May 8, 2020


The agonizing story of Tara Reade: I started reporting on Tara Reade's story a year ago. Here's what I found, and where I'm stuck. (Laura McGann,  May 7, 2020, Vox)

Reade told me that a senior aide told her Biden liked her legs and that he wanted her to serve cocktails at a fundraiser for him, a request she found demeaning and declined. When she later complained to others in the office that Biden would put his hands on her shoulder, neck, and hair during meetings in ways that made her uncomfortable, she says she was blamed and told to dress more conservatively. Within a few months, she said, her responsibilities had been stripped and she felt she was being pushed out of the job. She went back home to California deflated. [...]

Last year, Reade encouraged me to speak with a friend of hers who counseled her through her time in Biden's office in 1992 and 1993. The friend was clear about what had happened, and what hadn't.

"On the scale of other things we heard, and I feel ashamed, but it wasn't that bad. [Biden] never tried to kiss her directly. He never went for one of those touches. It was one of those, 'sorry you took it that way.' I know that is very hard to explain," the friend told me. She went on: "What was creepy was that it was always in front of people."

I wanted to break this story. Badly. About half a dozen women had stepped forward around the time I spoke with Reade to say they were bothered by how Biden had touched them at events. I wrote a column praising them for staring down the political media that had given him a pass for all those years. Reade's story took these complaints further -- showing how even lower-grade inappropriate conduct can have real consequences for a woman's career, an important subject that we still don't talk about nearly enough.

I knew I wasn't the only reporter Reade was talking to. The New York Times had three reporters on the story, she told me. On April 3, the day after we first spoke, she texted me four times. She wanted to know when I planned to publish, and she warned me that other outlets were getting ready to do so.

That day, the Union published an article with her story. This happens sometimes. It's happened to me, many times. You fight for a story that would be explosive if you could prove it, but you can't. I continued reporting on her story for a few more weeks after the story broke, but I didn't get enough. Vox did not publish anything about Reade in 2019. Neither did the major outlets that I know were pursuing the story, including the Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

In March 2020, Reade resurfaced with a new allegation, which she told on The Katie Halper Show. In addition to her account of her experience with office staff, Reade said that in 1993, Biden forced an unwanted sexual encounter on her. She said Biden pushed her against a wall on the Capitol grounds, kissed her, and then digitally penetrated her -- all against her will.

Biden's campaign did not respond publicly to Reade's claims in 2019. On May 1, Biden answered questions about the allegations for the first time on MSNBC's Morning Joe. He denied all of Reade's claims and underscored his denial of the sexual assault allegation. "I'm saying unequivocally, it never, never happened," he told host Mika Brzezinski.

Three aides whom Reade said she approached about her complaints in 1993 told the New York Times that they also dispute her account. "I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period -- not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone," said Marianne Baker, Biden's longtime executive assistant. "I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Ms. Reade's accounting of events, which would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager."

When Reade's story reemerged in a new form, I went through my reporting notes and interview transcripts from a year ago. [...]

Reade's latest allegation is far more serious and comes in a far more fraught political context. The story that both she and her corroborating witnesses are telling has changed dramatically. This leaves me -- all of us -- in an agonizing place. I've written many articles through the Me Too era. It's unrealistic to demand "perfect" victims. And, like most who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct or assault, Reade has suffered for speaking out. In several exchanges this year and last year, she's shown me disturbing messages she's received online.

As my colleague Anna North writes, there has long been an ambiguity in the Me Too movement. The rallying cry has been to "believe women." But the acts of journalism that have driven the movement forward have been built on extraordinary amounts of evidence: They usually include not just consistent corroboration but oftentimes multiple stories, stacked on top of each other. Taking on powerful men over these issues was unthinkable just a few years ago. It's required herculean effort.

Reporters who've succeeded in forcing powerful men to be held to account relied on an incredible amount of reporting to do it.

For example, Irin Carmon, who, along with Amy Brittain exposed Charlie Rose for an alleged decades-long pattern of sexual harassment, had pursued the story for years. When their exposé appeared in the Washington Post, it was built on accusations from eight women, three on the record. Carmon and Brittain found consistency across the women's stories and strong corroboration of each account:

There are striking commonalities in the accounts of the women, each of whom described their interactions with Rose in multiple interviews with The Post. For all of the women, reporters interviewed friends, colleagues or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents.

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein fell in 2017 after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times published the accounts of dozens of women who said Weinstein had assaulted or harassed them over the previous 30 years. Ronan Farrow published another story shortly after in the New Yorker, an account that included 13 accusations of sexual assault, three of them rape. All three reporters have gone on to write books about the incredible lengths they went to in order to get the story.

Eight women have now said they've been made uncomfortable by Biden in public settings. Reade is the lone woman to accuse him of sexual assault. This is a situation out of her control, but it means that reporters can't build a story about Biden around a pattern of behavior, where multiple accusers boost one another's story. Instead, reporters are looking at Reade's account in isolation -- and that account has changed.

Posted by at May 8, 2020 9:38 AM