President Bill Clinton: there are pieces of their pasts that make the victims’ claims quite credible, including, in Clinton's case, lots of people who once looked the other way, and in Trump’s case, lawyers and canceled checks, not to mention the Hollywood Access tape. In contrast, Biden’s past, to the extent it is known by his political colleagues and reporters who have covered him over the years, does not yet seem to provide the most likely grounds for sexual misconduct.
The woman must be heard. The facts must be investigated. Don’t kill the story, journalists and loyalists; follow it. And don’t let it be overwhelmed either by politically-biased charges of hypocrisy and double-standards or politically-biased charges of conspiracy and dirty tricks. Seek the truth. Make a sound judgment on the data and the character revealed about both the accuser and the accused.
But do not think for a moment that this is the story of the 2020 Presidential campaign. There is far too much else at stake. Especially with Americans dying at a rate of nearly 3,000 a day.
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