Tara Reade’s Biden allegation fractures #MeToo movement

Reade initially went public with the claims on a podcast in March with progressive Katie Halper and has since spoken with various news organizations about the allegations. Previously, in 2019, Reade told reporters that Biden had touched her inappropriately, including on her neck and shoulder, but did not discuss an alleged assault.

A friend of Reade’s, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she met Reade while interning in Ted Kennedy’s Senate office. She said Reade told her she was subjected to unwanted and frequent comments about her looks by Biden and complained to a supervisor, but it was “in one ear, out the other. The response I heard at the time was, ‘Well, if you’re not happy here, there are 99 other Senate offices to choose from. Pick one of them.’”

Then, the friend said, Reade told her that she was physically assaulted by Biden. The friend said she told Reade not to report the sexual assault to the police because it would have ruined her career. After the story broke, Reade filed a police report.

Biden has denied the allegations in a statement from Kate Bedingfield, his deputy campaign manager and communications director.

“Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women. He authored and fought for the passage and reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully,” Bedingfield said. “Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: it is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”

Two former interns overseen by Reade told the New York Times that Reade never told them about any inappropriate behavior, but confirmed that she abruptly stopped working with them.

Critics of Reade say that she is politically motivated because she backed Bernie Sanders, who was Biden’s primary rival when she first went public with the more serious allegations in the press. They’ve also argued that she is unreliable because her story changed over time, and noted that she made positive comments about Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Reade said she was also supportive of Marianne Williamson and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary, and that she made the remarks about Putin when she was writing a book involving Russia and now feels differently after learning more about him. She said she didn’t tell the full story about Biden initially in 2019 in part because “I just didn’t have the courage” and then faced threats after she publicly alleged inappropriate touching.

Margaret Johnson, co-director of the University of Baltimore’s Center on Applied Feminism, facilitated the school’s 11th Feminist Legal Theory Conference, where Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, was a keynote speaker. Johnson said Reade’s shifting story, if true, is explicable and not uncommon for survivors of assault.

“Trauma and shame and judgment from outsiders and frustration with people not listening are reasons why people sometimes don’t tell their full story,” Johnson said.

However, Johnson said, “the context in which the allegation came up on a particular podcast with people tied to particular partisans or political people, that’s different compared to how other people’s allegations have come up.”

In a sign of some advocates’ silence about Reade’s allegations, Katz did not return messages seeking comment.

Reade said she tried to contact mainstream media reporters before she went on Halper’s podcast but did not hear back. Her supporters have also noted that she said in a post in April 2019 that “I did not even tell the whole story” about Biden. “The small portion that did come out of what Joe Biden did to me resulted in me being bullied and threatened to silence,” she said at the time.

When Milano explained this month why she had been silent about Reade’s allegations, before several traditional outlets reported on them, she said, “I’m sure that mainstream media would be jumping all over this as well if … they found more evidence.” Her remarks sparked a fight with another high-profile advocate for victims of sexual misconduct.

Actress Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of rape, tore into Milano on Twitter, saying, “You are a fraud. This is about holding the media accountable. You go after Trump & Kavanaugh saying Believe Victims, you are a lie. You have always been a lie. The corrupt DNC is in on the smear job of Tara Reade, so are you. SHAME.”

In a statement to POLITICO, Milano said, “I will continue to fight for the most vulnerable amongst us and for things I feel are right and just. There is no such thing as a perfect movement. Things will break. Things will get ugly. Mud will be slung. Regardless, movements evolve and grow hopefully out of a place of empathy and compassion. #MeToo should not be about believing women at the expense of a man’s innocence. The hashtag #BelieveWomen is about shifting the cultural norm away from our default being *not* to believe women. It means we should start by believing women and then investigate.”

Lucy Flores, a former Nevada lawmaker who accused Biden of inappropriately touching her in a creepy way, said she’s not surprised that his supporters, like Milano, are standing by him. She said she blocked the actress on Twitter last year for Milano’s statements of support for Biden that indicated she doubted her. Flores said she did not consider Biden’s touching of her sexual.

Flores, who faulted the former vice president for not offering up a clear apology last year when he addressed her complaint, said she will nevertheless vote for him because Trump is orders of magnitude worse for women. But she said other women like her want to hear more from Biden.

“We shouldn’t be asking what #MeToo is saying. We should be asking what Joe Biden is saying. That is most critical here,” she said. “He has not addressed this himself. He has made one statement, possibly two, through his spokesperson.”

Activists said fear over Trump winning another term is changing how some #MeToo allies see Reade’s allegations.

“Because Trump is Trump, people feel like if they say something negative against Biden, then it could hurt his chances of winning. So I think it’s completely political,” said Geiss. “I feel personally like this is a really horrible position to be put in. But I do think it’s imperative that we also stand by what we’re saying.”

Though #MeToo advocates said the treatment of Reade’s story is a setback, they still believe the movement will press forward. The fact that “you see people going through hell at the media’s hands,” McGowan said, could prevent women from telling their stories. But she argued “the cultural reset” over sexual assault is here to stay.

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” she said. “People are done.”

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