Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

Why Tara Reade’s allegations have left many wondering just what to think

A piece published in Vox helped a bit, not in reaching any conclusions about what really happened but in understanding why it is so hard to know what is going on (or went on) in this instance.

Joe Biden
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Former Vice President Joe Biden
I haven’t been able to figure out anything useful to say about Tara Reade’s allegation that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her, so I’ve said nothing, waiting for either clearer evidence or inspiration about how to treat her allegations.

“Believe the women” is a nice slogan, but what are the limits?

A piece published in Vox on Thursday helped a bit, not in reaching any conclusions about what really happened but in understanding why it is so hard to know what is going on (or went on) in this instance.

Laura McGann, editorial director of Vox, has been talking to Reade for more than a year, trying to authenticate her allegations, and has been unable to do so. She has had occasion to go back to Reade more than once to, for example, ask why her account has changed so much, and why she formerly said that that Biden had made her “uncomfortable” but specifically ruled out that Biden had sexually assaulted her or committed any other action that could be fairly described as “sexual assault,” or, perhaps, even sexual “misconduct.”

Article continues after advertisement

Here’s a paragraph from McGann’s piece, drawing on a year of conversations with Reade and investigating her complaints against Biden:

Reade told me that she wanted me to think of this story as being about abuse of power, “but not sexual misconduct.” Her emphasis was on how she was treated in Biden’s office by Senate aides, who she said retaliated against her for complaining about how Biden touched her in meetings. “I don’t know if [Biden] knew why I left,” she said. “He barely knew us by name.”

If you were a reporter who had had that conversation with Reade, and she later told you that Biden had actually penetrated her with his finger against her wishes, how would you decide whether to believe her? How far does the recent slogan “believe the women” go, when you are dealing with a woman who told you that — and now makes a more serious claim of sexual assault?

If, like me, you’ve been struggling to figure out what to make of this matter, and of Biden’s flat denial of her allegations, you should read the whole Vox piece, but even if you have adopted the recommendation that women making such allegations should be believed, McGann’s article will leave you still trying to figure out this case.

McGann also wrote:

If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the [early reporting on her allegations] had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago.

It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here.

Yes, here we are.

And not just here with Biden, but with Biden as the alternative to you-know-whom.

Article continues after advertisement

McGann acknowledged that aspect of the dilemma as well, for example, here:

Many liberals have said now and during the [Al] Franken saga that the Democratic Party has held itself to a ridiculous standard. Donald Trump has admitted on tape to what Reade accuses Biden of doing and still denies the accounts of more than 20 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct. And given that the goal of beating Trump is paramount this fall, some see dwelling on an accusation that has yet to be definitively proven as a damaging distraction.

McGann’s full Vox piece, headlined “The agonizing story of Tara Reade” is here.