FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020
Top professors fail:
The background reporting on Tara Reade is beginning to sound quite familiar.
One week ago today, Politico's Natasha Korecki published a punishing report in which former associates of Reade described her in deeply unflattering terms.
Reade is a "liar," one such person said. Also, Reade was said to "have problems."
That same day, the PBS NewsHour published and broadcast lengthy reports casting doubt on some of the claims Reade has made concerning Joe Biden. Over at Vox, Laura McGann has largely cut Reade loose too.
We summarized and linked to these three reports on Monday of this very week. To recall our winged words, just click here.
Korecki's report was punishing, but go ahead—admit it! In the week since her report appeared, you've heard almost nothing about it.
You haven't seen it discussed on your favorite "cable news" channel. Jonathan Chait discussed it at New York magazine, but we haven't seen it discussed anywhere else.
How for a sad fact:
Within our own self-impressed tribe, such discussions aren't permitted. Our professors tell us not to conduct them. Instead, they conduct screwball discussions of their own, in which we're encouraged to keep believing claims we can't possibly know to be true.
In these ways, our self-impressed tribe contributes to the ongoing failure of our society's intellectual infrastructure, a breakdown which has been underway for three or four decades now. It's frequently horrible over at Fox (and in the deep red precincts beyond), but it's also quite bad Over Here.
One week ago, Korecki's report painted a picture of Reade as someone whose word you wouldn't be likely to trust. Late last night, the New York Times filed another such report.
According to the Times report
, Antioch University has become the latest entity to challenge Reade's past claims. Reade's resume has always claimed a bachelor's degree from Antioch, but Antioch has now said that she holds no such degree:
LERER, RUTENBERG AND SAUL (5/23/20): Defense lawyers in California are reviewing criminal cases in which Tara Reade, the former Senate aide who has accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of sexual assault, served as an expert witness on domestic violence, concerned that she misrepresented her educational credentials in court.
Then known as Alexandra McCabe, Ms. Reade testified as a government witness in Monterey County courts for nearly a decade, describing herself as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence who had counseled hundreds of victims.
But lawyers who had faced off against her in court began raising questions about the legitimacy of her testimony, and the verdicts that followed, after news reports this week that Antioch University had disputed her claim of receiving a bachelor’s degree from its Seattle campus.
The public defender’s office in Monterey County has begun scrutinizing cases involving Ms. Reade and compiling a list of clients who may have been affected by her testimony, according to Jeremy Dzubay, an assistant public defender in the office.
Antioch has denied Reade's claim that she holds a degree from the school. We offer three cheers for the New York Times for publishing this report.
In a somewhat myopic way, the Times report focuses on the way this revelation might affect verdicts from court cases in which Reade participated as an "expert witness." If she did
misstate her credentials, some verdicts may be thrown out.
Somewhat comically, the Times report focuses on that. Meanwhile, how might this revelation affect the way people view Reade's remarkable claim against Joe Biden, a claim which might change world history?
Within our tribe, we may tend to be too polite to focus on questions like that!
Did Joe Biden assault Tara Reade in 1993? As before, we have no way to demonstrate that he did, and no way to show that he didn't. In cases of this type, it's very rare for evidence to emerge which proves or disproves an accuser's claim.
As everyone knows, "liars" can get assaulted too, as can people who "have problems." But the background reporting around Tara Reade has taken on a familiar look, whether the sachems of our tribe are prepared to discuss this fact or not.
They've never discussed the background reporting on Gennifer Flowers. Back in the day, they refused to report one embarrassing matter after another concerning the credibility of press corps' darling, Kathleen Willey.
It may well be that our tribal sachems will never discuss the background reporting on Tara Reade as well. They'll let the matter fade away, or we'll still be told that we should believe the claims such accusers make. Our professors, such as they are, are sometimes willing to jumble their logic to keep us on this tight path.
All the way back on May 16
, the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf discussed what sensible people should do when confronted with such accusations.
Friedersdorf isn't in thrall to either of our warring tribes; this makes him a valuable journalist. That said, we're going to grade him down a few points for his rumination on this matter, as we did on May 19, when he let himself imagine the possibility that President Trump isn't
lying as much as we might be inclined to think and say.
In that more recent essay
, Friedersdorf imagined an un-tribal possibility. In effect, he imagined the possibility that President Trump is cognitively impaired in such a way, and to such a degree, that he actually may not understand the various topics he constantly mangles when he tries or pretends to discuss them.
