content warning: sexual assault
The recent allegation that Joe Biden once sexually assaulted one of his senate staffers has not gotten as much attention as one might expect, given the seriousness of the crime. The staffer, Tara Reade, has described the assault in vivid and disturbing detail. Her allegation is credible enough to have received an in-depth article in Newsweek, but so far has gone completely unmentioned by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, and when Biden has done interviews he hasn’t even been asked about Reade’s claim. (Reason and the Guardian have published articles questioning the media silence.) Prominent champions of the “MeToo” movement, including many who loudly defended Christine Blasey Ford when she went public about being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh during high school, have been noticeably silent about defending Reade.
Reade herself says she has been trying for months to get journalists and activists to pay attention to her story, but nobody has been interested in listening. According to a report by the Intercept, in January of this year Reade approached Time’s Up, a project of the National Women’s Law Center designed to provide legal and public relations assistance to sexually abused women. Time’s Up declined to help Reade, and (as Time’s Up told the Intercept) this was not because it doubted her veracity but because Reade was accusing Biden in particular, and the “political” nature of the accusation could jeopardize Time’s Up’s nonprofit status. Notably, the PR firm that Time’s Up uses to help publicize women’s stories, SKDKnickerbocker, is run by Anita Dunne, a senior adviser to Joe Biden.
Now, before we engage in any speculation on the reasons for the quiet response to Reade, let us just note something that is indisputably true: If Tara Reade’s allegation were to be widely publicized, Joe Biden might be significantly damaged politically. And given the current state of the Democratic primary, in which Biden is the only candidate still campaigning, a scandal like this could throw the Democratic Party into utter chaos. With Biden the presumptive nominee, if something were to undermine Joe Biden, it would therefore hurt the Democratic Party’s prospects of defeating Donald Trump. It would therefore be quite understandable for there to be many in the party who want to do everything possible to keep Biden from being damaged, in order to preserve their chances against Trump. If Biden went down in flames, the only plausible alternative—running Bernie Sanders, who is still on the ballot despite having suspended his campaign—is, for many, completely unthinkable. Senior figures in the party have made it clear before that they see Bernie Sanders as an existential threat to the party. They thus have a strong incentive to do whatever it takes to ensure Biden is in fact nominated.
I do not allege here that senior Democrats would deliberately bury or ignore a serious accusation of sexual assault against their favored candidate in order to make sure Joe Biden successfully clinched the nomination against Bernie Sanders. This would be monstrous. I do note, however, as a matter of pure fact, that at this stage in the primary, those who see Biden as the nominee and Sanders as disastrous/unthinkable have a strong incentive to ignore such an accusation. I am sure they are good people who will resist being influenced by this incentive. Surely they care about truth and morality more than Biden’s career. But the existence of the incentive to ignore it is indisputable.
If Democrats and large parts of the mainstream press are not ignoring Reade’s accusation because it is politically inconvenient, why are they ignoring it? One quite obvious factor is coronavirus: The global pandemic has bumped all other news to the back pages for the moment, and things that would be incredibly significant in ordinary times are now being set aside. But Reade’s accusation is not even on the back pages. A major party presidential candidate being accused of having committed a heinous sex crime against an employee is a major news story. If it’s true, Joe Biden should not be the Democratic nominee. If it’s true, it is going to have significant ramifications for the November election—Donald Trump is politically savvy enough not to bring it up now while Democrats could still replace Biden, but you bet he will in the general election. And the November election is going to affect the future of our democracy, so this story is important no matter what way you look at it.
The main defense for not paying attention to Tara Reade, then, is that she is not “credible,” which means that she is either a malicious liar or completely delusional. Anyone who has listened to Reade’s interview with Katie Halper—and I encourage everyone who can stomach it to do so—knows that if this were the case, Reade would have to be very malicious or very delusional. Her story is so detailed and emotional that it is extremely hard, listening to her tell it, to believe that she is not telling the truth.
