Despite an obstacle-strewn ascension similar to a “Game of Thrones” episode, former Vice President Joe Biden managed to slay every metaphorical dragon he faced in becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, from old policy specters to campaign trail gaffes to a primary opponent who was stubborn to concede.
But there are more gauntlets to run. Biden wants to defeat President Donald Trump by drawing strong contrasts on competence and character.
Before that fight, though, Biden will have to contend with another pressing matter that has been bubbling up for months. Her name is Tara Reade.
She alleges that while working for the then-senator in the early 1990s, she was sexually assaulted by Biden and then retaliated against professionally for complaining to his staff. These claims are beginning to get the traction they deserve, with recent stories in mainstream outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN and Politico joining the rash of coverage by conservative and alternative press.
But overall, the media coverage of Reade’s allegations has been noticeably muted compared to its handling of claims against other high-profile political figures, from Brett Kavanaugh to Trump. Even former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who succumbed to pressure to resign in 2018 for multiple allegations of groping women, got exponentially more media attention.
Undoubtedly, there is some politics and bias at work in the lack of interest in this story from Democrats and many in the media. It’s hard to account for the deafening silence about Tara Reade on MSNBC, for example, with any other explanation.
Or headlines like this one in the Post that contort so gratuitously to avoid injuring Biden that one can almost see the sweat dripping off the writer’s brow: “Developments in allegations against Biden amplify efforts to question his behavior.”
Reporters, editors, producers and commentators may be loath to give oxygen to such claims against Biden, when Trump has many more similar allegations that have been lodged against him.
But another plausible reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken up nearly all of the media oxygen. In my case, I’ve been unable to write about much else. As Washington Free Beacon Editor Matt Continetti told Fox News’ Brett Baier, “I’m worried that this is one area that Joe Biden may be being shielded by coronavirus. As long as the attention of the nation is on the pandemic, I think he may be able to skirt some of these questions for a little while longer.”
And skirted he has. No one has directly asked Joe Biden about the allegations yet. No one.
After releasing a statement denying the allegations, Biden held a virtual town hall Tuesday, which focused on the pandemic’s impact on women. In it, he boasted of his endorsement from Hillary Clinton and otherwise ignored the allegations entirely. There were no questions about Reade.
Instead, the campaign has circulated talking points to top Democratic supporters, telling them to say of the allegations, “this did not happen.”
We’ll see how long Biden can avoid this topic. But one thing is certain: Doing so benefits almost no one, least of all Biden himself.
For starters, there are obvious political dangers. Even if Democrats won’t touch the Reade story, Trump and his allies certainly will. Biden has the opportunity now to try to get it behind him, instead of confronting it over and over and over as the general election heats up.
But Democrats should also want to know as early as possible whether Reade’s allegations will hurt Biden. If voters find her credible and Biden consequently loses support, there’s little the party can do after he’s officially their nominee.
There are credibility concerns, too — for Biden, Democrats, the media and most acutely, for Biden’s Democratic women supporters. Huffington Post asked nine potential VP picks about the allegations, and only one — Stacey Abrams — responded. After defending Biden’s character, she went on CNN, where Don Lemon asked her directly about the allegations. Abrams dutifully repeated the Biden talking point: “I know Joe Biden and I think that he is telling the truth, and that this did not happen.”
Against the MeToo backdrop of “believe all women,” this is, needless to say, a very precarious position for a progressive Democrat to take. And for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Michelle Obama and the women who have either defended Biden or remained silent about the allegations, they, too, risk their own credibility with women.
It’s possible Biden is assuming voters’ antipathy for Trump will supersede any qualms they may have with his behavior, regarding Reade or any of the other women who have complained about unwanted touching. He may be right; plenty chose not to care about the multiple allegations against Trump in 2016.
But that’s even more reason for Biden, Democrats and the media to address the accusation fully and head on and let voters decide what to believe. This story likely isn’t going away, and pretending it isn’t real is just ignoring a ticking time bomb.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.