In April, 2020, when now American presidential nominee, Joe Biden, was a Democractic nominee, The Union broke the story of Tara Reade accusing Biden of sexual harassment, when she worked as a Senator’s Aide in his office from 1992-1993.
Soon after the story was published, Reade was bombarded with bad press, claiming she was a Russian operative and she went silent again. But when Biden became the Democratic presidential candidate opposite Republican incumbent Donald Trump, Reade came forward with her story once more.
On March 25, 2020 Katie Halper broke the story of Tara Reade accusing Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. For two weeks after journalists Ryan Grim and Halper’s first reports on Reade’s accusations against Biden, only crickets could be heard from the biggest newsrooms in America. Her story was left uncovered by CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal—you name it. Only when The New York Times covered a story “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation against Joe Biden”, on April 12, 2020 did other media outlets begin following up. In fact, NYT, in their piece, downplayed Biden’s sexual harassment when they wrote—and later deleted, “The Times found no pattern of sexual miscounduct by Mr Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously made them uncomfortable.”
All this to say that some of the biggest media players in the country, including all four of the late-night cable news hosts, including Trevor Noah and Steven Colbert, chose to keep their journalist mouths shut to protect Biden, who’s been repeatedly called ‘the only hope’ against President Trump this election cycle.
It wasn’t only news organisations that denied Reade a voice. Time’s UP, the very organisation created to provide legal defense to survivors at the height of the #MeToo movement did as well. In April, 2020, Reade approached the organisation’s legal department to help fight her case, but was denied support because the person she was accusing is a political figure and Time’s UP claimed that would threaten their non-profit status. As Grim at The Intercept mentions in his story, Anita Dunn—managing director of the public relations firm that handles Time’s UP Legal Defense Fund—is a top advisor in Biden’s campaign. Reade even approached her State representative, Kamala Harris, but heard nothing back (as mentioned in this interview with Megyn Kelly).
A missed call of duty
This story isn’t only about the silencing of Tara Reade’s story to protect Biden from a potential defeat. No. It’s also about the fact that the media—on both sides of the political aisle—explicitly denied the voting public access to information by asking not even a single question to either of the presidential candidates on their sexual assault allegations, neither in press briefings, town halls nor during presidential debates. The most recent interview on this issue was covered by 60 Minutes Australia in early October.
Kelly, in her interview with Reade, asked what many might have been wondering: “Was this at all politically motivated?” After first saying no, Reade changes her mind and says, “[Yes], everything is political, right.
To answer Bill Maher’s question of “why now Tara, why are you coming out with this now?”—people deserve to know the whole truth about the person, who might be their leader for the next four years, sitting on the most powerful seat in the world.
Sexual assault allegations are a part of the personal narrative of both presidential candidates, and it’s this whole truth that the media has denied the public.
In playing the partisan politics game of protecting their preferred candidate, mainstream media outlets chose to ignore the question of sexual harassment and assault altogether because throwing the opponent under the bus, would drag their candidate along too.
The media has no qualms covering stories of moral and legal trespass. At the height of #MeToo, almost every mainstream organisation was covering the stream of accusations flowing after Harvey Weinstein’s sex offenses were exposed. Yet, when these accusations are directed at a political figure that serves the same interests as news agencies, the silence is loud. The message is clear, moral outrage is for only when it’s convenient.
The whole truth, a dish left unserved
The media perhaps plays the most powerful role in a democracy. Controlling what information the public has access to, it can shape and shift the public discourse, especially at the breakneck speed at which topics trend on social media. Journalists exist to hold power to account but in failing to require both Trump and Biden to comment on their sexual assault allegations, media outlets told the public that sexually harassing and assaulting a woman may be permittable if you are serving the interests of power of their choosing. Essentially, the media politicized the sexual assault survivors’ movement by deciding when it is important to tell survivors’ stories, which survivors deserve a hearing, and when they should be silenced.
I can’t help but wonder whether Trump would have been hard-pressed by liberal-identifying media such as CNN, watched by 39% of all US adults, if Biden hadn’t been accused of sexual assault. In comparison, during the last election cycle, it was widely assumed by most media outlets—mainstream and independent—that the Hollywood Access tapes would be the end of Trump’s political aspirations.
But he went on to win in 2016.
Four years on, there is now a choice between two men with sexual assault allegations running, so one of them will surely win. These questions of sexual impropriety will continue to haunt the oval office, as long as there is no agency to press for answers and hold our highest officers to account.
One can argue that only recently it had become a bit easier for women to come out with their sexual harassment and assault stories. Maybe that’s how men like Trump and Biden, with their smudged records, have been able to rise to the top and stay there for as long as they have.
In denying Reade a fair chance to tell her story—no one has to believe her, but everyone deserves the opportunity to hear and assess for themselves—mainstream media and everyone who shut Reade out, have delegitimized the #MeToo movement and the allegations of subsequent survivors who choose to come forward. Once more, women, who want to speak up—especially against powerful public men—will return to how Reade was treated, and think again whether it’s worth it for them to put themselves on the line and risk being ignored and smeared like she has been.
The health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is probably the number one issue on the minds of Americans. Afterall, it is the country with one of the highest deaths per capita in the world, and millions currently unemployed. Despite all the pressing issues at hand, however, the public deserves to know all sides of the candidate they will be voting for. It’s part of making an informed decision.
“Many things can be true at once,” Reade said in her interview with Kelly.
And the public deserved a chance this election to hear about all the different faces of Biden, as well as Trump. A chance that was certainly denied.