The Moral Failure of the Tara Reade Coverage
This is not a fucking horserace story.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that progressive groups have been pressuring Joe Biden’s campaign for weeks to address the allegation that he sexually assaulted his former aide, Tara Reade, in 1993. In response, the Times wrote, Biden aides are “telling allies that they do not see the allegation resonating with voters in a measurable way.”
They’re probably right. It’s been more than two weeks since the Times published a long examination of Reade’s allegation (which the Biden camp has firmly denied). The article—which received a storm of criticism for the way it framed the alleged assault—contained corroboration of Reade’s story from two of her friends, along with strong denials from people like Biden’s former deputy chief of staff, Dennis Toner. (Toner not only called the allegation “preposterous” but denied ever knowing Reade at all, something that’s much more far-fetched than anything Reade has said.) In recent days, we’ve seen even more corroboration of Reade’s story. But the Biden camp’s basic response seems to be that it doesn’t matter because voters don’t seem to care.
It’s true that Biden’s polls against Trump are stronger than ever. This probably shouldn’t be too shocking—Trump is fumbling his way through the biggest global crisis in decades, and his very presence in the White House despite dozens of sexual misconduct allegations against him (ranging from harassment to rape, all of which he has forcefully denied) seems like depressing proof that being accused of assault isn’t necessarily electoral poison.
Turning a story about an alleged abuse of power by one of the most powerful men in the country into fodder for bullshit horserace coverage says a lot about the Biden campaign and the man himself, and nothing good. But this sleazy response also makes a brutal kind of sense. After all, much of the media has either leaned on the same horserace framing or covered the story in a way that suggests partisan politics prevails against basic morality.
Take, for instance, this original headline on a Washington Post story this week, and the not-much-better replacement it got.
I absolutely hate it when developments in allegations against me amplify efforts to question my behavior.
This, from Politico, just full-on frames the Reade story as one of political intrigue and how it could damage Biden’s (and the Democrats’) presidential ambitions:
Even worse are the liberal writers who are actively helping to downplay the allegation.
Joan Walsh, at The Nation, retroactively claimed that the #MeToo slogan “Believe women” never meant “Believe every woman, no matter how incredible or undocumented her claim.” Any claim from a staff assistant making $20,000 a year against a veteran United States senator might look “incredible” on its face. As it stands, it’s likely that a good deal of sexual assaults committed by powerful people are never made public for these reasons! If “incredible” and “undocumented” are now criteria to invalidate sexual assault claims, what was #MeToo even for?
Perhaps worst of all, though, was Kevin Drum, whose blog about this at Mother Jones was ultimately pulled for some unidentified reason (it was bad):
Yes, Reade’s crime here is that she’s been “vague” about the details of the alleged assault. As if the response from the party that purportedly cares about this shit — which has been to form a protective cocoon around its presumptive presidential nominee, paint Reade as a Putin-loving nutcase, and point to the outlets which first gave the allegations space as left-wing wreckers — doesn’t completely validate not being entirely willing to divulge all of the details of this horrible thing that happened to her.
I’d be willing to bet that most liberal writers defending Biden would have no problem believing Reade if these allegations were made against some other similarly long-serving Republican elected official. (Well, maybe not Drum, whose instinctual contrarianism pairs perfectly with his fetish for getting yelled at on the internet.) But it feels like the Biden defense from the likes of even Kirsten Gillibrand is the culmination of something horrible: That the lesson Democrats learned from examples like the resignation of Al Franken and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court wasn’t that sexual misconduct shouldn’t be tolerated, but rather that it’s not worth getting frustrated about if the other side doesn’t care. (Or worse, that #MeToo just straight up went too far.)
There are undoubtedly political ramifications to Tara Reade’s story. It will come up, repeatedly, during the general election, no matter how well Biden’s campaign trains its surrogates to stay on message. But letting Reade’s story become one where the politics of those involved dictated the response before the allegations ever got a full public hearing is much worse than a strategic misstep. It’s a full-blown moral failure.
The thing for me is that I don't see support of Reade being anything more than politics in the US as usual. None of this brings Biden to a reckoning. Nor does it demonstrate any progress toward addressing sexual assault or harassment.
Weaponizing a woman's trauma is the history of being a woman for, well, forever.
And as far as Biden is concerned, we have all by now seen how well he didn't treat Anita Hill. That, in and of itself, should have been enough for Obama campaign staff to have never let Biden's foot through the door.
But here we are. Biden wasn't a viable presidential candidate in the 1980s, and he isn't now.
I think this whole situation lays bare how little integrity there is in public life in this country. I really, truly believed for a minute during the Kavanaugh hearings that the Democratic Party and Democratic leaning voters mostly had come around and decided that sexual assault is not acceptable for high-powered people in public life.
Instead, the capriciousness of the whole enterprise has been revealed. As soon as the powerful rich guy is on their side politically, it's the same old excuses to discredit and attack, question a victim's credibility, and on and on. Ignore and keep on moving.
Yes, a Biden presidency will be vastly superior to a Trump one policy-wise and it is imperative that Trump lose if anything even remotely resembling democracy is going to endure in the United States, but Reade's allegations have been corroborated by people who were around her at the time. And in Biden's case, at the time of the alleged incident he was not a drunk, predatory, high school kid like Kavanaugh, but instead a sober, sitting United States Senator with 20 years of service under his belt.
It is incumbent on the Democratic Party to either take this allegation seriously and consider another candidate (I would take literally anyone else from the primary pool, except maybe Bloomberg). The party's utter failure to do anything but deny, circle up, and attempt to discredit just proves that they don't care, that they weaponized Blasey Ford's trauma because it was politically expedient, and that nothing has really changed in the wake of Me Too. As a survivor, that's heartbreaking and infuriating.