Biden's Protective Political Calculators

Tim Graham | April 15, 2020 | 4:29am EDT
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Then-Sen. Joe Biden during Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing in 1991. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Then-Sen. Joe Biden during Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing in 1991. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Almost three weeks after Tara Reade went on the record with her sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden, The New York Times and The Washington Post have issued their own investigative reports on her.

Reade briefly worked for then-Sen. Biden on Capitol Hill from 1992 to 1993. She claimed Biden penetrated her with his fingers. There were no eyewitnesses. You couldn't build a case in court with this.

What you could do is put a dent in someone's political appeal, especially someone who boasts of having passed the Violence Against Women Act. When asked by New York Times media columnist Ben Smith about whether the delay in reporting was out of concern for Biden's electoral chances, Times executive editor Dean Baquet protested energetically.

"I can't make that calculation. I won't. I won't let my head or my heart go there," Baquet proclaimed. "I think once you start making those kinds of calculations, you are not a journalist anymore. You're some sort of political actor."

Come on. Every time journalists are painted as heroes in the movies for stories they broke, such as Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, they are made political actors. They were political actors when they poured gallons of sugary goop on former President Barack Obama, and they were political actors when they threw everything they had to stop Donald Trump from winning the White House. The timing on accusations like these often betrays political calculation.

The networks are still delaying on Tara Reade. You can always demonstrate the media's political calculations by noticing they're not based on the evidence as much as they're based on who is accused.

In the spring of 1991, The New York Times reported that former first lady Nancy Reagan had an affair with Frank Sinatra, spreading unsubstantiated gossip from sleazy author Kitty Kelley. The networks quickly followed. In the fall, the liberal titans quickly jumped on NPR when it unfurled Anita Hill's unproven sexual harassment charges against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

But in 1994, this entire liberal media mob waited three months to notice that Paula Jones had charged then-President Bill Clinton with sexual harassment. They all heard Jones make her allegations at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February but aired nothing (well, ABC gave it 16 seconds).

In 1999, Juanita Broaddrick taped an interview with NBC News during which she alleged that Clinton had raped her in Little Rock, Arkansas. NBC sat on it for weeks — until after Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. Then it was "safe" to air, but even then, they all treated it like a distasteful one-day story.

In 2008, The New York Times ran a sleazy story suggesting Republican presidential nominee John McCain had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. "Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself," it said. Iseman successfully sued The Times for damages.

In the Trump era, the timing can be painfully obvious. The Washington Post only took hours to report on the Trump "Access Hollywood" tape. Last summer, when magazine writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of having raped her inside a New York department store dressing room, NBC News only waited about six hours to report it.

Most egregiously, there were the unsupported rape charges against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, which drew hundreds of minutes of network news time. Dean Baquet at The Times said that was different than the Biden case. It was "already in a public forum in a large way ... the biggest political story in the country."

Try to figure out how that is dramatically different from the presidential election story. Only the term of office is different — and the ideology of the man being painted as a monster.

(Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog

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