But some people have suggested that they do think Reade might be lying or delusional, and that her lack of “credibility” is sufficient grounds for burying her story. Amanda Marcotte, writing in Salon, dismisses the idea that those ignoring the story are doing so because they are uncomfortable elevating an allegation that could be politically devastating for Democrats. Instead, she says, there are genuine reasons to doubt Tara—“a lot of red flags”—and therefore to not report on her story. An article in Jezebel by Emily Alford suggests that Reade’s accusation has been improperly vetted, i.e., that there is not enough reason to trust her, and she should not be listened to until her account has been bolstered. If these perspectives are right, they provide a legitimate, non-political explanation for ignoring Reade.
So is there anything to the argument that Tara Reade is not credible?
No, I don’t think so. I have talked to Tara Reade extensively myself, and she has been completely consistent and frank. I have talked to her brother, who confirms that Tara told him about the assault at the time. I have also talked to her friend Sarah*, a fellow Capitol Hill staffer Tara spoke to about the assault in 1993 as well as over the years afterward. The Intercept talked to both of them as well, and Reade’s brother Collin Moulton said: “Woefully, I did not encourage her to follow up… I wasn’t one of her better advocates. I said let it go, move on, guys are idiots.” When I asked Sarah if the account Tara has given to the press is consistent with what she said in 1993, Sarah said that it was. She confirmed that Tara had called her on the phone shortly after the incident happened and was very distraught about it. Sarah says the news left her in “absolute shock” at the time. She added:
“I have not enjoyed knowing this about someone [Biden] who for eight years was in the news as VP. Even in this campaign… every time I see him… I can’t… I mean I wasn’t in the hallway but I still can’t look at him without thinking of that… She should have been safe. She should never have had anything close to this even happen.“
I also asked Sarah about a comment Tara’s brother made to me. He said that the incident had changed Tara’s personality, sapping her confidence. Sarah agreed, saying Tara began to “second guess” herself afterwards, the effects of Biden’s attack on Tara were severe and lasting. “It’s never left her,” she said. “What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and to pull her out of that hallway. Say ‘Run! Go!’ But no one can make time go back.”
That is more corroboration than Christine Blasey Ford had—she hadn’t told anyone at the time of her assault, yet her accusation was front-page news. But I also think that the particular reasons Marcotte and Jezebel have for casting doubt on Tara Reade do not hold up, and I would like to go through all the current criticisms of Reade and show why they are so weak. In fact, I think they are totally indefensible. Those who make them are casting doubt on a victim for no good reason, and suggesting that women who come forward should be disbelieved on spurious grounds. Ultimately, those who have criticized and ignored Tara Reade are doing serious damage to the MeToo movement by suggesting that women like Reade may well simply be delusional or lying; and, until they can prove that they are not delusional or lying, their claims can be set aside.
Salon’s Attack on Reade’s Credibility
Amanda Marcotte’s Salon article is particularly insidious, and I want to carefully explain why, because it may not be obvious on a casual reading. Marcotte is an established feminist writer, and the article is presented as nothing more than a fair-minded assessment of Reade’s claims, clarifying myths and fact, and setting the record straight. (“Salon hopes this story will offer clarity about what is and isn’t true.”) Marcotte says that both Reade’s critics and her supporters are mistaken, thereby positioning herself as a mere neutral arbiter of fact, debunking both pro and anti-Reade talking points. The “anti-Reade” talking points that Marcotte debunks are obviously ludicrous—Marcotte magnanimously defends Reade against charges of being a woman who once appeared on Dr. Phil to say that Vladimir Putin was her boyfriend. She also says it’s “highly doubtful” that Reade is a “Russian agent” because “anyone actually working for Russian intelligence would have done a better job covering her tracks.” But while Marcotte presents herself as being fair to Reade, and, as a feminist, inclined to be sympathetic, one of her central conclusions is deeply hostile to Reade: She suggests that there is good reason not to listen to Reade because her accusation may well be “political” and has “red flags.” The central “pro-Reade” talking point she attacks is that Reade is credible enough to warrant her story being heard in the mainstream media.
