The New York Times is facing blowback after its executive editor admitted to removing a controversial passage in a story focusing on a 1993 sexual assault allegation against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE.
The criticism comes after the Times published an article looking into allegations made against Biden by Tara Reade, who says the then-senator sexually assaulted her when she worked as a Biden senate staffer.
“The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable,” read the original passage in a Sunday story before it was removed.
Times executive editor Dean Baquet told the news organization’s media columnist Ben Smith that the edit was made because the Biden campaign argued the phrasing made it appear that other women had made similar accusations against Biden.
“The [Biden] campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward and made it look like there were other instances in which he had been accused of sexual misconduct,” Baquet told Smith.
Smith then pressed Baquet on why the Times didn’t acknowledge the change in an editor's note to readers.
“We didn’t think it was a factual mistake. I thought it was an awkward phrasing issue that could be read different ways and that it wasn’t something factual we were correcting,” Baquet said.
Smith also raised questions about whether Biden was being treated differently in the Times coverage than Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh MORE, who faced allegations of sexual assault during his confirmation process in 2018.
Smith’s story, titled, “The Times Took 19 Days to Report an Accusation Against Biden. Here’s Why,” asks why the paper wrote about Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick's allegations the same day they were made without any independent corroboration, while the Times waited 19 days before publishing a piece on Reade’s accusations.
“Kavanaugh was already in a public forum in a large way,” answered Baquet, who argued claims against the then-nominee were already in the public forum.
“If you ask the average person in America, they didn’t know about the Tara Reade case,” Baquet continued. “We needed to introduce it with some reporting and perspective ... and help people understand what to make of a fairly serious allegation against a guy who had been a vice president of the United States and was knocking on the door of being his party’s nominee.”
Swetnick’s claims were dismissed by an incredulous Kavanaugh as "a joke" during Senate confirmation hearings in October 2018, while Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid MORE (R-Maine) called Swetnick's claims “outlandish … put forth without any credible supporting evidence,” adding, “that such an allegation can find its way into the Supreme Court confirmation process is a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our American consciousness."
NBC News contacted four people Swetnick said could corroborate her story.
One could not recall who Swetnick was, one other person was dead, and two did not respond to requests for comment, per NBC News.
Reaction to the Smith interview of Baquet was swift across the political spectrum, with Smith being praised for the questioning.
In NYT, @benyt asks top editor Dean Baquet some excellent questions about paper's Tara Reade coverage versus its Kavanaugh coverage. Gets weak and sometimes laughable answers. https://t.co/2vJpYv5HRr pic.twitter.com/fb3BpXxT1N— Byron York (@ByronYork) April 13, 2020
Another good day not to be the NYT public editor https://t.co/Wpvo0fePgZ— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) April 13, 2020
Excellent @benyt interview of NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet on why the paper took so long to report on Tara Reade's allegations against Joe Biden, how they did the reporting, and why they changed the text afterward.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 13, 2020
Great to see Ben doing this stuff:https://t.co/TmJI5P4d84
Good for @bensmith for asking Dean Baquet why the NYT covered an accusation against Kavanaugh far more aggressively than an accusation against Biden. Baquet’s answer that Kavanaugh was more in the public forum than Biden is...quite lacking. https://t.co/F1t4qgLpOX— Elise Jordan (@Elise_Jordan) April 14, 2020
Remember the press spent a month essentially arguing that underage drinking was evidence that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, but a long pattern of "hugs, kisses, and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable" proves Biden's innocence. pic.twitter.com/CPGr48o8nK— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) April 12, 2020
Smith joined The New York Times in 2020 after being founding BuzzFeed eight years prior.