Plus, a question about the quarantine protests.
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Today’s read: 9 minutes.
The Joe Biden allegations, a question about Trump’s involvement in protests and an important vaccination story.
Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr
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What D.C. is talking about.
Note: for those who would prefer not to read about an act of sexual assault, a heads up this section will include a description of sexual assault allegations.
The Joe Biden sexual assault allegations. Tangle first covered these allegations in late March, after Tara Reade gave an interview to Rolling Stone reporter Katie Halper. Reade, like several other women, had first accused Biden of touching her inappropriately or actions that could be best described as creepy, unwanted and uncomfortable in 2019. Those accusations came along with a chorus of others and prompted Biden to issue a public apology video where he said, “I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this.’” He added that “the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset” and pledged to change how he acted. But in her interview with Halper, Reade went further: she accused Biden not just of harassment, but of an assault in 1993 when she was a staffer on his team. She said Biden sexually assaulted her by pushing her up against a wall and penetrating her with his fingers. Reade described the scene in detail, noting that they were alone, that there was no exchange, that he had her up against a wall.
“He just had me up against the wall and the wall was cold,” she claimed. “His hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And he went down my skirt, and then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers. He was kissing me at the same time.”
When Reade pulled back, she said, Biden said: “C’mon man, I heard you liked me.” Then, she alleges, he pointed at her and said, “You're nothing to me” before shaking her at the shoulders and saying, “You're OK, you're fine.”
Reade was accused of everything from being a “Russian asset” to just a downright liar. The New York Times investigated her claims for three weeks and said it could not find former Senate staffers who recalled the incident. “No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation,” The Times wrote. “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.”
Kate Bedingfield, a deputy Biden campaign manager, said in a statement: “Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women. He authored and fought for the passage and reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
Since the Times reporting, which was published April 12th, two new pieces of evidence have brought the story back to the front pages. First, The Intercept reported that a caller on Larry King Live could be identified as Reade’s mother, and that the caller called into the show to ask King for advice about problems her daughter was having with a senator. In previous interviews about the assault allegations, Reade had claimed her mother made a call to Larry King Live and referenced her assault, but until this weekend that call had never been found or resurfaced. Now, The Intercept appears to have corroborated its existence.
Then, yesterday, Business Insider got two different Reade associates — a former neighbor and a former colleague — to go on the record confirming that Reade told them about the assault allegations at the time. This corroborated Reade, who has repeatedly told the press she described the assault to several friends, family members and colleagues. Her neighbor said she remembered Reade telling her the story, nearly identical to the one she told Halper, and that she broke down while describing it. Business Insider said it sought out Biden’s senatorial papers, which live at the University of Delaware, to look for records about Reade’s claims. But the university denied the request, saying the papers “will remain closed to the public until two years after Mr. Biden retires from public life.”
What the right is saying.
It’s a chorus of complaints about press coverage and intellectual dishonesty from the left. For many Republicans, a defining moment of the last three years were Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, which the right believes were grossly unfair and unsubstantiated, despite being the headline story for weeks on end. Those allegations were from 1982 when he was 17. Now, a woman is accusing the Democratic nominee for president of sexual assault, with corroborating witnesses that didn’t exist in Blasey Ford’s allegations, and the story is from 1993 when Biden was a U.S. senator and 49 years old, but it’s getting a fraction of the coverage. And when it is covered, the press is doing mental gymnastics to avoid giving it credibility, like this tweet from The Washington Post:
The New York Times was also criticized for the first edition of its report, which included this doozy of a line [emphasis Tangle’s]: “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” The Times had to remove the section and delete a tweet that quoted it after a huge blowback from readers and the Biden campaign.
“There are now five people who say they knew something about this story decades ago, two of whom heard the exact details Reade revealed in a podcast last month,” John Sexton said in Hot Air. “Dr. Ford never had any corroboration approaching this.” In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe said, “Right now, Reade's allegation is unproven in the court of public opinion. But it is now credible, meaning that witnesses and evidence have illustrated a consistent and plausible thread backing Reade's allegation.” She added that further evidence could make it “more likely than not that Biden actually did assault Reade.”
