When Tara Reade, a former staffer in the office of then-Sen. Joe Biden, stepped forward to make a claim that Biden had sexually violated her, an endless stream of commentary ensued: It’s hard to not believe her if you believed Christine Blasey Ford (who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when both were teenagers). Democrats are in a pickle! Live by the “Believe women” rule!
This effort at moral equivalency made the same error that all such comparisons do: It attempted to treat unequal things as equal. In the case of Ford, she had never changed her account of an assault at a party, which Kavanaugh denies. She testified under oath, credibly recounting the episode. There was also another alleged incident of sexual misconduct from Kavanaugh’s time at Yale, which a credible third party reported having witnessed (which Kavanaugh has also denied). Although we will never know for certain, Kavanaugh’s denial of heavy drinking and his implausible explanations about his calendar undercut his testimony.
In the case of Reade, the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests no sexual assault occurred. To conclude she is telling the truth, you would have to believe that, for the first and only time in his career, Biden decided to assault a woman in a fully visible spot in the Capitol. Reade, as previously reported, repeatedly modified her story. At one point she claimed the assault had been documented in a written complaint. After Biden denied the incident, she said come to think of it, the complaint wouldn’t have included the assault portion. There was plenty here to set off alarm bells. Sure enough, the more media entities investigated, the more flaky Reade’s story seemed.
PBS published a massive investigation on Friday, which included interviews with 74 former Biden staffers, 62 of them women. Rather than any hint of impropriety, “people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.” (Some did, however, acknowledge his nonsexual touchy-feely conduct, for which Biden has apologized.) In addition, the investigation spoke to a staffer who sat next to Reade and “told the NewsHour that Reade was fired for her poor performance on the job, which he witnessed – not as retaliation for her complaints about sexual harassment.”
Finally, the specifics of her allegation – that Biden accosted her in a hallway when she brought him his gym bag – turn out to be wholly improbable:
“Reade’s attorney told the NewsHour that Reade recalls the assault happening ‘in a semiprivate area like an alcove’ and that it was ‘somewhere between the Russell (building) and/or Capitol building.’ He pointed out that survivors often have difficulty with specifics about trauma. … A recent walk through that area showed the subway tunnel contains no out-of-view areas, like an alcove. The remaining portion of the route includes multiple stairwells as well as corridors lined with offices. It is a main thoroughfare for senators and staffers.
“Some former staffers told the NewsHour that if Biden did assault Reade in any of these places, it would have been a brazen attack in an area with a high risk of being seen.”
Politico also investigated Reade’s charge, interviewing more than a dozen people. “A number of those in close contact with Reade over the past 12 years, a period in which she went by the names Tara Reade, Tara McCabe or Alexandra McCabe, laid out a familiar pattern: Reade ingratiated herself, explained she was down on her luck and needed help, and eventually took advantage of their goodwill to extract money, skip rent payments or walk out on other bills,” Politico found. “The people (interviewed) provided copies of past emails, screenshots of Facebook Messenger or text exchanges with Reade, copies of billing invoices or court records detailing their grievances or correspondence.”
Reade declined to comment on the Politico article, but her lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, took issue with the article, arguing that past incidents don’t bear relevance to the allegations against Biden. “If the assertion is that someone who has lied to their landlord because they don’t have the money to pay rent so then they lied about a sexual assault, I don’t think that is fair journalism,” Wigdor said.
In sum, Reade’s story is riddled with inconsistencies. There are plenty of contemporaneous witnesses (including those who would have received a complaint and say they did not) to dispute her allegations. Questions about her credibility abound.
“Believe women” does not mean we must be blind to facts or engage in willful blindness. Sexual assault is a crime. In our system of justice and in the court of public opinion, facts still matter, and not all allegations are equally meritorious. Some are downright false. With regard to Reade, it’s long past time the media stopped indulging in the notion that if you believe Ford, you must believe Reade.
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