Over a month has now passed since a former Senate aide to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden accused him sexually assaulting her. There are now multiple contemporaneous accounts in support of accuser Tara Reade, including a video that purports to be Reade’s mother calling into “Larry King Live” in 1993 and discussing the matter on national television.
And yet, Biden has done several interviews in April – and he hasn’t been asked directly about the allegations even once. Sources are reporting that Reade, who maintains liberal sympathies, has repeatedly turned down requests to be interviewed by Fox News. Yet, neither MSNBC nor CNN has had her on air once to tell her story. Looking back at the media coverage this past month, you have to ask: If the mainstream media were on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee, how would they have handled the Biden allegations any differently?
The awkward truth for the legacy media is that, as their institutional allegiances to the Democratic Party become increasingly obvious, judicious consumption of partisan media on the left and right is now a necessity. In this case, the Biden allegations were first reported by Bernie Sanders-supporting podcasters and intrepid reporting by progressive Ryan Grim at The Intercept.
These partisan media outlets – long derided in the major media as untrustworthy and motivated by fringe opinions – are to be commended for doing real reporting and adhering to higher professional and ethical standards than their so-called “mainstream” colleagues.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post was dragged kicking and screaming into covering the Biden allegations. The Post’s headline made its reticence obvious: “Developments in allegations against Biden amplify efforts to question his behavior.” As Arizona Republic columnist Jon Gabriel quipped, the vague gobbledygook isn’t journalism – it’s “crisis communications.”
After being mocked online, the Post changed the headline to something that’s clearer, but equally revealing: “Trump allies highlight new claims regarding allegations against Biden.” It seems the Post wants to report the Biden allegations only if it can downplay them or undercut them with partisan spin.
More importantly, the Post’s headline is also misleading. In framing the allegations as being pushed by “Trump allies,” the Post is obscuring how Reade’s allegations about Biden were thrust into the spotlight by news sources on the left, which would lend the charges more credibility, at least with some Post readers. The paper also doesn’t have an answer to critics who took note of the massive double standard in how the Post treated the accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Post extensively covered the Kavanaugh accusations, unvarnished and unquestioned. The Post’s coverage of the Biden allegations is subdued at best, even though they have much more corroboration than similar claims made against Kavanaugh. No one disputes Reade worked for Biden and the two were in contact. Yet even now, not a single person has come forward to confirm that Blasey-Ford ever even met Kavanaugh.
Ironically, Ryan Grim, The Intercept reporter who has done much of the work reporting the Biden allegations, was also instrumental in unearthing the allegations against Kavanaugh. In September of 2018, Grim was the first to report that Sen. Dianne Feinstein possessed a letter from a California constituent that described “an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school.”
The defining difference between Post’s coverage of these two stories seems to be partisan affiliation. Grim and his employers at The Intercept, on the other hand, make no secret of ideological sympathies that would lead them to oppose a conservative Catholic Supreme Court nominee, much less hide their active dislike of President Trump. Yet, Grim handled his Kavanaugh bombshell responsibly. He has been similarly professional in reporting the more recent Biden allegations.
In a recent newsletter Grim articulated his reasons for doggedly pursuing the Biden allegations. It’s an explanation every journalist in the country should commit to memory. “I decided early in my career that I would never suppress a story if the only reason I were doing so was concern about its political implications. If you do that, you’re no longer a journalist,” Grim wrote. “What’s more, nobody knows what the implications or consequences of reporting a story will be. We might think we know, but we don’t. Indeed, it’s quite possible that reporting this story now actually helps Biden in the long run, as he’d be dealing with it in October instead. That could be wrong, but the point is, it’s not for me to decide. My job is to find and report stories of importance, and then let people – voters, politicians, etc. – decide what to do with them.”
Grim’s articulation of journalistic values is in stark contrast to the tortured rationalization offered by New York Times’ Executive Editor Dean Baquet about why his paper didn’t cover the Biden story until it had been circulating for weeks.
The Times’ story pulled its punches so thoroughly that Biden is trying to hide behind it. His campaign circulated talking points for surrogates about the Reade allegations, stating that “a thorough review by The New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen.” In response, the Times was forced to issue a statement saying the Biden talking points “inaccurately suggest a New York Times investigation found that Tara Reade’s allegation ‘did not happen.’ Our investigation made no conclusion.”
The revealing truth here is that the Biden campaign is more afraid of upstart media outlets such as The Intercept reporting on the allegations fairly than it is of any retribution resulting from openly mischaracterizing the work of influential establishment media organs such as the Times. Meanwhile, The Intercept, along with scrappy conservative outlets such as The Daily Caller, continues to report on the allegations.
Earlier this week, The Daily Caller made a noble effort to work the phones and get every Democrat in the U.S. Senate on record about the allegations. The Caller didn’t get a single response. Still, the concerted attempts to ignore the Biden allegations kept the story alive. When people in power are conspicuously silent, even daring to ask questions is commendable journalism. Its coverage is also having an impact. An anonymous Democratic strategist recently told Politico the prospect of the charges “jumping from Daily Caller to CNN seems like a worrying trend.”
Even the New York Times’ new media columnist Ben Smith seems astonished by the media gatekeepers’ arrogant handling of the Biden allegations. “The thing about Reade story — and many like it — is that media decision-makers still operate under illusion they control whether it’s a story,” Smith recently tweeted.
Of course, the mainstream media is notoriously insular and self-congratulatory, so don’t expect Pulitzers to start going to The Intercept or the Daily Caller – much less National Review, Talking Points Memo, The Federalist, Reason, The Daily Wire, Mother Jones, or other ideologically oriented news sites doing real reporting. To acknowledge them for regularly scooping much bigger news organizations only invites unflattering comparisons that demonstrate major news organizations are far more politically motivated than they want to admit.
Readers, however, know honesty when they see it – and these nontraditional outlets at least deserve to be awarded our gratitude, eyeballs, and subscription dollars for reporting what the major media will not.