Tara Reade’s story about Joe Biden went untouched by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and most of the legacy media for 19 days.
By Emily Jashinsky – The Federalist
There are similarities in the sexual assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford and Tara Reade. Ford accuses Justice Brett Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, groping her over her clothes, and covering her mouth at a high school party in the early 1980s. Reade accuses Biden of forcibly penetrating her with his fingers when she worked for his Senate office in 1993.
The allegations are both decades old. Both are denied by the accused men. That does not render them false. It does, however, offer an instructive case study in media bias.
Reade’s allegation is against a Democrat, Ford’s is against a Republican-appointed justice. Reade supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and came forward as the contest narrowed to Sanders and Biden. Ford is a registered Democrat, who made her allegation public after Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court. Both say they hesitated to step forward earlier for fear of retaliation.
Reade’s story went untouched by The New York Times, the Washington Post, and most of the legacy media for 19 days. The Post reported Ford’s allegation shortly after she agreed to go on the record, which took months and came after other outlets were closing in on the story.
A Study in Contrasts
When The New York Times finally published an investigation into Reade’s account, it was in the form of a meta-story headlined: “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.” The Times’ original Ford story was straight news, headlined, “Kavanaugh’s Nomination in Turmoil as Accuser Says He Assaulted Her Decades Ago.” The paper’s story on absurd gang rape allegations made by Julie Swetnick against Kavanaugh was headlined, “Julie Swetnick Is Third Woman to Accuse Brett Kavanaugh of Sexual Misconduct.”
The Times story on Reade is appropriately rigorous, but tellingly involves a higher standard of skepticism than the one applied to Ford. The headline is Example One, framing the story as an examination rather than a report.
By the story’s third paragraph, the Times noted, “In interviews, several people who worked in the Senate office with Ms. Reade said they did not recall any talk of such an incident or similar behavior by Mr. Biden toward her or any women. Two office interns who worked directly with Ms. Reade said they were unaware of the allegation or any treatment that troubled her.” Oddly enough, the next sentence mentioned, “Last year, Ms. Reade and seven other women came forward to accuse Mr. Biden of kissing, hugging or touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable,” despite reporting no pattern of “similar” behavior by Biden.
Later, the Times added, “No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation. The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.” That, of course, depends on how “misconduct” is defined. The word would seem to include unwanted “kissing, hugging or touching.”
The Times was less insistent on Kavanaugh’s character testimonies. The original Times story on Ford included brief mention of a letter from 65 female classmates of Kavanaugh testifying to his character, along with a quote from the justice’s good friend, Mark Judge, whom Ford counted as a witness, denying her account and defending Kavanaugh. (The paper’s story on Swetnick’s allegation was better, although it probably should never have been published.)
The Times contextualized Ford’s allegation by placing it within the framework of a Democratic narrative about “Kavanaugh’s truthfulness,” writing, “Ms. Ford’s account comes as Democrats are already raising questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s truthfulness during his confirmation hearings this month. They have accused him of dissembling on a range of issues from his time in the George W. Bush White House, including a breach of secret Democratic files on judicial nominations and discussions about detainee policy and torture.”
But, again, the paper dubiously emphasized that Biden allegedly has no “pattern of sexual misconduct.” Why frame Kavanaugh’s denial with news that Democrats are raising concerns about his honesty and not frame Biden’s denial in the context of the allegations of inappropriate touching? Those allegations are mentioned twice in the story, and briefly. The Washington Post’s story on Reade went into much greater detail on them.
This is how media bias works. Sometimes it’s outright, but often it’s done more subtly through framing. While I would hardly call this contrast subtle, it’s certainly true the Times emphasized different elements of the story to frame Reade’s allegation more skeptically, starting right away with the headline. It’s about what you include and what you leave out.
NYT vs. NYT
This was so noticeable, even the Times had questions for the Times. Unfortunately it didn’t have great answers.
In an interview published Monday night, media columnist Ben Smith pushed Executive Editor Dean Baquet to explain the differences in coverage from Ford to Reade, particularly why the paper had an article on the Swetnick allegations up the same day she made them, but waited 19 days to report on Reade.
“Kavanaugh was in a very different situation. It was a live, ongoing story that had become the biggest political story in the country. It was just a different news judgment moment,” Baquet claimed. How Reade’s allegation did not qualify as a “live, ongoing story” is difficult to imagine.
Earlier in the interview, Baquet said the paper took more time to write about Reade’s allegation as breaking news because “Kavanaugh was already in a public forum in a large way,” other outlets had covered it and he felt the Times should bring “the expertise we had developed over doing more than a dozen of these kinds of stories” in its coverage.
But in Ford and Swetnick’s cases, other outlets covered their allegations before the Times, and the paper waited much less than 19 days to do the same. The “public forum” excuse is also silly because it’s the media’s job to bring information into the “public forum” when it can be reported out.
Baquet insisted the Times applied the same standard to both women’s stories. “The standard, to be really simple, is that we try to give the reader the best information we can come up with at the time. And we try to give the reader the information they need to make their own judgments,” he said. “Unless we can make the judgment. And Kavanaugh was a running, hot story. I don’t think it’s that the ethical standards were different. I think the news judgments had to be made from a different perspective in a running hot story.”
This explanation is absurd and not based in fact. The Times published a breaking news story on E. Jean Carroll’s assault allegation against President Trump the same day it went public last June. Like Reade, Carroll also had two friends who confirmed she told them about the incident after it allegedly occurred in the mid-1990s. The Times ran one and sat on the other.
Read more here.