What the left is saying.
They want to hear from Biden. The former Vice President has made this election about character and integrity, and few things call Biden’s character into question more than an allegation of sexually assaulting a staffer. So far, Biden has hidden behind statements from his female spokesperson, and he’s done little to step in front of the mic and address the content of the allegations. The left, particularly Sanders supporters, are demanding that he either step up and respond or step down as the Democratic nominee.
“Exposing and punishing powerful people who exploit their position to harass and assault others might make other elites think twice,” Ryan Cooper said in The Week. “This progress will be grossly undermined if Democrats choose to look past Biden's allegations for political reasons.”
Biden’s defenders have offered a different narrative. Many point to The New York Times 3-week report, which couldn’t find any corroboration of Reade’s allegations. The Intercept is a far-left news outlet with a staff that almost certainly wanted Sanders as the nominee, and Reade herself has a story that has repeatedly changed over time. She has deleted past websites, Twitter accounts and writing where she praises Biden, even as recently as 2017, for fighting to end sexual assault. The Krassenstein brothers, who are hardcore leftist partisans that were a bit of a joke on Twitter (before they got banned), actually published a pretty in-depth post on Medium that lays out “inconsistencies” in Reade’s story and some erratic social media posting from her past. Many Biden defenders have shared those articles and used the social media history in them to paint Reade as an unreliable narrator of events.
I appreciate a lot of the criticism from the right about these allegations, and I can certainly see why — after the way the Brett Kavanaugh case dominated the headlines — there is a lot of frustration about how little the “mainstream media” has been on top of this story. However, I’d posit and propose to my conservative readers that the Kavanaugh-Biden comparison is not really apt. Most relevantly, the reason those allegations got more coverage was because Kavanaugh was testifying in a confirmation hearing and his accuser was being questioned and testifying under oath. It was an entirely different spectacle: it was incredible, mind-blowing, unprecedented, heart wrenching television that the entire country watched live, in real-time. It was a woman accusing a man set to sit on the Supreme Court in front of the country, on national TV, and with the added layer of her being questioned about her story.
A more accurate comparison would be lining up how these allegations have been covered vs. how the sexual assault allegations against a former presidential candidate were covered. Like, say, Donald Trump. He was accused of various acts of sexual assault or sexual harassment by at least 12 women — including assault allegations that went as far as rape. Trump also described an almost mirror image of the very allegations against Biden, saying you can grab women by their genitals without their permission when you’re a star because “they let you do it.” Can you name one or two of Trump’s accusers by name off the top of your head? I’m not sure most Americans can. So when I hear comparisons of this against Kavanaugh, and the way the media covered it, I think it’d be a lot fairer to compare it to media coverage of the allegations against Trump. And in that regard, there is still a case to be made that the allegations against Trump got more coverage. But there were also far more of them, at least a handful of whom had similar details as Reade’s, and Trump got elected anyway. Since then, the assault allegations were mostly forgotten by the press. For many on the left, it’s Trump who got the pass, not Biden.
I’ll also add that I was cringing when I first read The New York Times coverage, especially when I got to the section that said there were no other instances of Biden’s harassment or assault while simultaneously acknowledging other instances of unwanted touching and kissing. But I do want to give The Times some credit. They did something very few other papers would do, they actually published a Q&A where one of their own reporters prodded the top editor about their coverage of Biden. It wasn’t a particularly flattering piece for The Times but they ran it anyway — critical of their own work and transparent about why they covered the allegations the way they did.
As for the allegations themselves, I said it in March and I’ll say it again now: I find Tara Reade credible. There were no witnesses and so far there is no public documentation of the assault, so I’m not going to sit here and say I know for sure one way or the other. I don’t. Only Reade and Biden know the truth. But I listened to her tell her story, I read dozens of news articles about it, and I think the latest evidence only adds to her credibility. Some bizarre and head-scratching social media posts aside, she has a consistent story she’s apparently been telling for some time. I believe her, and I’m sure if I sat down with Joe Biden and asked him questions he could give me a believable defense, too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done that — and doesn’t appear willing to. Until he does, we only have Reade’s story, and she’s telling a convincing, familiar, sad and moving one. Without any evidence to point us in another direction, we’re going to be left with her story alone, and the grim reality of choosing between two candidates credibly accused of sexual assault in November.
