5. What’s the big takeaway here? There are several.
Biden’s communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said the allegations are false and issued this terse statement to Salon: “Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims.”
The story of Reade’s allegations against Biden shows what can happen when the rigorous standards espoused by mainstream publications are sidestepped for a more credulous and politicized approach. The failure to vet this story methodically and to preemptively address its odder elements opened the door to a whirlwind of conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Some Sanders supporters are lobbing wild accusations of a cover-up by the mainstream media and Time’s Up for not publicizing Reade’s story. In turn, some Biden supporters are being reckless — whether by assuming Reade is lying, or by spreading ridiculous conspiracy theories about her, or both. No doubt some folks on either side of the political divide would be reacting the same way no matter what, but the situation has been made significantly worse because of the slipshod manner in which Reade’s allegations were reported and released.
Organizations like Time’s Up and mainstream journalists take great care with politically sensitive accusations like Reade’s. That isn’t because they’re cowards. It’s because they fear situations just like this, where piecemeal reporting and the perception of slanted coverage create a political food fight that ends up pushing what is supposed to be the central concern — resisting sexual harassment and violence — to the sidelines.
No matter how it may be interpreted, “believe women” has never been an injunction to publish every allegation of sexual abuse without hesitation or reservation. It’s about taking these stories seriously on their own terms, instead of dismissing them as women’s attempts to manipulate people and public opinion. For journalists, it means we must take stories of sexual abuse seriously and treat them carefully and thoroughly; as Rebecca Traister said on Twitter in 2017, that means publishing stories that are “reported, investigated, fact checked & backed up by the outlets reporting on them.”
What can be said is that Reade’s story is credible and compelling in some important ways, and also comes with a number of troubling red flags. For a variety of reasons it has not been taken seriously on a national level, but those reasons do not include a mainstream media conspiracy to protect Joe Biden. Rather than becoming the subject of serious investigation, this has instead become an occasion for die-hard supporters on both the Sanders and Biden sides to score points on one another online. Actual facts have been supplanted by reckless conspiracy theories spun by enthusiasts of both candidates. Whatever the facts of this case may be, the #MeToo movement deserves better than to be dragged into the sleaze like this.
What’s so great about this is that this was exactly the response that Amanduh and Salon gave to those allegations of sexual assault against that Republican judge nominated by Orange Man Bad.
Good to see consistency, isn’t it?