Tara Reade, who alleges Senator Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 when she worked for him as a Senate staffer, has had a worse than average quarantine.
As Reade’s story has been corroborated in the past few weeks by a number of people she told about the assault in the ‘90s, the cultural #metoo conversation has all but erupted and stopped at the same time. No news outlet had asked Biden about the allegations until just last week when the presidential hopeful gave an interview to MSNBC’s Morning Joe, during which he denied the assault completely.
Some have wondered if the #metoo movement has ended, suggesting concerns for women’s assault disappear once the accused include members of a different political party. “Which has sold out faster this year, toilet paper or the #metoo movement?” asks a meme.
It’s against this backdrop that on Friday Megyn Kelly stepped up, hosting an interview with Reade on her personal YouTube channel, a venue that couldn’t be more telling. Apparently journalism on inconveniently relevant sexual assault allegations has no home in mainstream media at this time, but that doesn’t mean the flame is out when it comes to the cause of women standing up to shine a light on harassment and assault allegations. Indeed, that Kelly stepped in to hear Reade’s account, and ask the tough questions, is a sign of hope.
Kelly’s incisive interview with Reade raised some important points that deserve attention.
No woman is alone
The story of Tara Reade is a stunning turn of events for the #metoo movement—a movement whose starting assumption seemed to be that of women raising their voices and finding strength in numbers to stand together against sexual assault and harassment.
After covering Reade’s story, the New York Times made a post-publication edit at the Biden campaign’s request—yes, that of her alleged assailant—to remove references to trends of unwanted kissing and touching he had done to women over the years, as well as the accusations of other women. If they could make it look like Reade was alone in her accusations as opposed to a part of a trend, it would seem the scandal would be easier to side-step.
By the nature of the edits, it appears the goal of the Biden campaign and the New York Times was to single out Reade as the only one. If they could do that, then all the Biden campaign would have to do is discredit her alone, rather than undo a tarnished reputation. In essence, they tried to remove the #metoo from her experience.
Silence isn’t just a sin of omission
While the Biden campaign and mainstream news outlets let time pass hoping Reade’s allegations would go away, it’s unlikely they anticipated Megyn Kelly would step in. It would appear we’re entering a new era of news, and a hopeful one at that. Not unlike how the #metoo movement changed our cultural way of looking at sexual harassment and assault, the social-media age in which a broadcast news journalist can share an interview with thousands, highlighting a story of assault with no obligation to bow to higher executives’ direction or pressures to silence it, is a remarkable shift. We know predators are embedded in the media industry, as the victims of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Roger Ailes can attest.
We know from Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill that NBC execs didn’t want to hear the assault allegations against Weinstein; The New Yorker and Farrow’s book publisher later did. Kelly’s work taking good journalism to her personal broadcast network is another step of distance from entanglements in the media establishment—one more sign of hope for a more honest media.
Over the course of the 42-minute interview, Reade’s story revealed the toll it takes to come forward with sexual assault allegations. To me, it became abundantly clear that Reade is gaining little worldly benefit for coming forward—indeed she’s receiving the opposite. She has nearly no one believing or caring about her claims, and her case was rejected for legal counsel by #TimesUp (a group that was created to support women in situations like hers). While mainstream media neglected to take her story seriously for weeks, a loud message was conveyed: your story doesn’t matter. What followed were the discrediting hoards.
“I’m a poster child as to why women wouldn’t come forward,” Reade told Kelly. “If you’ve been watching any of the social media or the news and seeing how I’ve been attacked basically on everything about me, it’s pretty obvious that if you did have a story to come forward about Joe Biden, it’d be pretty daunting, wouldn’t it?”
Reade says that everyone from past boyfriends to former landlords, with criticism to say of Reade, have gotten a bigger sounding board than she has. People on social media have accused her of being a Russian operative and have sent death threats. Snooping attackers have made public her past bankruptcy, debts, and other embarrassing details. As of the time of Kelly’s interview, Reade says she doesn’t even have a lawyer.
Perhaps Megyn Kelly is more aware of Tara Reade’s circumstance than most, since she experienced a similar public onslaught after she questioned Donald Trump on his treatment of women at a presidential debate. As documented in her book Settle for More, news outlets like Breitbart responded by publishing repeated hit pieces on her, leading to massive and hateful social-media responses, including death threats.
“The more women we criticize for their understandable reluctance to go on the record,” Kelly later wrote about the Ailes scandal, “the more women we will shame into silence forever.”
Both Kelly’s and Reade’s experiences show the blowback that can result when people bring into light how powerful men treat women. Clearly these stories don’t point us toward a solution of no longer questioning politicians’ actions or integrity. They point us toward new strategies.
Opening up can still be freeing
Many women are not standing with Reade right now. Numerous politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Elizabeth Warren, endorsed Biden and praised his integrity. Celebrities like Alyssa Milano said it’s possible to separate the assault allegation from the man’s value as a candidate. There are some, like Rose McGowen, who support Reade and state they feel the Democratic party has left them feeling politically homeless. Some have highlighted the sense of hypocrisy in the movement, by pointing out how Christine Blasey-Ford’s accusations were supported by prominent women’s groups when she accused President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination Brett Kavanagh with refrains of “believe all women,” while Reade’s accusations have received little belief or weight from the same vocal activists.
But Reade isn’t alone, and she’s finally found an audience for her story.
Perpetrators of sexual violence often depend on fear and silence to keep their crimes in the dark. According to Reade’s testimony, after Biden realized Reade was not going to go along with his sexual advance, he angrily said, “You’re nothing to me.” In my view, what’s most tragic about Reade’s story is how, if her accusations are true (and they are very credible), until Kelly’s interview, the media was echoing this dehumanizing line. “You’re nothing,” news outlets seemed to say. “You’re nothing,” the Speaker of the House seems to say. “You’re nothing,” the celebrities many associate with the #metoo movement seem to say. “Disappear.”
But the ideals behind the #metoo movement are more lasting than its imperfect spokespeople, and there will always be women standing with other women.
“What’s the end game?” Kelly asks Reade.
“My end game is basically telling my story in a dignified way—not be torn apart. It’s being able to move on with my life and heal.”
Despite all the backlash, the power of saying “me too” still seems to have brought Reade an even more powerful breath of fresh air to her life. Asked how it has affected her, Reade ended the interview saying:
“It’s been freeing . . . I can’t describe it. Even all the smears, it’s just like, okay, bring everything out; talk terrible things about me. . . . I want people to know, don’t be ashamed if you’re poor; don’t be ashamed if your life is messy; we all have problems, and no one’s perfect. It took me a long time to come forward . . . and [now] it’s all out there, everything about me. And in a way, it’s set me free.”