What coverage of Joe Biden's past reveals about America's media bias

Kurt Mahlburg
April 30, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Politics and Policy

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been accused of sexual assault by a former staffer named Tara Reade.

Such a serious allegation against a presidential candidate would normally be a loud, leading, global story. Instead, America's biggest mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times , the Washington Post and CNN have remained eerily quiet about the Tara Reade accusations.

So deafening is this 'conspiracy of silence' that the legacy media's bias has itself become the story - more newsworthy, perhaps, than the allegations against the former Vice President.

In a March 25 interview , Tara Reade, a staffer for then-Senator Joe Biden described the incident that she says occurred in 1993. Pinning her to a wall in the Senate building, Biden allegedly reached under her clothes and forced himself on her.

If true, it is a damning and possibly campaign-ending revelation for Donald Trump's only remaining rival.

Decades-old allegations can be difficult to prove. An accuser should always be heard and believed. And the accused should always be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Here in Australia, for example, a very similar case ended in the exoneration of Cardinal George Pell.

This belief in due process, it could be argued, is why America's media has been reluctant to publish. But there is one glaring problem with this explanation - and his name is Brett Kavanaugh.

In 2018, Kavanaugh was nominated as a Supreme Court justice by the Republican party. It would be a lifetime conservative appointment in the nation's highest court.

On the eve of Kavanaugh's confirmation, Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward accusing him of sexual assault. At a high school party, she alleged, Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, tried to remove her clothing, and covered her mouth so she couldn't scream.

Biden and Kavanaugh create for us a perfect litmus test in media objectivity: both men aspiring to a preeminent national office; both facing allegations of sexual assault from long in the past; both categorically denying the claim.

So how did the media respond in each case?

The New York Times immediately published the Kavanaugh story, dedicating a team of reporters, multiple front-page stories, and weeks of coverage to the affair.

By contrast, it was 19 days before the same paper touched the Joe Biden allegation. Instead of publishing a report, the Times offered a 'meta-story' with the headline, " Examining Tara Reade's Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden ".

Later, the Times stealth-edited their own article. After receiving a compliant from Joe Biden's campaign, the paper removed a reference to Biden's "hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable".

To their credit, the Times published a follow-up piece in which the execute editor responded to charges of bias. His answers, however, were an exercise in equivocation.

He claimed that the deleted sentence was due to 'awkward phrasing' in the original. He also hosed down their 19-day delay, explaining that the paper needed more time to investigate before letting readers 'make their own judgment' - a grace never extended to Kavanaugh.

The Washington Post was just as duplicitous, waiting the same 19 days to report on the accusations against Biden. Tara Reade's story was corroborated by her brother and mother - but rather than quoting her family members at length, the WaPo gave a louder voice to Democrat staffers at the time who denied Reade made a complaint.

The article frequently veered off-topic - most notably, raising allegations against Donald Trump though they were unrelated to the story. After reporting that Tara Reade had recently made an official police complaint, the author of the Post article insinuated that Reade was at fault, declaring, "Filing a false report is a crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail."

By contrast, it was the Washington Post that was first to publish Christine Blasey Ford's accusations against Kavanaugh , setting off the media feeding frenzy that followed. The WaPo framed Blasey Ford sympathetically and took her claims at face value.

CNN has been the most dishonest player in the whole sordid affair. The media behemoth waited a full 24 days to first mention Tara Reade's accusations against the Democrat frontrunner, but published a jaw-dropping 700 articles about the Kavanaugh allegations.

CNN used a similar 'meta-story' framing technique to the New York Times . CNN called their belated article " Democrats grapple with questions about Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden ", instead of letting the allegations themselves be the news story.

Since Joe Biden has been accused, he has taken ten TV interviews - including one with Brooke Baldwin and two with Anderson Cooper, both CNN hosts. Neither of them asked Biden about the Tara Reade accusations.

In fact, not a single interviewer from the legacy media has questioned Joe Biden since the allegations came to light. Most of these same anchors - not just from CNN but also representing MSNBC, ABC and NBC - were adamant about Kavanaugh's guilt in 2018.

It seems that #MeToo and #BelieveAllWomen were little more than hashtags. The rules of the game have suddenly changed now that a Democrat is in the crosshairs.

Even the actress Alyssa Milano, a leader of the #MeToo movement, has taken a sudden and unexpected stand for due process.

Answering an interview question about Joe Biden, Milano explained that believing all women "does not mean at the expense of not giving men their due process and investigating situations… it's got to be fair in both directions." This, of course, didn't stop her from attending anti-Kavanaugh rallies two years ago.

The legacy media holds a mammoth sway over the mindset of our culture. When major news outlets report, they are always responsible for their framing; always making ethical judgments; always deciding what is news and what isn't.

They know this. That's why CNN sells itself as, " The most trusted name in news ." That's why the Washington Post boldly declares that " Democracy dies in darkness ." That's why the masthead of the New York Times reads, " All the news that's fit to print ."

But increasingly, the legacy media itself is the news. Activists dressed as journalists running cover for a political party during an election year?

At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump, it's fake news. And if it goes on too long, it might just help get him re-elected.