There’s something quite ugly in the way Marcotte weighs Reade’s allegation. Even though she talked to Reade, she does not give Tara space to tell her story in her own words. Instead, here are some excerpts from Marcotte’s section on why the media hasn’t covered the story:
“Reade’s story of what happened during her tenure working for Biden has changed over time… Reade’s April 2019 account of why she left Biden’s office also conflicts with earlier things she has written…. Before 2019, Reade lived under another name — she changed it for many years to escape an abusive husband, and provided the paperwork demonstrating this to Salon—and her public statements about Biden were entirely positive. After making her April 2019 allegations that Biden had touched her inappropriately, Reade spent months tweeting that story, dozens of times, at various figures—politicians, celebrities, media outlets, even Donald Trump [Marcotte chose to hyperlink this one]—to no response. Under both her current and prior name, Reade has expressed public support for a variety of Democratic politicians in the past, ranging from Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson. Then, over the past few months, Reade began heavily retweeting pro-Sanders accounts and regularly engaging with prominent Sanders supporters like Halper. It was during this time that Reade started to hint publicly that what happened with Biden had been far more serious than her 2019 story detailed. Such hinting led—as Reade told Salon, which Halper confirmed—to an anonymous woman suggesting that Reade seek Halper out to tell her full story. When asked why her story had changed so much in the past year, Reade told Salon that she had considered describing the assault to the original reporter from the Nevada County paper, but the “way he asked the questions” had “shut me down.” (That reporter did not respond to Salon’s request for comment.) She also said she felt intimidated by social media attacks and threats in the aftermath of her original accusations, and therefore stayed silent. The timeline shows that Reade’s involvement in the online world of Bernie fandom coincided with her escalation of accusations against Biden. To be clear, this does not mean she’s lying. But taken along with the other discrepancies in Reade’s accounts—which are also, on their own, not reasons to discredit her—it’s enough to make publications take a slow and careful approach to amplifying this story.
Now, let’s note that this passage undermines Reade in about a dozen small ways, through subtle choices of what to present and how to frame things. Marcotte repeatedly makes the very serious charge that Tara Reade has “changed” her story “so much in the past year.” But this is an unfair and inaccurate way to characterize what has happened. Reade did not originally disclose the full nature of what happened to her. In April 2019, when Lucy Flores spoke out about Biden touching her inappropriately, Tara Reade came forward to confirm that Biden had also done similar acts to her. Then, later, Reade said that there was more that she had not previously disclosed, namely a serious sexual assault. To see why this is not properly characterized as “changing her story,” imagine if I asked you: “How was your relationship with your employer?” and you said “It was rocky. He sometimes gave me… funny looks, and did things that made me uncomfortable, like patting me on the head.” Then, later, when you talked to someone else at more length, you admitted that there had been more, that the employer had assaulted you. An unfair person trying to discredit you (a la Marcotte) could characterize this as “changing your story.” But that’s the kind of aggressively uncharitable framing that the lawyer for your employer would use when cross-examining you (“AND WHY DID YOU CHANGE YOUR STORY?”) rather than the kind of framing we should use if we are trying, as Marcotte says she is, merely to get to the truth. Gradually opening up about the parts of your story that are the most difficult to tell is very different from altering it. The difference should be obvious, especially to someone who understands how survivors tell stories.
The other piece of evidence for Marcotte’s assertion that Reade has changed her story a lot is that Tara Reade once wrote a blog post in which she talked about leaving her DC job, and she does not say it was because Biden sexually assaulted her. Again, someone trying to be fair to Reade, rather than trying to sow as many doubts as possible, would show an understanding of the fact that a woman who has been sexually assaulted by a prominent politician might not necessarily post about it on her public blog, and might emphasize the other reasons she left Washington. This stuff is difficult to talk about, and an honest feminist writer would be taking great pains to help people understand why things that look like they might be “changes” in a story aren’t necessarily changes at all, and might just reflect a growing level of comfort with being public about something very painful, something originally only disclosed in private to friends and family. Prof. Anthony Zenkus, an expert on sexual violence at the Columbia School of Social Work, shocked by Marcotte’s doubting of Reade’s sexual assault claim because she “changed” her story over time, explains in an op-ed why the apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all:
In the sexual violence advocacy community, it is well understood that survivors take time to tell their full stories. At an advocacy agency where I was a director, a young girl who was sexually abused by a male relative told the police how he fondled her above her clothing. Months later, she spoke about the penetration. This is typical behavior for victims of trauma. Rarely does the story come out all at once. When Tara Reade joined other women in April of 2019 in speaking about how Biden put his hands on her and caressed her neck, she did not speak about the most horrific part of what had happened. The response from supporters of Biden was swift. Reade was criticized, her story dismissed, and her character attacked. It is clear why she wavered on coming forward with the most brutal details of her rape.
