The allegations against Joe Biden are finally breaking through a wall of media silence and political deflection.
It took nearly three weeks for The New York Times, followed by The Washington Post, to report the accusations by Tara Reade that her Senate boss had sexually assaulted her back in 1993. Even then, in an environment dominated by the coronavirus, there was little follow-up, with CNN and some other networks not even deigning to mention the allegations on air.
But new disclosures – made not by one of the country’s major news organizations but by Business Insider – have finally put the story on the media radar.
The website quoted a former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, as saying that Reade told her, in 1995 or 1996, that she had been assaulted by Biden: "I remember her saying, here was this person that she was working for and she idolized him. And he kind of put her up against a wall. And he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her. She felt like she was assaulted, and she really didn't feel there was anything she could do...She was crying. She was upset. And the more she talked about it, the more she started crying. I remember saying that she needed to file a police report."
Business Insider quoted a former work colleague, Lorraine Sanchez, as saying Reade told her in the mid-1990s that a boss in Washington had harassed her but did not recall whether she named Biden. And the Times and Post each quoted a friend who says Reade told her of the alleged attack at the time.
Let’s be clear that none of this proves the former vice president, who has vehemently denied the allegations, did in fact assault Reade a quarter century ago. Among other things, she changed her story to the Post, saying in an initial interview only that Biden had touched her neck and shoulders.
But Reade already has significantly more corroboration than did Christine Blasey Ford, who never had a witness who could place her and Brett Kavanaugh in the same room.
As Politico points out, the controversy “has metastasized into a serious campaign liability, entering the political mainstream just as Biden seeks to unite a fractious Democratic Party behind him...The drip of news is forcing high-profile senators, including potential vice presidential candidates, to defend Biden.”
The altered environment was clear when Hillary Clinton endorsed Biden on what was billed as, yes, a “Virtual Women’s Town Hall.” That prompted some media outlets and commentators to observe that Hillary has been a champion of the #MeToo movement and the idea that female accusers should be heard.
No journalist has yet asked Biden about the allegations, but some of the women on his short list of possible running mates--including Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar--have tried to finesse the question.
Stacey Abrams, who is openly campaigning for the nod, told CNN’s Don Lemon that Reade had been heard, prompting this question: “So you said you have heard her, you’ve heard enough, you don’t believe her. You believe Joe Biden.”
“No,” the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate said. “What I’m saying is that the New York Times investigation of her allegations...does not support the accusation against the vice president. I believe the Biden I know.”
That happens to match the talking points distributed by the Biden campaign, as Buzzfeed reported: “In this case, a thorough review by the New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen.”
Except that’s not true. As a Times spokesperson told Fox News in knocking down the Biden camp’s claim, “Our investigation made no conclusion either way.”
The comparison with the media frenzy over the four-decade allegations against Kavanaugh is inescapable. Post columnist Megan McArdle, no fan of Trump, said that such ancient allegations are impossible to judge fairly:
“That would have been a good position to take on Kavanaugh, not just because there was so little solid evidence. A decent society allows for rehabilitation, and when we cannot get clear evidence of a crime, then if there’s no evidence of later wrongdoing, we should err on the side of hoping that either the accuser was mistaken or the offender has reformed.
“But if you insisted that Kavanaugh must go, it’s hard to argue for mercy now without saying the painful words “I was wrong.”
Some Biden supporters, inevitably, say there are far more allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump than this single accusation against Biden. But the essence of Biden’s campaign against the president is that he is a man of higher character, which is hard to sustain if Reade’s account is taken seriously. And since Trump had a reputation as a playboy from his days as a celebrity, Tara Reade’s story could potentially cause more damage for Biden if it belatedly gets media traction.