From the Staff Lounge – Contemplating Tara Reade

Things at Torchlight have slowed down as we all burrow in under various COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place orders, but we still discuss what’s going on, and this exchange seemed worth sharing.

David Spitzley, Senior Contributor

So, this article is long and exceptionally smug about Democrats facing #MeToo karmic backlash, but it makes a serious case that Tara Reade’s accusations against Biden seem pretty questionable given she has a history of other shifting narratives:  https://quillette.com/2020/05/14/tara-reades-dubious-claims-and-shifting-stories-show-the-limits-of-believewomen/

Ann Anderson, Contributing Writer

On the Tara Reade matter, there are some things that make her story credible, and many things that don’t. Another issue for all of this for me is that men in positions of power who do this tend to be serial abusers.  We know Joe Biden does have a history of behavior we think of as creepy and invasive when it comes to women’s personal space, but Reade’s accusations detail a huge escalation from that behavior. Usually, there are similar stories from other women that come out of the woodwork after someone first comes forward in cases of people like Biden. Like I said, men in power who do this kind of thing rarely do it once, because it is tied to their power. The lack of others coming forward with similar stories is, therefore, something I am noticing and weighing in my assessment of her accusations.

I have always felt that the phrase “Believe the Women” should have been “Listen to the women and don’t discount what they say out of hand, because often they are speaking the truth”, but that is not even remotely as catchy. I have always worried that phrase would come back to bite people. (It’s been thrown back in my face more than once before all this, and I don’t even use it.)

There are women who falsely accuse others of sexual assault.  Sometimes they may even truly believe the assault happened. Often those cases are caught. They make up a very, very small percentage of the people who make accusations, but it does happen.  Sometimes women do make such charges regarding famous figures they have encountered for various purposes, whether it be some weird degree of fame, or having an ax to grind, or political machinations, or whatever. It does no one on the side of wanting more women to be believed when it comes to their claims of sexual assault any good to pretend that there have not been incidents of false accusations.  Reade could be one of those. I don’t know for sure, any more than we will ever know for sure if the accusations against the Lt. Governor of Virginia were really true or not.

I thought I would make comment here because I have several male friends who are struggling with this question of believing Reade or not, because they want to not discount what women have gone through. I am actually grateful. The last few years have brought some higher awareness to men I know who, while I would definitely call them allies, just did not know how pervasive the kinds of sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and discrimination women face on a regular basis is.  It’s hard to know what you can’t experience and is not often brought to light.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

I don’t believe her, but I think that’s mostly because if I did this race would get even more depressing.

The sad fact is that in cases like this the stakes are so high and the evidence so low that unless a pattern of victims emerges there’s no way to be sure.

Ann

Exactly. Especially because Reade does have some serious credibility issues (based on current political leanings, past strange claims about other famous figures), unlike a Blassey-Ford to whom I most often hear her compared.  I think people need to think more in terms of Tweeden who accused Franken of inappropriate behavior and a forced French kiss. She had some credibility issues at least according to many people I knew on the Left, including that she worked for a right-wing radio station, which is why I draw the comparison to Reade. So I held off judging Franken.  Then more women came forward telling stories similar to each other of groping by Franken, and his own comments about it, to me, made it sound like he was a man not in control of his hands when in close contact with women. That factored into my assessments of Tweeden’s story. I know a lot of people who feel Franken was falsely accused. I know even more who feel he was treated unfairly, and I am not trying to open up that can of worms here.  But like it or not, in these cases, having a pattern of victims come forward helps greatly in assessing claims like this.

Josh

One of the more frustrating things about all this is that the right hits the left for hypocrisy on this, when the right is obviously not interested in holding their own people accountable for sexual misconduct. There’s a pernicious double standard there.

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

The key here for me is pattern of behavior. We know how Biden acts inapproprately, and this is the first instance we’ve heard of violence, rather than just ignoring boundaries. Which is not acceptable, but also not the same thing. I agree with you completely Ann.

His credibility is bolstered by the support of women I respect who take this issue extremely seriously.

There is also the hell dimension timeline we are in where, even if this were true, Trump has been accused of the same or worse 2 dozen times, so… we’re kinda stuck.