We don't know how to assess that possibility. We'd like to see medical specialists consider this thesis, but under the rules of our high-minded tribe, these
discussions aren't permitted either. We aren't allowed to discuss Reade's apparent lying, and we aren't allowed to discuss the possibility that Trump is badly impaired.
With respect to the matter of Trump, we're going to grade Friedersdorf down several points for his failure to come to terms with the hidden issue:
Is it possible that Trump's weird behavior and weird ruminations are the result of psychological or cognitive impairment? We'd like to see this question raised with the use of such big boy terms.
In our view, Friedersdorf took a bit of a pass on that. For that reason, we'll give him an incomplete, even as we praise the way he stepped outside scripted denunciations.
So too with the question of Reade. We cheered Friedersdorf for articulating a basic fact—with most accusations of this type, there will never be an ultimate way to determine the truth of the matter.
In his discussion of Reade's accusation, Friedersdorf started as shown below. He was working outside tribal lines:
FRIEDERSDORF (5/16/20): Do you believe Tara Reade or Joe Biden? Did you believe Christine Blasey Ford or Brett Kavanaugh? My emphatic answer to both questions is the same: I pass. I punt. I vote present. And that dodge causes me no guilt, anxiety, or nagging discomfort. If these questions cause you distress, try it yourself: When pressured to pick a side in a public controversy without definitive evidence, just politely decline.
Agnosticism is bliss—though it can upset others. Biden supporters warn that a failure to defend him could saddle the country with another four years of Donald Trump in the White House. Countervailing pressure from feminists and members of the #MeToo movement is as intense. As the headline of an article in The Nation put it, “I Believe Tara Reade. And You Should, Too.”
Its author, the feminist academic Kate Manne, argued that admitting the credibility of Reade’s claim is a “moral obligation,” even though she went on to acknowledge, “If this were a court of law and we were jurors, then it would be appropriate to deem Biden innocent until he’d been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” But if what happened in a given case hasn’t been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, why would anyone be morally obligated to believe either party’s claims?
“If the Me Too movement means anything, it is that victims must not be swept aside and ignored, impugned, erased, and silenced when their claims are difficult to countenance,” Manne argued. As far as that goes, she is correct. But declining to reach a conclusion about an allegation isn’t the same as sweeping it aside, erasing it, or ignoring, impugning, or silencing the accuser. One can listen, assess, and still conclude that one knows too little to judge.
That's the way Friedersdorf started. In a way which predates current battle lines, he stuck to the basic logic and understandings which our own tribe's sachems have long since abandoned.
He said we should be willing to recognize, even to say, that we don't know how to reach a verdict in cases of this type. And good lord! In just his first four paragraphs, he assailed the logic of Professor Manne on two basic matters.
Later, he assailed the tribal logic of Professor Hirshman, whose misshapen reasoning finally reached the New York Times' print editions on that same day, May 16.
Professors Hirshman and Manne are reigning sachems of our own floundering tribe. Their conduct helps define the ongoing failure of our nation's infrastructure.
That said, we're going to grade Friedersdporf down on this topic too. It seems to us that he ducked some basics concerning the Reade/Biden matter.
He failed to note a basic fact—we've had a series of high-profile cases in which we saw that, on some occasions, some women do
make false accusations of this very type.
We saw that in the Duke lacrosse case. We saw that in the UVa matter. Most likely, we saw that with Julie Swetnick. Most likely, we saw that with Kathleen Willey.
Meanwhile, in the case of Gennifer flowers, the background reporting revealed a host of past claims which suggested that Flowers—she was alleging a consensual, 12-year love affair—probably wasn't the type of person you would rush to trust. Rather plainly, the background reporting on Tara Reade now resembles that background reporting.
These are very basic facts with respect to whole Reade matter. That said, our own tribe's high-ranking sachems keep ignoring these basic facts.
Our tribal pundits tend to ignore reports from the likes of Korecki. Her report suggests that Reade may not be a hugely credible person—but within our deeply fallible tribe, such things simply aren't said.
If you're a human, you belong to a species which was built to think and act tribally. Manne and Hirshman are tribal beings, recently up from the swamp.
Our failing nation's intellectual infrastructure is often amazingly poor. It's frequently horrible over at Fox, and it isn't real great Over Here.