Democrats and the news media are being accused of a double standard in how they’ve addressed allegations of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act: a bill long overdue MORE and Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment Why Latinos need Supreme Court reform Feehery: A Republican Congress is needed to fight left's slide to autocracy MORE.
Both Biden and Kavanaugh have faced decades-old charges that first became public at critical junctures in their pursuit of high political office.
Top Democrats who were on the front lines demanding justice for Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings have rushed to defend Biden, saying they do not believe the allegations made against him by Tara Reade.
And while the news media printed salacious new allegations against Kavanaugh before vetting the accusers or their claims, media outlets have approached Reade’s allegations with extreme caution.
Critics in both parties say Democrats and the news media set the standard of “believing all women” during the Kavanaugh hearings but have not met that standard in dealing with Biden.
“There is a clear double standard between how the media and Democrats treated Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations versus Tara Reade’s allegations,” said Mike Davis, who led the Senate effort to confirm Kavanaugh.
“It was stunning to see Democrats say they believed Joe Biden even before he’d spoken a word about this," he added. "And the media instantly and breathlessly reported on all of the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh, which resulted in three criminal referrals against accusers for conspiracy to lie to Congress.”
In 2018, top Democrats reacted with fury at the allegations made by Blasey Ford, demanding Kavanaugh remove himself from consideration to the Supreme Court.
They walked with the protesters on Capitol Hill, fundraised off the hearings and used the issue to energize the liberal base ahead of the 2018 midterms, in which Democrats won back the House.
Privately, some Democrats are now lamenting the standard they set in 2018, saying it has backfired now that Biden has been accused.
“We set up a standard we can't live by. No one likes to discuss it but it's the reality,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to talk candidly. “It looks terrible for him and for the party. You can't say you believe women and then take it all back because it doesn't apply to you.”
Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her in the early 1980s when they were both in high school. Reade accused Biden of assaulting her in the early 1990s when she worked in his Senate office.
Biden and Kavanaugh have both strenuously denied the allegations against them.
In her interview with Biden on MSNBC on Friday, Mika BrzezinskiMika Emilie BrzezinskiEx-NBC anchor Kasie Hunt to join CNN Biden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland Kasie Hunt headed to CNN after NBC departure: report MORE read Biden’s words about Blasey Ford back to him.
In 2018, Biden said that if a woman comes forward “in the glaring lights of focus,” you’ve got to “start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she is talking about is real.”
Brzezinksi also singled out Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats face critical 72 hours Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — 'Too late to evacuate' after wildfire debris Greene fined a third time for refusing to wear mask on House floor MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWhich proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? Proposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block Under pressure, Democrats cut back spending MORE (D-N.Y.) and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as Democratic women who said Blasey Ford must be believed but are now defending Biden against Reade’s allegations.
“Are women to be believed unless it pertains to you?” Brzezinksi asked Biden.
Biden responded that women should be “given the benefit of the doubt” and should “should start off with the presumption they’re telling the truth.”
“Then you have to look at the circumstances and the facts,” he said. “And the facts in this case do not exist. They never happened, and there’s so many inconsistencies in what has been said in this case. So yes, look at the facts and I assure you it did not happen, period. Period.”
Survivor advocates say Republicans are mischaracterizing the response to the Kavanaugh allegations, arguing that the effort was always to ensure that Blasey Ford’s accusations were fully investigated by the FBI before his Senate confirmation vote.
“The idea that Democrats just reflexively believed Christine Blasey Ford is a completely revisionist version of events,” said Robyn Swirling, founder of Works In Progress, which aims to reduce sexual violence in the workplace. “Democrats called for an FBI investigation, which was obstructed and never thoroughly conducted. All allegations -- whether against a Democrat or a Republican -- should be treated by Democrats and Republicans alike as equally serious matters. Survivors are not political pawns, and shouldn't be used as such to score political points or pursue electoral agendas.”
The news media’s coverage of Kavanaugh is getting new scrutiny amid the allegations against Biden.
The Kavanaugh hearing was the biggest political story of 2018, with media outlets scouring his yearbook, hounding former classmates and printing claims from women other than Blasey Ford in an effort to establish a pattern of misbehavior.
Several of the additional claims crumbled under scrutiny, including an allegation of gang rape made by Julie Swetnick, who was represented by Michael Avenatti. That allegation resulted in a criminal referral for conspiracy to lie to Congress.
By contrast, several major media outlets printed their first stories addressing the Reade allegations about three weeks after Reade first made the claims on March 25. All three stories dropped within a few hours of one another on Easter Sunday.
Biden conducted about two dozen interviews with media outlets between March 25 and April 30, including one with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and he was not asked once about the allegations until the May 1 interview with Brzezinksi.
Until this week, Reade’s allegations had mostly been pushed forward by partisan media on the left and right.
Reade will go on Fox News Sunday this weekend to address her claims. She told New York Times media critic Ben Smith that she wanted to avoid going on Fox News out of fear it would make her allegations appear political. But she said bookers from other cable and broadcast outlets are not calling her.
“Absolutely there’s been a disparity in the way the media has approached these two cases,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. “The burden of proof has not been the same. And granted, right now you have COVID-19 as the story that is always going to be the lead, but you’d think after that you’d see more about Reade’s allegations. It just hasn’t been a big story.”
Trump and Republicans are furious, alleging hypocrisy on the part of Democrats and the media. Trump has himself been accused of assault or misconduct by 23 women, all of which he has denied.
“I look at the double standard,” Trump said Friday. “You look at Biden and nobody even wants to bring up the subject.”
MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace said it’s a double standard for Republicans to try and create an “equal playing field” between Trump and Biden, when Trump has been accused by many more women.
“The right isn't running an intellectually honest operation to get to the bottom of whether Tara Reade was victimized,” Wallace said. “The right is running a smear campaign against Joe Biden.”
The Trump campaign released a new digital ad accusing Democrats of hypocrisy on the issue. The National Republican Congressional Committee released scores of press releases on Friday highlighting remarks from vulnerable Democrats who demanded Kavanaugh step aside but have been quiet about the allegations against Biden.
“It’s a bit of a Pandora’s Box we opened on this one,” said one Democratic fundraiser. “A perfect trap and we stepped right into it.”