Ann

Your last point is incredibly important for people to understand. We don’t have to like it, but we are essentially a two-party state, and it would take, in my opinion, a serious restructuring for us to be anything other than that (at other times, we have had party splits and new parties arise, but like a chemical reaction, it always settles back down to an equilibrium of a two-party state).  That means that right now we only have two real choices because any other vote is essentially a throwaway vote.  It’s Trump or Biden. Whose worse on the women front? That’s not even open for debate. Trump hands down.

I saw a cartoon one of my far-right friends posted on his Facebook wall trying to call out the hypocrisy of the Left for excusing Biden. What was missing from the representation was their own support of a man who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times and credibly so.  There is a pattern with Trump that’s well established and that he reaffirms often, including every time he leers at his own daughter.  Some days (most days actually) Trump makes my skin crawl (and that’s saying something right now since I am currently covered in hives).

Josh

As someone or other put it, Biden is accused of doing exactly what Trump bragged about doing on tape.

David

In case you didn’t get through the article, the most problematic thing about Reade is that she has massively expanded the story of her ex-husband’s behavior.  She filed a verified domestic assault charge, and referenced suicidal and other behaviors in her divorce proceedings, when she had a strong reason to be as complete as possible, but in published retellings in recent years she accuses him of attempted murder, as well as threats to kill himself and her and their daughter.  It seems bizarre that she would hold back such significant details when she had reason to do so as part of already extensive accusations.  But that’s the exact pattern we’re seeing with her Biden accusations.

Josh

What do we think about the response from Biden and the campaign so far to the accusation?

Ann

I’m not sure how I feel about Biden’s response. I do appreciate his trying to be as transparent as is possible for a case as old as this, and that he finally said something himself, instead of through spokespeople. But, like all candidates who don’t currently hold public office, the response feels muted, because all attempts to be in the public eye feel muted right now. Trump and other sitting lawmakers are a bit different. They can command the spotlight and maintain it, through press conferences and the like in the ways others, like Biden, just can’t right now

As to Reade’s credibility issues, they don’t stop there. Her ever-changing story about Biden himself, although not completely out of the norm for an assault victim, is still enough to raise eyebrows. Her record appears to indicate that she has a history of telling tales, especially when it comes to relationships with men.

Josh

Are we just holding her (and victims in general) to an impossible standard, though? I have no problem believing she experienced sexism in the workplace and domestic violence in her marriage, and it’s not a stretch to say that things like that, let alone the alleged sexual assault, can lead to emotional problems, erratic behavior, etc. Are we unwilling to give someone the benefit of the doubt because they don’t reach the standard of, say, Blasey-Ford?

David

If she has a pattern of chronologically-worsening allegations that are factually problematic, then benefit of the doubt is hard to sustain.

Ann

I am not talking about a high standard. Even if she lied about every encounter with a man, it doesn’t mean that she should be allowed to be sexually assaulted and nothing done. But there are a lot of factors that go into weighing and assessing a story, especially one as old as this that has other issues as well. It’s not a denial that she has a history as a sexual assault and domestic violence victim. Also, as I said before, it is not unheard of for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence to have changing stories that escalate because initially they don’t feel safe voicing the whole story. There is an appearance of Reade having a pattern of telling escalating tales that seem unlikely to be true under the circumstances. (By the way, I stand corrected on the Putin thing. She wrote an article on Medium praising Putin that she then took down, but the woman claiming the romance was someone else.) Does that mean she is lying here or even that she was lying in the past? Not necessarily. But given the age of the case, and thus the lack of other evidence, we are allowed to factor in that history along with all the other factors in our assessment of this matter. There are elements of her story that are credible, including people that at the time she made aware that something had happened.  There are also problems with the story, like the lack of a pattern of behavior in Biden, and the fact that, according to those who have worked in Senate offices, it was virtually impossible for an assault like that not to have been witnessed by many people, as there are always people going back and forth. Some of those people, I am sure, have no reason to be silent now, yet none have come forward. There’s also Biden’s willingness to be far more transparent about his records of the time than most accused are. We will never know for certain whether she is telling the truth about the sexual assault, or not.  We can only make our own personal assessments of the story and how it factors into our decision-making in the election.

Josh

Indeed.

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