At the outset, let me be absolutely clear that I have a particularly heightened level of sensitivity to matters of gender and violence against women. Almost everyone has either met someone with some kind of #MeToo story or, alternatively, has experienced gender-based violence in some form.
But with that said, there’s a metric ton of crass, blatant cynicism that the Tara Reade scandal is steeped in, even worse than the Monica Lewinski episode two decades ago. Ever since the former Senate aide to Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, disclosed to her allegations of sexual assault, almost everyone on the national media stage has handled this with all the class of a circus ringmaster.
Let’s begin with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, whose leadership decided to throw Reade to the curb because of the identity of her alleged assailant. According to Reade, she only realized after reading Ryan Grim’s reporting for The Intercept that this happened owing, in all likelihood, to the nonprofit’s professional relationship to Anita Dunn, a Biden advisor who works for SKDKnickerbocker, the PR firm for Time’s Up. Leaving aside any other critiques one has of The Intercept and Joe Biden, it is a tremendous faux pas for Ryan Grim to let a journalistic bombshell like that be published without forewarning to his source. The Watergate conspirators were given more courtesy, as demonstrated by the classic exclamation “[Washington Post publisher] Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s ever published!” What was he thinking?
In 2019, both the Associated Press and the Washington Post worked the story but ultimately canned coverage. The AP had the story in April of that year, when, simultaneously, everyone was publishing about Biden being too touchy for people’s comfort case and point this particular column in Clinton lap dog Ezra Klein’s Vox. Even if there were inconsistencies within Reade’s story (purportedly the reason for squashing it), she deserved a fair hearing and a forum. These venues have given far more airtime to far more dubious actors over the years (cf. 2016 Donald Trump campaign) and have no shred of credibility here. Sexual trauma and memory are very messy things from top to bottom. There are plenty of women who have very public accounts of suppression and triggering that causes them to recall details sometimes years after the events.
Then there’s the timing of the media coverage itself, which was a day late and a dollar short. Face it, the way it was publicized and the forums that did so were all rabid supporters for Bernie Sanders. The first reaction of anyone with half a brain was asking “Why the hell didn’t this come out before Super Tuesday?!” I have no doubt about the sincerity of Katie Halper, whose podcast broke the story simultaneous with Grim’s publication.
But honestly, the moment of delivery struck me as, at least partially, having two hypothetical sources:
1) Someone in the Sanders campaign with deep connections to the liberal-progressive media decided to throw this out as a last-ditch political pipe bomb. If it were a well-known journalist who just might have been raked across the coals in a slimy New York Times hit piece a month prior to the story breaking (and I have absolutely no way of knowing so make no accusations in any sense about this), that would be a tremendously vile deed, an act that reduces Tara Reade’s plight to a political prop in the center ring under the big top;
2) It could be even more wild!
In 2015-16, Steve Bannon and Breitbart trotted out every single possible rat-f&$king stunt (courtesy Donald Trump campaign staffer/advisor cum Nixon Plumbers alumnus Roger Stone) to muddy the waters and argue there was no distinct difference between Hillary Clinton and Trump. This included one of the most jaw-droppingly audacious media coups possible, first holding a press conference with and then inviting to sit in the front row of the presidential debates the various women who have accused Bill Clinton of his piggish behavior in the past 40 years. Simultaneously, allegedly, Wikileaks might have communicated with Stone about publicizing emails regarding how the 2016 nomination was stolen from Bernie Sanders, among other grotesque facts regarding the former Secretary of State, following the Democratic National Convention. The logical conclusion of Bannon’s strategy was simple. First, go after Sanders supporters and try to convince them not to vote for Clinton, either by selecting a third party or just staying home. Second, court the undecided voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, and constantly remind them about being burned by first NAFTA and, had Clinton won, the sure-to-be-passed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deals. (In this scenario, per the ineptitude demonstrated at the end of the original Godfather, Salvatore Tessio might be such an unwitting doofus Bannon could have anonymously leaked him the Reade story and played Sally for a shmuck).
Regardless of the possibilities of the timing and the source, the cynicism has continued. That bastion of sensitivity, the New York Times, wrote the most antiseptic, anti-empathic story possible, making her look like a lone nut. Other hacks in Biden’s bag have tried to make the ridiculous claim that we should not trust Reade’s story because, of course, PUTIN! The perpetually-unfunny Bill Maher chimed in with an astonishingly nasty segment on a television show that hopefully shall not survive the economic apocalypse we are on the verge of. Various feminist auxiliaries of the Democratic Party are now doing mental gymnastics in order to avoid the obvious fact that they appear complete charlatans by maintaining unwavering support for Biden. Naomi Klein’s rather inept last-ditch pitch on behalf of Feminists for Bernie has a certain tinge of paternalism because, of course, the pivotal vote that handed Biden the nomination was delivered by Black women, the largest Democratic constituency on Super Tuesday.
In the long run, Tara Reade, however you feel about her story, is reduced to a spectacle. The press has made her into a sideshow amusement with a nickel ticket value.
But embedded in the background, as always, will be this damning truth. By creating another media circus where accusations of sexual assault are subject to public scrutiny and ridicule, the very real and dangerous impact is the devaluation of sexual violence accusations in toto. By constantly allowing the sensational circus productions, we make it harder for the most vulnerable womxn and girls in our society, low-income and impoverished BIPOC folk, to be rescued from the hell they are forced into for years.
And for that sin Dante provided no description of punishment.