Marcotte, by failing to explain this, and instead using Tara’s gradual willingness to share more as “changing her story,” is discouraging her audience from thinking about how real world victims relay traumatic events. Prof. Zenkus notes that Tara’s story “has not changed. Details have been included now that Reade said she wasn’t comfortable including in the past.”
When I asked Tara’s friend Sarah about Tara’s willingness to come forward, she said that she had known Tara was not revealing everything, but said the decision was completely understandable to her. “I didn’t feel that it was my place when I spoke with reporters last year to say ‘Well if you think that’s bad, I even know more.’” In response to criticism of Tara’s timing, Sarah said “I’ve known this situation since 1993” and added that she had actually discouraged Tara from coming forward, because she didn’t think Tara would be safe, and “I know enough to know that when women do come forward even other women go ‘Really? Prove it. I need documentation… I just think we don’t want to admit that people are capable of bad, gross things.” She acknowledges that “a lot of people who are watching [Tara’s] media presence critically at the moment will probably wonder ‘Why is she jumping up and down now?’ [But] she’s been jumping up and down since it happened!” noting that Tara immediately told Sarah, her mother, and her brother.
There are countless other ways in which Marcotte sows doubt for no good reason. In a section on Tara supposedly changing her story, Marcotte brings up the fact that Tara once changed her name. It is not clear why this is relevant, except to imply that Tara is a shapeshifter who cannot be trusted. But as Marcotte acknowledges, Tara changed her name as part of escaping a domestic violence situation. To bring this up in the context of weighing her credibility is downright gross. (Prof. Zenkus notes that throughout the article “much of what Marcotte says is immaterial… Marcotte slams Reade for tweeting a post supportive of Russia. Why would this matter?”)
Marcotte also mentions that Reade had made “entirely positive” comments about Biden on social media previously. This, too, I find it hard to call anything but “gross.” When I spoke to Reade on the phone, at one point she was nearly in tears when talking about how conflicted she had been about Biden. On the one hand, she was a loyal Democrat who still admired some of his work. On the other hand, he did something unforgivable to her and was a hypocrite. This, as Marcotte should have acknowledged, is extremely common for survivors, who often find themselves defending or praising their victimizers. Those who commit terrible crimes are often alternately charming and vicious, and powerful men who assault women in private are often kind to women in public, and even “pro-woman” politically. Anyone who has talked to Tara Reade—as Marcotte did—will have discovered her mixed feelings about undermining the presumptive Democratic nominee, and the difficulty she feels in knowing what exactly to think about Biden. She does not hate him, but sometimes she does, but then she doesn’t. Given how totally normal and expected this is for someone assaulted by someone they admired and worked for, there is no defense of Marcotte mentioning it as something that potentially undermines Reade. The fact that Reade is not a frothing anti-Biden partisan fanatic should make her more credible, not less.
