Michelle Goldberg is a columnist for the NY Times. Back in 2018, she was one of the many progressives who went all in on the Christine Blasey Ford allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. She wrote a column back then titled, “Christine Blasey Ford’s sacrifice” which contained this line: “Watching her push through her evident terror was profoundly inspiring.”
Goldberg’s reaction to the allegations of Tara Reade has been somewhat different. Last month she wrote a column saying, “Reade seems almost engineered in a lab to inspire skepticism in mainstream Democrats…” Goldberg added, “if Blasey had been so inconsistent in telling her story, feminists might still have believed her, but they likely wouldn’t have made her a cause célèbre, and Democrats on Capitol Hill never would have invited her to testify publicly.”
Yesterday Goldberg returned to that theme with a new column titled, “Democrats, Tara Reade and the #MeToo Trap.” The subhead reads, “Don’t compare the case against Joe Biden to the one against Brett Kavanaugh.”
…commentators on the left and right have compared Reade to Blasey, usually to accuse mainstream Democrats of hypocrisy. Democrats, the argument goes, supported a movement whose slogan is “Believe women,” and yet many are unconvinced by this particular woman. Checkmate, libs!
But Democrats are not being asked to hold themselves to the same standard they apply to others. They would never have the audacity to demand that their political opponents act on a story with as many ambiguities as Reade’s.
Goldberg points to a tweet Reade sent in March which many have taken as Reade timing her allegation against Biden. I don’t know if that’s what the tweet represents but even if it does, so what? The fact that Reade didn’t support Biden and maybe even wanted to see him fail isn’t at odds with the idea that he sexually assaulted her. Even Goldberg admits as much:
To be clear, the fact that Reade timed her charges for maximum political impact doesn’t mean they’re not true. If Biden assaulted her, it’s understandable that she’d want to destroy him politically.
So the thing Goldberg offered as a reason not to put forward Reade’s allegations is actually not a reason to not put forward her allegations at all. Moving on:
Her story about that assault has changed, but as my colleague Elizabeth Bruenig points out, that is not unusual in survivors.
We’re nearly halfway through this piece and Goldberg has yet to identify any real justification for treating Reade differently.
Reade’s story about filing a sexual harassment complaint has also changed, in ways that seem less explicable by trauma. On March 18, she tweeted, “When I filed a complaint against Joe Biden for sexual harassment and more I was fired in ’93.” But The Associated Press reported that last year she said, “They have this counseling office or something, and I think I walked in there once, but then I chickened out.” According to The A.P., she now says she meant that she chickened out about reporting her full experience but did fill out an “intake form” with some broad details.
I wrote a long post about the Associated Press story here. There’s a lot more detail if you’re interested but the very short version is this: Reade’s story about the complaint she filed in the 90s has been consistent since March when she gave her first two interviews about the assault. She has said all along that she filled out a form at a Senate office in which she described sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it, but not the incident of sexual assault.
As for what she said in 2019 about “chickening out” that does seem to match with the idea that she wasn’t sharing her full story at the time in 1993, which again is something Goldberg admits is pretty normal for real victims of sexual assault.
I’d add that that back in 2019, Reade also wrote a Medium post in which she said, “I am upset now and feel defensive. Again, somehow me talking about what happened, what Joe Biden did to me, is my fault. And I did not even tell the whole story.” She continued, “The small portion that did come out of what Joe Biden did to me resulted in me being bullied and threatened to silence.” The point being that Reade has been saying for a long time that she has been holding back part of her story. That’s consistent with her explanation of “chickening out” by not putting the full assault allegation on the Senate form.
Again: None of this means an assault didn’t happen. Reade’s former neighbor Lynda LaCasse says she recently remembered that Reade told her the story in 1995 or 1996. Other people have told reporters that Reade shared her account with them years ago, but without going on the record by name. (Her brother has said the same thing, but his recounting of the story has changed.)
Did LaCasse say she “recently remembered” what Reade told her? That sounds like Goldberg is trying to insinuate this memory is of recent vintage. In the interview with LaCasse I wrote about here, she said Reade told her she was going to come forward with the story of her assault and LaCasse immediately responded that she remembered what Reade had told her about the assault years earlier.
Still, where things stand now, it’s hard to compare Blasey’s case with Reade’s. Blasey had four sworn affidavits from people whom she’d told that she’d been assaulted, as well as therapist’s notes and the results from a polygraph. She testified, and was cross-examined, under oath. The Democratic plea, at the time, was for a thorough F.B.I. investigation.
Reade has two people on the record (LaCasse and her brother) saying they recall hearing about the assault in the 90s. Another friend has said the same but has asked that her name not be used. The fourth person Reade told at the time, her mother, died in 2016.
As for Dr. Ford’s testimony, that came after the entire Democratic party and most of the media assured us we should “believe women” not before. The idea that the campaign on behalf of Dr. Ford started with her testimony is absurd. In this case, there is no formal process so there is no formal testimony. It’s hardly fair to hold that against Reade or her credibility.
As for the push for the FBI investigation, the best Democrats have come up with in this case is the suggestion that Reade’s story should be investigated by the DNC. That was put forward by Goldberg’s own paper. She doesn’t mention it and the DNC has already rejected the idea, so so much for investigations.
Now feminists are caught in a trap. They don’t want to repeat the errors many of them made when they dismissed Bill Clinton’s accusers, nor do they want to erode the #MeToo taboo against picking apart the motives and histories of women who recount sexual assault. But just as Reade’s story can’t be wished away because it’s politically inconvenient, neither can its contradictions.
Reade’s story is far from perfect but so was Dr. Ford’s. She didn’t tell anyone about her alleged assault for several decades so there were no contemporaneous accounts to back it up. And the people she claimed were at the party that night said they didn’t remember it. Even her friend, Leland Keyser, who was allegedly there, didn’t recall it or recall ever meeting Brett Kavanaugh.
If feminists are caught in a trap it’s very much one of their own making. They pushed hard for an allegation against Kavanaugh that could not be confirmed and now people like Goldberg are absolutely dragging their heels on a story that, while not perfect, is at least as credible as Dr. Ford’s and more credible that Kavanaugh’s other accusers. But don’t feel too sorry for these trapped feminists. All they have to do to get out of the trap is a) believe Reade or b) admit they got carried away with Kavanaugh. So far, Michelle Goldberg hasn’t been willing to do either.