For anyone running for office in modern America, accusations of sexual assault are par for the course. But when it comes to weighing up these accusations, the US’ mainstream paper of record applies some very uneven standards.
Take Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. If doubts weren’t already raised by his fondness for sniffing women, the emergence last month of a sexual assault allegation against the former vice president could have caused a major headache for his campaign.
Yet amid the coronavirus pandemic, and given the political leanings of most media outlets, the scandal barely registered.
The Intercept ran a story in March on how Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer, claimed that in 1993 Biden pushed her against a wall, groped her, and penetrated her with his fingers. Reade had spoken up about the alleged incident a year earlier, but was met with accusations that she was doing Russia’s bidding. The US media was still doing ‘Russiagate’ back then, remember?
The story was ignored by every single mainstream TV news network for more than a week. Few print news sites covered it. The New York Times only ran the story this Sunday, in a feature-length article dismissing the allegations entirely.
The NYT’s investigation “found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.” The paper noted that Reade’s peers on Capitol Hill “did not recall any talk of such an incident or similar behavior by Mr. Biden toward her or any women,” though she did reportedly tell her family and a friend. Biden’s campaign manager was given a lengthy paragraph to tout her boss’ tireless work for women’s rights. Reade is described as being “a bit naive” at the time of the alleged assault, and in light of her filing a police report on Thursday, the Times ever so helpfully reminded its readers that “filing a false police report may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment.”
Furthermore, the Times brought up allegations that Reade “was a Russian agent,” and spends three paragraphs outlining sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump “that went far beyond the accusations against Mr. Biden.”
New York Times finally covers the woman who is accusing Biden of sexually assaulting her The article states that she previously wrote nice things about Putin“Ms. Reade said that she was not working for Russia and did not support Mr. Putin”Unreal https://t.co/FH9hk3YpLW
The New York Times is trying sooo hard to protect Biden its hilarioushttps://t.co/D5TySBff54pic.twitter.com/Kg1xayBHnd
Without a hint of irony, the Times capped the story off with a tweet saying “we found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” So no sexual assault, beyond an extensive history of what many consider sexual harassment. Right.
The tweet was later deleted, with the Times retracting its “imprecise language.”
You mean this tweet? pic.twitter.com/rIrXVdLMQH
It’s nice to know that, even in an age where politicians – including Biden himself – recite platitudes like “#BelieveAllWomen,” newspapers like the New York Times are still willing to cast a cynical eye on claims like Reade’s, without letting emotion obscure the facts. And it’s nice to know that they apply the same treatment to every such claim, regardless of the political affiliation of the accused.
Actually, no – nothing could be further from the truth.
When Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault during his confirmation process in 2018, the Times threw away its detective’s fedora and donned its pink pussyhat. Kavanaugh was first accused of forcing himself on Christine Blasey Ford while the pair were in high school in 1982, and then of exposing himself to Deborah Ramirez when the two were at a university party a year later.
When further accusations surfaced – none of which were ever corroborated – the Times didn’t poke holes in the women’s stories. Instead, Kavanaugh’s denials were given a single line each time. Rather than carry out a dispassionate investigation, the NYT painted a picture of a privileged Ivy-Leaguer free to assault women at will. “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not,” read the headline above a story on Ramirez’ college days.
The story itself later had to be amended, after it emerged that one of the claims against Kavanaugh in it – that he thrust his penis into a female student’s hand – was entirely unsupported.
My how the turn tables… pic.twitter.com/SGrmP1pbGy
Instead of neutrally evaluating the facts, the NYT asked teenagers how they felt about the accusations against Kavanaugh. Even after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, the Times’ writers dug up a list of Kavanaugh’s old contacts and wrote a book about his school days. The FBI’s investigation, they wrote, was “too short and too limited in scope to quell doubts about the judge’s character as a young man.”
Will Biden be given the same treatment? Will the New York Times’ journalists search for more Tara Reades and exhume the diaries of Biden’s Senate staffers looking for the slightest whiff of impropriety? Will they release a scratch ‘n’ sniff adventure series documenting his wandering hands at Washington functions?
Statutes of limitations expire, and neither Biden nor Kavanaugh will ever stand in court to answer for their supposed misdeeds. With Lady Justice sitting this one out, both men will instead be judged in the court of public opinion. However, in this court, judgment is handed down by the likes of the New York Times, and the fairness of the trial seems to depend largely on the accused’s relationship with President Trump.
A little consistency would be a welcome change.
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