Likewise Marcotte’s discussion of Reade “regularly engaging with prominent Sanders supporters” and her “involvement in the online world of Bernie fandom.” Here, Marcotte seems to want us to consider the possibility that Reade made up the allegation to damage Biden in order to help Bernie Sanders. (I am not sure why else this would be relevant.) But again, if you have talked to Tara Reade, as both Marcotte and I have, you know that she is not a Sanders partisan at all. In fact, she supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary, and Elizabeth Warren in this election. The main reason she ended up supporting Bernie Sanders, as she will tell you, is that the choice has come down to either Bernie or the man who sexually assaulted her. Marcotte uses the phrase “involved” with “Bernie fandom,” and there’s a reason she has to use the vague word “involved,” because Tara can’t be properly described as an uncritical Bernie fan herself. As she says, she first became involved with Bernie’s fans in part because nobody else would listen to her accusation seriously. Marcotte acknowledges that Reade has expressed online support for everyone from Marianne Williamson to Cory Booker (seemingly almost all of the non-Biden candidates at one time or another, which would make sense). But Marcotte still floats the idea that Reade’s accusation should be looked upon as suspect because of her “involvement” with Bernie. Especially galling is that Marcotte does not acknowledge her own political biases here. She is just a neutral fact-checker, she says, who wants only to make sure the truth comes out. But Marcotte’s tweets about Bernie Sanders have been almost wholly negative, including her unsubstantiated claim that Bernie Bros are a “uniquely awful problem” and that to deny Bernie’s campaign has uniquely toxic supporters is “gaslighting”/”harassment.” Tara Reade seeking aid from Bernie supporters is considered reason to doubt her sexual assault, but Amanda Marcotte’s longstanding disdain for Bernie Sanders and his supporters is apparently not a reason to doubt her reporting on a story that had serious implications for the Biden versus Bernie race. And, lest I be accused of hypocrisy, let me be clear: I will honestly admit that I am a Bernie Sanders supporter and I believe that this could influence my judgment on a factual matter that affects the candidates, which is why I think people should scrutinize my actual arguments and evidence, but most importantly, listen to Reade herself rather than to either me or Marcotte.)
The fact that I have spoken to Tara, and am familiar with her story, helps me see the many tiny ways in which Marcotte’s piece manipulates the truth. For instance, consider this seemingly trivial passage:
It was during this time that Reade started to hint publicly that what happened with Biden had been far more serious than her 2019 story detailed. Such hinting led—as Reade told Salon, which Halper confirmed—to an anonymous woman suggesting that Reade seek Halper out to tell her full story.
Now, Marcotte and I both know something that you probably don’t, which is that this framing (“an anonymous woman suggesting”) is a slightly misleading account of how Reade’s first public interview came about. You might gather from this phrasing that some anonymous woman on Twitter (with unknown and possibly sinister motives) simply told Reade to approach Katie Halper. In fact, what happened is that Reade approached the “anonymous woman,” a prominent online personality who is not a journalist, but who realized the story was important and should have been reported. The woman was deeply disturbed by Reade’s story, and because she found it credible, wanted to help Reade get it out. The woman thus approached Halper, who recorded an interview with Tara and released it. As she does with so many parts of Tara’s story, Marcotte phrases things in the shadiest way possible. One could write: “Reade approached a prominent Twitter personality, who found Reade credible and encouraged Halper to broadcast the story.” Instead, Marcotte wrote only that an anonymous woman had told Reade to go find Halper. This may seem trivial, but when details are skipped over like this, Tara’s credibility is dealt a “death by a thousand small cuts.”
The part of Marcotte’s article that really made me want to be sick, though, was this paragraph:
[Ryan] Grim and Halper have both publicly said that they spoke to Reade’s brother and friend, who both confirmed that Reade had told them about the alleged assault when it happened. Attempts to reach the brother and the friend—key steps in reporting a story like this independently—have proven fruitless for Salon. Reade did not respond to Salon’s request for her friend’s identity, and Reade’s brother has not responded to Salon’s requests to talk. In light of these details, Salon concludes that mainstream outlets who are being criticized for not writing about Reade’s allegations probably aren’t making that choice because they’re covering up for Joe Biden. What’s more likely driving the silence—so far—is a genuine reluctance to dive into a story that contains such a high number of complicating factors and proves difficult to pin down, especially with the coronavirus emergency dominating the news cycle.
Feminist writer Katha Pollitt also said it was “not a good sign” that the brother and friend “aren’t responding to reporters’ queries.” But the truth is they didn’t respond to Marcotte’s queries. They have spoken to multiple other reporters. Back before the story came out, I actually warned Tara myself during our conversation that it didn’t sound from Marcotte’s inquiries that she was interested in being fair and recommended being cautious about her. I think that concern was vindicated. Marcotte used the fact that she couldn’t get a comment from Tara’s brother and friend as one of the “red flags” that justified the media’s silence on Tara’s accusation. She did not present readers with the alternate possibility: that they didn’t want to speak to a writer who seemed as if she was preparing to publicly smear Tara. I think this shows how accusers simply can’t win when it comes to dealing with the press: If they talk to all reporters, some will inevitably twist their words and take them out of context, while if they are more guarded and selective, their caution will be seen as a sign that they are suspicious and have something to hide.