UFOs. Today, the Pentagon released and officially acknowledged the legitimacy of the videos that hit the internet last year, showing Navy pilots reacting to a series of flying objects they could not understand or identify. If you’ve been reading this newsletter for awhile, you know I’ve got a childlike love for UFO stories. Former Democratic Senator Harry Reid said he was “glad” the videos were out, but that "it only scratches the surface of research and materials available. The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications." Click.
Social distancing. Some form of social distancing will probably be in place for the rest of the summer, Dr. Deborah Birx of the coronavirus task force said on Sunday. While governors are expressing optimism about reopening states and many Americans are sensing a light at the end of the tunnel, Dr. Birx said certain kinds of social distancing will have to remain in place to “protect one another as we move through these phases.” Click.
Symptoms. The CDC has updated its symptoms for coronavirus, which it says now include at least two of the following: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or a new loss of taste or smell. The primary symptoms have stayed the same: cough or shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Click.
SBA loans. Yesterday, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) re-launched with new funding that Congress allocated last week. But the website ran into technical issues and crashed throughout the day as an overwhelming number of visitors and applications poured in. Click.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!
Q: I just listened to today's episode of The Daily podcast (editor’s note: this episode aired last week), where they started breaking down these protests in Michigan and around the country about having people go back to work. They made a few connections to these protesters to billionaires funding them and also that those billionaires have extremely close ties to the White House via [Betsy] Devos and other committee members. Is it just me or does everything the Trump administration does have to have a conspiracy tied to it? Is that the left-wing media trying to incite more hate against Trump and the Republicans, or are there actually all these shady connections?
— Jonathan, Tampa Bay, Florida
Tangle: Hey Jonathan, thanks for this question. It’s tough to answer something like this that has a broad overarching theme (i.e. I don’t have nearly enough room here to write about “everything the Trump administration does”) but I understand your skepticism or exhaustion with this kind of news — Trump does something, stories come out telling damning bombshell conspiracy about how that thing was evil or corrupt or bad.
To speak specifically to The Daily story you’re referencing, which examines the source of the protests against stay-at-home orders, I think it’s a mixed bag. There is some really good reporting about who is funding those protests, the Facebook groups being organized to prop them up and the historical reason they’re happening in the first place.
Let me address those protests first and then answer the broader question you posed.
Some of those protests absolutely have connections to well-funded conservative donors, donors who also have connections to the White House. I don’t think connecting the dots there is The Times concocting a conspiracy of any kind — I think it’s just solid (albeit maybe a little sensational) reporting. I’ll add that The Times reporter who was interviewed on The Daily was also careful to note that they had no evidence The White House was directing or helping conduct these protests (besides Trump’s tweets that seemed to encourage them), only that people close to The White House clearly had the incentive for them to exist and had put their own money into ensuring they happened.
At the same time, that doesn’t make the protests fake. People showed up and turned out because they were genuinely pissed off. They also showed up because they wanted to organize against various other threats they think big government represents: socialism, mass immigration, the reduction of gun rights, etc. And, as is typical anytime there is a conservative protest of any kind, there were also some far-right nationalists who showed up to wave around the Confederate flag.
So yes, wealthy funders are “guiding and stoking the frustrations of the people breaking quarantine,” as Wired put it. And yes, those wealthy funders have connections to Trump. And yes, the protests — and the coverage of them — are probably beneficial for Trump. None of that is conclusive evidence of anything, but just a worthwhile context to keep in mind when you’re looking at them. It’s also worth noting that just as the Confederate flag-waving guys are a small fraction of the protesters, the protesters are a small fraction of American conservatives. Polls (and the relatively small size of the protests) have repeatedly shown that breaking quarantine and reopening the country are not particularly popular conservative ideas.
