The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.
Only some media outlets and respective principled journalists dare to publish the stories that others would spike or hang low on. It has become more and more apparent to me that the news is an industry. Like any other business, news organizations cannot stay afloat without stable finances or ties to people with a great deal of power. This has become increasingly more clear in recent weeks. Alexandra Tara Reade is a former staffer from Joe Biden’s senate office who alleges that Biden sexually assaulted her at work in 1993. On March 24, 2020, The Intercept bravely published Reade’s story, stating that she had been vocal about her allegations months prior and had even lodged a complaint back in 1993. She has also mentioned that there were witnesses who can confirm her allegations. At the time, Reade felt she had no choice but to go quiet after intense pushback and pressure – much of Reade’s private life and finances have been scrutinized through the years. While Biden’s presidential campaign continued, she began to reconsider her silence, calling it her civic responsibility to share her story.
Two days after the initial article was published, another journalist posted an hour long podcast interview with Tara Reade, where she discussed the event in its entirety. Since these were made public, mainstream media organizations have been remarkably slow on acknowledging her allegations. The New York Times finally broke its silence on April 12th, nearly 19 days after the story first entered the news cycle, and only at that point did other major news organizations follow suit. The paper claimed that they had been conducting in-depth reporting on the topic during that time interval.
It is as if there is a vested political interest, or maybe some sort of internal strife, on the surface that is keeping the media far away from this story. While smaller, independent, publications have covered Reade’s story extensively since it first broke, none of the reportage around this story has mirrored that of the explosion of coverage around other prominent sexual assault allegations against political figures.
The article written by the The New York Times was particularly striking to me. The headline reads, “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.” Immediately, this insinuates some sort of skepticism. Most organizations appear to be hesitant to believe this particular survivor.
There is no ethical standard for a newsroom to follow when covering stories like this, since every allegation is different and therefore is determined on a case by case basis, but I do believe that timing and verbiage is important. The press plays a huge role in enabling certain things to blow up while keeping others at bay, or within a certain lens, which holds true in this case, based off of the rhetoric used.
The day that the The New York Times published its article, April 12th, 2020, the paper also posted an accompanying thread of tweets on twitter that have since been deleted. One, that I found to be particularly telling, read, “No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of our reporting, nor did any former Biden staff corroborate Reade’s allegation. We found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”
Other woman have been vocal about alleged inappropriate, sexual, interactions with Joe Biden. Most of their statements discuss unwanted kisses, hair smelling, and hand placement. They also talk about them feeling embarrassed, stating that his behavior towards them was just another example of that which makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace. Their names are Lucy Flores, Amy Lappos, D.J. Hill, Caitlyn Caruso, Ally Coll, Sofie Karasek, and Vail Kohnert-Yount. In April of 2019, Biden posted the below video on twitter in response to some of those allegations. To date, Biden’s campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, has denied Tara Reade’s allegation saying, “he firmly believes that women have a right to be heard—and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: it is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
The New York Times forgot to mention in its article that those aforementioned instances of “hugs, kisses, and touching” that made women uncomfortable ARE patterns of sexual misconduct by Joe Biden. It is quite obvious that those kinds of acts are not ones of endearment, but rather they are assertions of power. Perhaps, during those 19 days that the paper spent conducting such intensive interviews, it could have spoken with some sort of trauma or women’s specialist. This person could have also provided the context necessary to establish why Tara would have been so hesitant to come forward with her allegations, especially with regard to the stigma that existed around such topics in 1993 and all that a person might endure when speaking up. More of the paper’s reluctance is shown through the quotations that have been selected for print. This includes the fact that the sources used to corroborate Reade’s allegation are people who have a clear loyalty or interest in Biden not only as an acquaintance, but also as a nominee.
It is not surprising that a newspaper like The New York Times would go to such lengths to attempt to ensure that Trump would not return to the presidency after 2020. Each individual newsroom is subject to its own collective judgement and decision making. But in all of the hodgepodge that goes into political reporting, and the walls that it brushes up against, one might actually be letting go of the morals that got them there in the first place. For me, it is a little disheartening that any newspaper—not just The New York Times—known for its worldview would be hesitant with coverage around a woman with a story like this one, regardless of the politics that they might be engulfed in. Reporters should avoid political activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or that may damage credibility, which includes this kind of apparent unbalanced coverage. If an equal platform is not given to survivors of sexual assault in the media, especially when the accused is a political figure who has substantial power over the public, news organizations are not serving the public the way they intend.
It is no secret that some news organizations lean left and others lean right, but should that direct its reporting when the story is about sexual assault allegations? I don’t think so.