It’s very reasonable to fear that talking to the wrong reporter will produce a damaging misunderstanding. One criticism that has been made of Tara stems from an interview she gave last year in the Union newspaper. In that interview, the reporter characterized (but did not directly quote) Tara as saying that the acts Biden performed on her did not make her feel “sexualized” but instead merely objectified. But Tara, in her interview with Katie Halper, says and the reporter seemed to be pressuring her to say the acts in question—inappropriate touching—weren’t sexual. Tara says that the (male) reporter’s questions made her reluctant to open up further, which is why she didn’t go into more detail about the alleged assault in addition to the unwanted neck and shoulder rubbing. The Union report is now used to suggest Tara is lying. This is why you need to be careful about the press, and it’s unfortunate that Marcotte implies wariness is somehow suspicious. Let me clarify for the record, though, that this wariness was not natural to Tara or her witnesses; she has been reaching out to everyone she can, and is eager to talk. If I am responsible for her witnesses not talking to a reporter and thereby bringing doubt on Tara’s story, I feel terrible about it. But I do think it’s hard for Tara to win, in part because supposed feminist allies like Marcotte will jump on victims for the slightest transgression when it comes to telling their stories correctly, if the stories involve men whose political fortunes Marcotte is invested in.
One remaining point worth noting in Marcotte’s article is that she dismisses the idea that Time’s Up’s refusal to represent Reade had anything to do with its relationship to Biden adviser Anita Dunn’s PR firm. Marcotte suggested that Time’s Up is simply not in the business of providing the kind of help Tara was seeking; Marcotte offers somewhat contradictory theories here, at one point suggesting that Time’s Up wouldn’t help Reade because she was only interested in suing online trolls (their law firms are “not, however, in the business of threatening ‘to sue conspiracy theorists for potentially protected speech’”), and at another point suggesting that Reade was declined because she wasn’t interested in suing anybody and Time’s Up only provides legal assistance. Marcotte said Time’s Up is “not in the business of running PR for accusers who aren’t going through the court system.” But Time’s Up explicitly accepts applications for PR assistance, and does not say that one needs to be going through the court system in order to seek it. But Time’s Up directly, on record, told the Intercept that the reason it denied Reade was not because it couldn’t provide the kind of assistance she was seeking, but because Biden was a candidate for office.
Importantly, one does not need to believe Time’s Up was engaged in a “conspiracy” here in order to believe that the ties to Biden mattered. The “conspiracy” word is often used wrongly in situations where we are actually talking about a simple alignment of interests. Marcotte argues that there are “competing conspiracy theories flying from both pro-Biden and pro-Sanders camps,” but that neither is correct:
Biden supporters are accusing Reade of being a Russian agent, or at least a kook with suspicious intentions who’s in love with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sanders supporters are accusing the mainstream media and Time’s Up of covering up Reade’s accusations to protect Biden.
But there is nothing “conspiratorial” about believing that Biden’s status as the Democratic frontrunner is affecting the likelihood of the media covering these allegations, or that a nonprofit with ties to the Biden campaign might decline to take Tara’s case, especially when they have already admitted that they wouldn’t take the case because of Biden’s status as a candidate, which, they said, could endanger Time’s Up’s nonprofit status (this is, incidentally, not true). Marcotte suggests that the left is alleging “[Biden advisor Anita] Dunn ran interference to quell Reade’s story,” and then points out that there is no evidence Dunn did this. But that’s probably not what happend. I bet Dunn never even heard about Tara’s accusation. Time’s Up probably just knew that it would create an incredibly awkward situation if they tried to use a PR firm run by a Biden adviser to publicize an accusation against Biden, and decided they didn’t want anything to do with it. That’s usually how these things go: Nobody has to be told anything in a smoke-filled room, people just realize it’s best not to get involved. I think Time’s Up saw the name Biden and thought it was a can of worms they were not interested in opening. That can even sound pretty innocuous, but what it means in practice is that they shielded Joe Biden from accountability for an alleged sex crime. It’s not actually justifiable, but it was easy for the people who worked there to justify it to themselves, and they didn’t think of themselves as trying to protect Joe Biden; they were protecting themselves.
