Tara Reade’s unproven sexual-assault allegation against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden may do nothing to dent his 2020 presidential run, but the damage to the #MeToo movement has already been done.
The tepid response from Democrats and the media establishment to Ms. Reade’s claim, described as comparable to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, comes as another hit to #MeToo’s credibility as a disinterested defender of victims’ rights.
Inez Stepman, senior policy analyst at the right-of-center Independent Women’s Forum, said the once-admirable movement hailed for taking down sexual predators like disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein devolved rapidly into a partisan political weapon.
“I think unfortunately it fulfills the prophecy that IWF and many others were warning about when we went through the Brett Kavanaugh debacle: Without universally applied standards of due process, these kinds of allegations become political footballs, and because the media generally leans left, they protect their own, so to speak,” Ms. Stepman said.
Both the Biden and Kavanaugh allegations are classic he-said/she-said cases — an allegation, a denial and no witnesses — but the vastly different reactions from the political and media establishment have prompted accusations that the key variable isn’t so much what she said, but who he is.
In a March 25 interview with progressive podcast host Katie Halper, Ms. Reade said she was a 29-year-old staffer for then-Sen. Biden in 1993 when he pinned her against a wall, reached under her skirt and penetrated her. The Biden 2020 campaign has staunchly denied the claim.
As with many such allegations, the devil is in the details. Ms. Reade was one of eight women who came forward last year to accuse Mr. Biden of unwanted touching in a public setting — she said he rubbed her shoulders and neck — but said nothing about the sexual assault until last month.
A friend and her brother have told media outlets that she relayed to them years ago about an incident in which Mr. Biden behaved inappropriately. At the same time, she made no secret on social media of her support during the primary for Sen. Bernard Sanders, Mr. Biden’s chief rival for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Her Sanders support prompted accusations of political motivations, which Ms. Reade has denied. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about power and the abuse of power, and the people around that person that enabled that behavior,” she told NPR in a Sunday article.
Some have argued that Ms. Reade’s claim is more credible than Ms. Ford’s, given that Ms. Reade can prove she knew Mr. Biden.
“Does that mean that her allegation is true? Absolutely not, it doesn’t prove anything,” Ms. Stepman said. “But that’s one step more than Christine Blasey Ford had, because nobody else could even confirm that she was in the same room as Brett Kavanaugh. It’s at least a credible allegation as those that were endlessly written up by the media against Brett Kavanaugh.”
Despite the similarities to the Kavanaugh allegation as another decades-old claim of sexual assault against a national figure, Democrats who vilified Justice Kavanaugh have stayed largely mum on the Biden-Reade issue, only weighing in when asked in interviews.
Mr. Sanders gave a general response in support of women while refusing to criticize Mr. Biden when asked during an interview Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”
“I think it’s relevant to talk about anything. And I think any woman who feels that she was assaulted has every right in the world to stand up and make her claims,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that “she has the right to make her claims and get a public hearing.”
The Vermont senator was firmly in the Ford camp during the Kavanaugh hearings, saying, “I believe Dr. Ford.”
Also voting against Mr. Kavanaugh was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, a possible vice-presidential choice for Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
When asked last week about the Reade claim, Ms. Klobuchar cited a New York Times story that ran April 12, saying “I think this case has been investigated.”
“I know the vice president as a major leader on domestic abuse, I worked with him on that. And I think that, again, the viewers should read the article. It was very thorough,” she said, as recounted by Fox News.
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which offers legal representation to victims of sexual assault, declined to take Ms. Reade’s case, citing the “restrictions that pertain to candidates running for election,” according to the Intercept.
Similarly, some of the same media outlets that trumpeted Ms. Ford’s claim ignored the Reade story for weeks before running articles, often noting “no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden,” as the New York Times put it.
Both the New York Times and The Washington Post ran their first stories on April 12. The Times later made a Biden-friendly edit to the story and its tweet, removing a line that referred to “the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”
Meanwhile, CNN waited until Friday to post an article under the headline “Democrats grapple with questions about Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden.”
The CNN report came a day after the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway blasted the network with a post headlined, “CNN Flooded Zone with Kavanaugh Coverage. Hasn’t Mentioned Biden’s Accuser Once,” pointing out that CNN ran online more than 700 Kavanaugh articles.
The most dramatic shift in tone came from the Nation’s Joan Walsh, also a CNN contributor, who wrote in September 2018 “The Heart-Wrenching Trauma of the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh Hearings.”
On April 15, Ms. Walsh wrote, “The Troublesome Tara Reade Story,” which concluded that her “allegation against Joe Biden doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.”
Also out the window is the “believe all women” mantra of the Kavanaugh days. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said in an April 15 column that “[m]y gut says that what Reade alleges did not happen” and that “#BelieveAllWomen was a dumb hashtag and a dumber approach to inevitably complex, fact-bound situations.”
Added Ms. Walsh: “It’s true, for a time, that one of the slogans that emerged from the nascent #MeToo movement was ‘Believe women.’ But it was never that simple; nobody ever said, or meant, ‘Believe every woman, no matter how incredible or undocumented her claim.’”
One of Justice Kavanaugh’s most vocal critics, actress Alyssa Milano, also backtracked on “believe all women,” stressing in an April 7 interview on SiriusXM the importance of “giving men their due process,” prompting actress Rose McGowan to accuse her of hypocrisy.
“You are a fraud,” tweeted Miss McGowan. “This is about holding the media accountable. You go after Trump & Kavanaugh saying Believe Victims, you are a lie. You have always been a lie. The corrupt DNC is in on the smear job of Tara Reade, so are you. SHAME.”
While Ms. Stepman wholeheartedly agreed with the importance of due process for the accused, both in a court of law and the court of public opinion, she said that clearly didn’t happen with the conservative Justice Kavanaugh.
“There’s obviously a huge double standard going on. I don’t think it’s even remotely plausible that there isn’t one,” she said. “But that’s what we warned about during Kavanaugh: unless we take due process standards seriously, these things become totally subjective, and all kinds of considerations can be thrown in, like politics.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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