Media

Biased Journalism Is Gutting the #MeToo Movement

Former vice president Joe Biden at his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Overhyping sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh but downplaying those against Biden undermines the #MeToo movement’s promise.

In October 2017, reporters publicized the stories of women who claimed to have been sexually harassed and assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, our country has been in the grips of a reckoning. The outpouring of similar tales in the months following the Weinstein story seemed as if it would never end; every other day we heard about yet another celebrity accused of using his fame to mistreat the women around him.

It was the birth of a movement, #MeToo, which at its worst has been captured by those who insist we must believe every woman who claims to have been assaulted. For centuries, these advocates say, women’s stories have been disbelieved, and now it’s time to tip the balance of power and believe them all, no matter what.

But at its best, the #MeToo movement represented a promise, to men and women alike: Fear and raw power would no longer derail justice. For the first time, women — and, much less frequently, men — who had been abused would have society’s backing to tell their stories publicly and, if they presented enough evidence, to expect that the men responsible would face consequences.

When Christine Blasey Ford came forward in 2018 with the claim that a teenaged Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her, progressives revealed their unwillingness to accept a #MeToo movement that didn’t “believe all women.” Her story deserved investigation, but when all was said and done, it was problematic in several key aspects, among them that Ford couldn’t produce anyone to affirm she and Kavanaugh had ever met, that she had told no one about the alleged assault for decades, and that she later gave conflicting accounts of what she believed had happened.

None of those facts perturbed Kavanaugh’s ideological opponents in the Democratic Party and the media. Armed with a fresh reason to take down a man they were already determined to reject, Senate Democrats put him through the wringer. Their journalistic allies helped them along by doing little to vet Ford’s claims and giving air time to far less credible accounts of his alleged sexual misconduct.

Consider the New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer, telling the story of Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a party when he was a freshman at Yale University. The reporters were unable to find a single eyewitness to confirm that Kavanaugh had been at the party Ramirez described or anyone who had ever heard Ramirez recount this accusation.

One friend of Ramirez’s told The New Yorker, “This is a woman I was best friends with. We shared intimate details of our lives. And I was never told this story by her, or by anyone else. It never came up. I didn’t see it; I never heard of it happening.”

Farrow and Mayer noted, too, that “in her initial conversations with The New Yorker, [Ramirez] was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty.” In fact, she was willing to go on the record only “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney,” at which point “she felt confident enough of her recollections.” Inexplicably, the article was published anyway.

Even worse, media outlets lent credibility to the outlandish tale of Julie Swetnick, who, again without corroboration, alleged that Kavanaugh had “spiked” drinks at parties in high school to facilitate gang rape. Not only did outlets report on this claim despite the lack of evidence, but they purposely withheld evidence that a woman identified by Swetnick as a witness denied ever having witnessed Kavanaugh’s alleged misconduct.

By publicizing accusations that lacked the most basic aspects needed for credibility, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee jettisoned their responsibility to seek the truth and instead used vulnerable women as pawns in an effort to tarnish a political enemy. In doing so, they made it less likely that subsequent women who publicized their credible accusations would be believed.

A year and a half later, Democrats and the media are again undermining the principles of #MeToo, this time by ignoring and downplaying sexual-assault allegations against Joe Biden. While Biden himself has said in the past that we must believe every woman who alleges assault, he has since changed his tune. Now, he and his prominent backers — including one of Kavanaugh’s most vigorous critics, #MeToo celebrity advocate Alyssa Milano — have begun singing the praises of due process.

Meanwhile, reporting on Tara Reade’s accusation against Biden has ranged from nonexistent to shoddy. Almost unbelievably, Biden himself has yet to be asked about the allegation, nor have the many Democratic politicians who have endorsed him.

The New York Times waited 19 days to report on the subject, and, after publishing the piece, later removed a crucial line: “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” There was no editor’s note explaining the deletion.

Later still, the Times Twitter account deleted its tweet that had included this line, noting that it had been removed because of “imprecise language.” Times executive editor Dean Baquet, in a subsequent interview with the paper’s media columnist, Ben Smith, said, “Even though a lot of us, including me, had looked at it before the story went into the paper, I think that the campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward and made it look like there were other instances in which he had been accused of sexual misconduct.”

Baquet further told Smith that differences between the paper’s reporting on the Biden allegation and on the Kavanaugh allegations were because “Kavanaugh was already in a public forum in a large way. Kavanaugh’s status as a Supreme Court justice was in question because of a very serious allegation.” As Dan McLaughlin has pointed out on NRO, it is clear that the Times is comfortable dissecting its opponents while coddling its allies — and the latter are apparently given editorial control over what the paper publishes.

And it isn’t just the Times. A search for “Tara Reade” on CNN’s website, for instance, returns zero results. Columnists at leading papers have further (inadvertently) exposed the double standard. At the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus wrote a column in October 2018 with the headline, “Does it matter what Kavanaugh did in high school? Well, yes.” She has written an entire book around her conclusion that Ford told the truth about Kavanaugh. Her recent column on the Biden allegation, titled “Assessing Tara Reade’s allegations,” concludes, “My gut says that what Reade alleges did not happen.”

Two columns by Joan Walsh in The Nation are also ripe for contrast. In September 2018, her piece was called “The Heart-Wrenching Trauma of the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh Hearings,” with the subtitle, “It’s difficult. It hurts. It’s unfair. But women will keep telling our stories.” This time around, her tone has changed from melodrama to nuance: “The Troublesome Tara Reade Story” and “Left- and right-wing Biden haters demand that the media investigate her sexual assault charge. It did — and uncovered many reasons to doubt.”

Michelle Goldberg, columnist at the Times, did much the same thing. Her piece on Reade is called “What to Do With Tara Reade’s Allegation Against Joe Biden?” and the subheading, “A sexual assault accusation against the presumptive Democratic nominee is being used to troll the #MeToo movement.” Her reflection on Kavanaugh bears the much more provocative title, “Pigs All the Way Down,” with the subtitle, “Kavanaugh and our rotten ruling class.”

None of this is to say that Reade’s story ought to be believed outright, though she does have one key fact in her favor that Ford did not: She can establish that she personally knew the man she is accusing. But contrasting the coverage of this claim with the coverage Kavanaugh received reveals that far too many in the media care far more about weaponizing sexual-misconduct claims against conservatives than they do about uncovering the truth.

Our feckless media establishment weakens our political process, to be sure, but it also undermines what #MeToo, at its best, stood for: the idea that wronged women could tell their stories and guilty men would be punished. That promise means nothing when a man’s guilt is determined by his political views rather than by the evidence, and when a woman is ignored or derided if she claims to have been the victim of the Democratic Party’s man.

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