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NY Times Editor Says Biden Sexual-Assault Article Was Edited after His Campaign Complained

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks about responses to the coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said on Monday that the paper made a controversial change to its report on the sexual-assault allegation against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden after his campaign complained about the wording.

In an interview with Times media columnist Ben Smith, Baquet said the Biden campaign took issue with some of the phrasing in the paper’s report on former Senate staffer Tara Reade’s allegation that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.

“No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation,” the report read. “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”

The Times subsequently deleted the second half of that sentence, eliminating the description of Biden’s conduct to which women have previously objected.

“I want to ask about some edits that were made after publication, the deletion of the second half of the sentence,” Smith asked Baquet. “Why did you do that?”

“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, and that’s not what the sentence was intended to say,” Baquet answered.

“Why not explain that?” Smith pressed.

“We didn’t think it was a factual mistake,” Baquet said. “I thought it was an awkward phrasing issue that could be read different ways and that it wasn’t something factual we were correcting. So, I didn’t think that was necessary.”

The Times did not add a correction or an editor’s note to the report after it was changed. The paper also deleted a tweet relating to the report and explained, “We’ve deleted a tweet in this thread that had some imprecise language that has been changed in the story.”

Reade went public with graphic details about her claim on March 25, and the Times report was published over two weeks later on Easter Sunday.

“I thought that what The New York Times could offer and should try to offer was the reporting to help people understand what to make of a fairly serious allegation against a guy who had been a vice president of the United States and was knocking on the door of being his party’s nominee,” Baquet said, explaining why the Times waited to report on the accusation. “Look, I get the argument. Just do a short, straightforward news story. But, I’m not sure that doing this sort of straightforward news story would have helped the reader understand. Have all the information he or she needs to think about what to make of this thing.”

The executive editor also defended the paper’s more proactive approach to reporting on the sexual-assault allegations against then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying the standard for such reporting is “very subjective.”

“It was a live, ongoing story that had become the biggest political story in the country. It was just a different news judgment moment,” Baquet said of the news cycle during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

The Biden campaign has denied Reade’s allegation.

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