On March 24th 2020, The Intercept broke allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden by former staffer Tara Reade. The next day, Reade was interviewed by left-wing podcast host Katie Halper to talk further about her allegations, before being interviewed the following day by Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti of the anti-establishment Youtube channel ‘The Hill’. Yet, it would take three weeks before the allegation got covered in the New York Times and over a month until Biden would be directly questioned about the allegation by a journalist.
The largely left-leaning hosts who interviewed Reade on their alternative media channels are the first to admit that they shouldn’t have been the first people to break the groundbreaking allegations. In a Tweet, Halper admitted such, saying she didn’t want to be seen as “politicizing” Reade’s story, while Ball used words to the same effect and even said she had approached mainstream journalists she knew to see if they were interested in covering the allegation (they weren’t).
Given the openness with which Ball and Halper declare their own political leanings, they aren’t wrong to worry about allegations of bias and politicisation, but there are also more reasons we should be uncomfortable with alternative media breaking such a sensitive, important story. For one thing, alternative media simply doesn’t have the resources and connections that outlets like the Times and CNN do, and in this situation, that lack of resources left them unable to independently corroborate Reade’s allegations.
If Reade’s story had been covered when she first came forward with her full account, Democratic voters would’ve been given a real choice
Of course, anyone who has kept up to date with the Biden/Reade controversy will know that there is a lot more evidence to Reade’s allegation now than there was in late March. (Though you could be forgiven for having not kept up to date on the story given the mainstream media’s reluctance to cover it.) However, when the likes of Ball and Halper interviewed Reade they had no way of knowing that in the following weeks, an old neighbour of Reade’s would come forward to corroborate her story and, an old talk show clip would emerge of Reade’s suspected mother calling in to describe her daughter’s “problems” with a prominent senator. Instead, there was the potential that Reade’s allegations would collapse under mainstream media scrutiny; harming the reputations of the alternative media outlets in question and leaving Reade open to an even greater level of abuse and threats than what she is currently experiencing.
Yet, when assigning blame in this ongoing saga, it would be unfair to put the brunt of criticism onto Halper and The Hill. They were in an unenviable position — either, they ignored a purported victim of sexual abuse by the front-runner for the Presidency of the United States, or they aired the allegations without being able to confirm their reliability. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t have been the responsibility of alternative media to report these allegations in the first place. The mainstream media should have jumped at the opportunity to scrutinise this story — and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have done just that if these same allegations were being made against Trump, or even Sanders.
But, not just did the media leave these allegations to be unsurfaced by alternative media, they delayed for as long as reasonably possible in further scrutinising them. To this day (as of writing: May 1st 2020), Reade has not been invited on networks like CNN and MSNBC even once and, CNN were even scooped on their own footage — with the CNN, Larry King call in with Reade’s supposed-mother being unearthed, not by CNN themselves, but by The Intercept.
No matter what, the #MeToo, ‘Believe Women’ movements stand to suffer
There are multiple theories for explaining the media’s delay on this issue. Some put it down to a general, Democratic-friendly culture among the D.C. media, others believe journalists didn’t want to lose their coveted access to the Biden campaign, while a further theory is that this is just another example of traditional media’s distrust towards new media (even though the mainstream media were more than happy to use reporting from ‘The Intercept’ to scrutinise Brett Kavanaugh in 2018).
Regardless, it’s clear that the mainstream media didn’t do their jobs properly on this issue (or, at least, they waited as long as they possibly could until they did so). The hard-hitting, relentless scrutiny exhibited by legacy media towards Kavanaugh is now missing. And, while some criticised outlets like CNN and The New York Times for going too hard on Kavanaugh, the alternative is always far, far worse. When deciding whether to go all in on scrutinising a political/powerful figure (even if it seems excessive) or holding back on criticising them, the media should always choose the former and not the latter.
Many Democratic feminists feel like they are left with an unenviable choice
Meanwhile, if a desire to protect Democratic party interests was involved in the media’s early refusals to cover this story, they have clearly failed in achieving their objective. If Reade’s story had been covered when she first came forward with her full account (late-January/early-February), Democratic voters would’ve been given a real choice. Not just a choice between Biden vs Trump, or even, Biden vs Sanders (which many feminist, moderates would still despise as being their only options). Instead, they would have gotten a choice between multiple Democratic candidates of different ideologies and different identities, who — for the most part — wouldn’t have had serious allegations of sexual assault against them.
Instead, many Democratic feminists feel like they are left with an unenviable choice — Trump or Biden. Despite the DNC’s technical ability to swap out Biden for someone else, we all know who the choices are going to be come November. No matter what, the #MeToo, ‘Believe Women’ movements stand to suffer. Democrats face a choice between voting for their own candidate, knowing he’s credibly accused of sexual assault, or sitting out the election (or voting third-party) — knowing this increases the chance of re-electing a man who is also credibly accused of sexual assault and, whose policies and rhetoric hurt not just women, but marginalised groups across the board. Not just is this an excruciating choice for rank-and-file Democratic feminists, it was also a completely avoidable situation to be in.
If only the media had done their job.