* * *
I think one of the reasons I am so much more annoyed by Marcotte’s article than you will be, and have spent more time on it than you will spend, is that I have talked to Tara, and I have heard her talk about how frustrating it is not to be given a fair hearing, and how lonely it is to be treated as if you are crazy or a liar. And so all these little things in Marcotte’s article, from saying Tara “escalated her accusations” to saying she “speaks with a lot of emotion,” that just seem to treat her as an unreliable accuser who is long on emotion but short on evidence, all this gets to me, because Tara has few allies in this world, and it’s exasperating to see those who should be firmly on her side, or at least taking her seriously, undermining her and encouraging people to doubt her.
I feel the same about Jezebel’s article, which seems to me like an obnoxious attempt to speak for Tara without caring what she has to say. Emily Alford’s perspective is that while Tara is “harrowing and credible,” Katie Halper failed Tara by allowing her to speak freely without doing sufficient investigative reporting. As Alford writes:
“Halper put Reade in a no-win situation… [and] without doing due diligence in her reporting demonstrates either a lack of concern for how Reade might be raked over the coals or a lack of knowledge around journalistic best practices for sexual assault investigations and reporting… airing the interview without any attempt to frame the narrative makes the podcast more of a voyeuristic showcase of Reade’s pain, rather than a report about Biden’s alleged misconduct or his senior staff’s attempts to cover it up. The veracity of Reade’s account came under fire from people like former chair of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, who wrote that the allegations ‘may or may not be true.’… It’s now possible that she’s been set up for more vitriol—and for her story to be cravenly politicized.”
Now it seems to me like the person we should be mad at here is not Katie Halper, who allowed Tara air time, but Howard Dean, who suggested that because Tara’s story was covered by the Intercept it shouldn’t be trusted. It seems completely backwards that Jezebel is upset that Halper declined to “frame the narrative,” and I’m not sure what they mean. Tara was allowed to tell her own story in her own way. What did Jezebel want? (Certainly not to get Tara’s side of things; Tara was apparently not contacted by Jezebel for the story.) I’ve seen repeated demands that Tara’s story go through more of a “process.” But, first, Tara tried to get such a process and was denied. She approached journalist after journalist, including multiple attempts to contact Ronan Farrow (I tried to tell him about Tara myself, but he hasn’t replied). They simply weren’t interested in hearing what she had to say. Yes, it would have been nice if Tara had had an investigative journalist working with her to bolster everything she said. But she didn’t have one, so she had to turn to a leftist podcaster. The vast majority of the interview is Tara speaking, and Katie Halper asking a few gentle questions. It’s frankly hard to draw the conclusion that the interview is “voyeuristic” in any way.
I think we should be very wary of claims that Reade’s accusations simply were not supported by enough evidence to be widely reported. For one thing, Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh was reported as soon as she made it public, even though she had told nobody at the time, and did not have the kind of witness statements that Halper received from Reade’s brother and her friend. Tara, like many victims, is seemingly faced with an impossible standard. The incident happened in private, so what evidence can she provide, other than people she had told at the time? She can prove that she worked for Biden, and she can tell her whole story in clear and unwavering detail, but what else is she supposed to do? What proof, beyond her testimony, is enough?