As for the “left-wing media” inciting hatred against Trump, it really depends. There are websites and pundits and politicians who will use any story, and any cherry-picked fact, to make Trump and his administration look as bad as possible. That is 100% true. It’s part of the reason I created Tangle: partisans on the left and right have gotten extremely good at elevating the worst arguments the other side is making and presenting them as being representative of the political party they don’t like. There are also plenty of good reporters who privately loathe Trump and it’s clear from their reporting and writing that they are prone to make mistakes that are not favorable to him.
At the same time, Trump himself has resorted to calling The New York Times and The Washington Post “fake news” when they are accurately reporting on him and his administration. He, in my opinion, is a far less reliable narrator of events than papers like that. While CNN and MSNBC are a dumpster fire of Trump hate, papers like The Times and WaPo are generally reliable. They have editorial standards. They can be sued for libel. They issue corrections. They have layers of editors and, believe it or not, they have conservatives and Trump supporters in their newsroom. Are they predominantly liberal reporters? Yes. Does that mean they are bad at their jobs or biased in their reporting? Not necessarily. In fact, as I’ve argued before, sometimes liberal reporters are far tougher on Democrats or lefty figures precisely because they are liberal; they feel an attachment to those figures, or feel like they represent them, and so their standards are higher. In the same way one might be more critical of their favorite sports team for sucking year after year, left-leaning reporters are often more critical of Democrats in their reporting or commentary.
So, are there actually all these shady connections? Kind of. Generally speaking, Trump’s reputation as a businessman in New York was abysmal. People outside the northeast may not be familiar with his story before running for president — most just knew him from The Apprentice — but you could walk into pretty much any New York deli and find a contractor, politician or a construction worker who has been screwed over by Trump.
And when he came into office, he brought a lot of shady political characters with him, people like Paul Manafort — who no politician in their right mind would have worked with given his history. But the election upended the office in a way that sent the media reeling and left a lot of people grasping at some stories that were mostly fantasy. To sum up: certain media sources are certainly going to turn every Trump move against him, but the best print newspapers are still doing great work — and Trump has brought much of the scrutiny onto himself thanks to a shady history as a real estate developer and for bringing on team members with ugly political histories.
A story that matters.
Vaccine rates across the U.S. are dropping as parents cancel checkups for their children to avoid coronavirus exposure, The New York Times reports. Public health experts are ringing the alarm bells that this unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic could lead to another health crisis entirely. “Immunizations are dropping at a dangerous rate, putting millions of children at risk for measles, whooping cough, and other life-threatening illnesses,” The Times reports. The problem was already popping in 2019, when the U.S. nearly lost its measles elimination status after anti-vaccination movements got traction in some hot spots across the country. Now, though, things could be getting worse. One pediatric electronic health records company measured a 50% drop in the administration of measles, mumps and rubella shots from the week of February 16th compared to the week of April 5th. Click.
- +4. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Florida, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
- +8. Joe Biden’s lean over Donald Trump in Michigan, according to the latest Fox News poll.
- +6. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.
- +50. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump amongst voters who dislike both candidates, or “double-haters,” according to a Wall Street Journal poll.
- 80%. The percentage of Americans who are in favor of stay-at-home orders, according to an Associated Press poll.
- 68%. The percentage of small business owners who say COVID-19 will permanently change their business models.
- $3.7 trillion. The projected size of the U.S. deficit in 2020, according to an estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Have a nice day.
Dave Chapelle helped raise over $100,000 for struggling comics who can’t get work during the coronavirus pandemic. Chapelle participated in a live, three-part podcast benefit as a surprise guest. He spent the podcast reminiscing about his early comedy career, which included stints at the Los Angeles stand-up venue The Comedy Store that hosted that podcast benefit. As quarantine and social distancing guidelines continue, we’re only just seeing the impact the lockdown will have on various sectors. And lord knows we’ll need some comedy to get through this. Click.