Three years ago, the #MeToo movement was everywhere, with powerful men facing public reckonings seemingly on a weekly basis. Two years ago, when Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, wall-to-wall media coverage kept the allegations in the headlines for nearly a month. With the media showing little interest in the assault allegation against Joe Biden, has #MeToo’s media moment ended? Or are other forces at work?
The data provide some insights. The aftermath of Donald Trump’s election saw the birth of both the Women’s March and #MeToo as a rallying cry against male sexual harassment and assault. Despite considerable initial enthusiasm, the Women’s March has dropped off the media radar, all but disappearing by February 2019. Since November 2016, Fox News has mentioned it 1,108 times, MSNBC 1,028 times and CNN just 612 times.
Similarly, the #MeToo movement received steady media coverage from its October 2017 emergence through November 2018, but has largely vanished from CNN and MSNBC since then. Fox News continued to cover it through June 2019 and to date has mentioned it 762 times to MSNBC’s 423 and CNN’s 310, with Fox’s “The Ingraham Angle” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” together accounting for nearly 13% of all mentions across the three channels.
In September 2018, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh captivated the media’s attention, with CNN mentioning her name 1,898 times, MSNBC 1,878 times and Fox News just 1,066 times.
In contrast, over the past month, mentions of Tara Reade’s name on cable news have been almost nonexistent. Fox News has mentioned her 57 times to CNN’s nine times, while MSNBC has mentioned her name just once the past month. Google searches for Reade’s name are just a tenth of those for Blasey Ford’s. Broadening the search to any mention of “allegations” against Biden still yields just 158 mentions on Fox, 15 on CNN and 10 on MSNBC.
Similarly, online news coverage has mentioned Reade’s allegations less than 1% as often as it did Blasey Ford’s claims.
It isn’t just the TV news media that have covered the allegations so differently. A closer look at Biden’s and Kavanaugh’s Wikipedia pages and the discussion on the “Talk” pages for their entries (where contributors and editors discuss disagreements about what should be included in an article) shows their differing treatments.
Wikipedia has emerged over the past decade or more as a go-to source of “truth,” with search engines and social media platforms directing users to its entries for authoritative information on any given subject. Yet beneath its veneer of community consensus lie editorial decisions about what narratives should be told.
Take the Wikipedia entry for Brett Kavanaugh. Nearly a third of the total text in the opening summary of his article details the allegations against him and a large portion of the entry about his confirmation hearings focuses on those allegations. Discussions on the “Talk” page for his entry emphasize precedent for prominently mentioning such allegations, while discussions at the time of his confirmation largely revolved around wording choices and citations rather than whether the allegations should be included at all.
In contrast, Joe Biden’s Wikipedia entry includes only a single mention of the Tara Reade allegations near the bottom of his entry, with three sentences describing the allegations and three sentences denying them, one from the Biden campaign and two from a New York Times article. Discussion on the entry’s “Talk” page emphasizes whether the allegations should be mentioned at all and whether they should be seen as credible.
In the end, the media’s near-total silence on the allegations against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee stands in stark contrast to the wall-to-wall coverage given to such claims against Kavanaugh. As #MeToo fades from the media landscape and the voices that loudly supported it for three years fall silent, it remains to be seen if the movement has simply fizzled out, or if political leanings underpin the distinction.