It seems to me like the best way to evaluate a story like Tara’s is to see if it has the markers of authenticity. As Prof. Zenkus notes, Reade tells her story in the exact way that victims tend to, remembering some details incredibly specifically and unable to remember others: “Listen to Tara Reade’s story. The marble floor, the hot day, the cold wall, the shocking words allegedly spoken by Joe Biden. This is how victims of sexual trauma tell their stories. This is why I find Tara Reade believable.” Likewise, when I talked to Tara’s brother, he knew that something had happened involving Joe Biden getting Tara alone, pressing her against the wall, and putting his hands up her clothes, that their late mother had been enraged, and that Tara was considering calling the police. But he had never known the full extent of what happened, and was disturbed when he heard Tara revealing the alleged “digital penetration” in her interview with Katie Halper. That her brother didn’t know everything at the time doesn’t remotely suggest that Tara invented more later, but that, like many brothers, he didn’t quite understand what his sister had been talking about at the time. It adds up.
And, let’s be honest, the fact that seven other women have accused Biden of inappropriate touching should affect our judgment about the likelihood Biden would have done this. Biden has proved that he does not respect women’s boundaries, and, rather than adhering to a narrow pattern of inappropriate behavior, sexual predators frequently do as much as they think they can get away with. If Biden kissed Lucy Flores, a prominent Democratic politician, against her will in public, is it implausible that he would have done worse to a low-level staffer in private? Early in Biden’s run, people who knew him were suggesting that he was a MeToo scandal waiting to happen because of his habit of touching women without consent. Is anyone in the world surprised that a prominent political leader with a greater record of physical creepiness than almost any other—save the president—would ultimately be accused of serious physical misconduct?
Let’s be clear then: Reade’s story is just as credible as Blasey Ford’s, and if you took Blasey Ford seriously you should take Reade seriously too. The arguments knocking Reade’s credibility are frequently pitiful. A Medium post by the grifter Krassenstein brothers dives deep into the question of whether Reade had once written a blog post that was translated into Russian. It also suggests that Reade’s story is inconsistent, because she once wrote that she drove to DC to start her job in the senate, but another time she wrote that she flew there. (I asked her about this and the answer was both: She flew in the first time, but soon after went back west to get her car and her belongings and drive them east.) One thread full of purported reasons “not to trust” Tara lists (1) the fact that Donald Trump is also a rapist and (2) the fact that activist Shaun King tweeted out Tara’s story. One anti-Tara blog even posted a screenshot of a help post she had written in the PayPal community support forum, asking for troubleshooting advice on how to link her bank account. The poster suggested that it was suspicious that she had a PayPal account, implying that she was just out to get money. (Many people, of course, have PayPal accounts. Tara has not asked for money and has not tried to sue Joe Biden.) I think it’s important for anyone reading about Tara’s claims to ask themselves for each piece of information cited, “What argument are you actually making here? What are you trying to say? What is the theory for how this affects Tara’s credibility?” A lot of people will cite the positive posts she has written about Russia as if they are relevant, but the question is: why? What is it about the word “Russia” that makes people decide Reade’s employer did not assault her? What is being said here?
I cannot prove that Tara Reade is telling the truth. But I do think that as of right now, none of the criticisms of her or the justifications for not reporting her story withstand scrutiny. Many of them are completely irrelevant. Many involve “shooting the messenger,” i.e., saying that because a leftist podcast first broadcast Tara’s story, she should not be believed. Totally innocuous details are presented as “red flags.” Disturbingly, this is frequently done by people who see themselves as allies and supporters of victims. But, based on the information we have available at the moment,, there is no good reason to wave Tara away. (Prominent MeToo activist and Biden supporter Alyssa Milano, asked why she had been silent on the accusation, struggled to offer a plausible explanation consistent with her prior stances.)
Once we cut through the silly arguments and the irrelevancies, we are faced with the simple fact that a leading Democratic candidate is credibly accused of having done something completely heinous that should disqualify him from office. And, even if you believe that a candidate who is only so far alleged to be a one-time sexual assailant is meaningfully better than one who is alleged to be a serial sexual assailant, it should be plain that the serial one (and noted shameless hypocrite), Donald Trump, will obviously use the allegations against his opponent as a weapon in the general election. Reade’s accusation will not go away just because it would be convenient for the Democratic Party if it went away. By all means, examine Reade’s claims further. But she cannot be ignored.
*Not her real name. Tara’s friend has expressed a desire to remain anonymous to avoid risk to her livelihood.