Elizabeth Bruenig knows: Somewhere in some Senate hallway, did Joe Biden commit a sexual assault in 1993?
We have no way of knowing. Beyond that lies a very important, very key basic point:
Almost surely, there will never be a way for any of us to know.
Almost surely, there will never be an investigation which demonstrates the truth of Tara Reade's accusation. Almost surely, there will never be an investigation which demonstrates that her claim is false.
Almost surely, no one will ever "know"—will ever be able to demonstrate—the truth of falsity of this accusation. That said, the human mind is ill-equipped to come to terms with this basic point.
We human beings will never know, except for our clairvoyants. And so, we state this additional point:
Elizabeth Bruenig does know!
Bruenig is a young, true-believing columnist for the New York Times. Rather plainly, she knows the truth about this otherwise difficult matter.
Elizabeth Bruenig knows! We can tell that Brueng knows because of the way she started her recent column. She started her column like this:
BRUENIG (5/3/20): If you’re lucky when you report your sexual assault, you’ll become known as a person who was sexually assaulted. If you’re unlucky, you’ll become known as a person who lied about being sexually assaulted.Elizabeth Bruenig knows! In that passage, it's clear that Reade is being described as "a person who was sexually assaulted." She's being described as someone who has "reported [her] sexual assault."
It could still go either way for Tara Reade.
According to Bruenig, there are two different groups of sexual assault victims/survivors. According to Bruenig, it could "go either way for Tara Reade"—but she fits into one of those camps.
For those of us who struggle with uncertainty, we should always remember to thank the gods for sending us the Elizabeth Bruenigs. Also, for newspapers like the New York Times, who hire the Bruenigs at early ages, then publish their work.
(Mercifully, Bruenig's column didn't run in print editions. That said, it attracted plenty of notice. It had generated almost 5300 comments when the Times cut comments off.)
We who struggle with uncertainty should be thankful for the clairvoyants, who know! Elizabeth Bruenig is such a person—until you reach paragraph 5:
BRUENIG: I have my own impressions regarding Ms. Reade’s allegations, but no one—save Ms. Reade and Mr. Biden—knows with certainty whether her claims are true. What I can assert with firm conviction is that Democrats ought to start considering a backup plan for 2020.Say what? No one knows "with certainty" whether Reade's claims are true? Tara Reade's high-profile claim could be a (viciously) false accusation? Bruenig only has an "impression" concerning what's true in this case?
We're handed this disclaimer, in passing, in a subordinate clause, inside a rather brief paragraph 5. But all through the rest of Bruenig's 13-paragraph column, we are led to believe that Bruenig does know what is true.
You see, Bruenig doesn't just know. She also truly believes.
For members of our flailing species, true belief in tribal verities was once a survival skill. Today, it's a curse on our journalism and on our rapidly crumbling national culture. That said, it's found all through our warring tribes, even among our true-believing tribes over here on the cultural "left."
Bruenig truly believes. In paragraph 4, she gives readers a heavily slanted account of some of the evidence cited by "those who believe [Tara Reade]." In fairness, she starts her paragraph 6 with a comically odd endorsement:
"Ms. Reade’s account is not nearly as incredible as some have argued."
If this weren't such a serious matter, that endorsement would merely be humorous. But true belief is a deadly virus, and it exists all through our tribes, wherever the human mind lurks. In the following passage, Bruenig gives us a familiar picture of the way it now works Over Here:
BRUENIG: Ms. Reade’s account is not nearly as incredible as some have argued. In the course of my reporting, I have worked closely with many survivors of sexual assault. It isn’t unusual, in my experience, for survivors to exhibit behavior that seems unstable or erratic to others. They may initially disclose to investigators or journalists only a fragment of what happened, and then reveal more over time—some even falsely recant, either because they sense the police don’t believe them, or because they fear the consequences of pressing their claims. And victims often maintain relationships with their attackers or harbor mixed feelings about them.As far as we know, everything Bruenig says in that passage is true, at least as a general matter:
“It’s not at all uncommon for someone to still have positive feelings about aspects of the person who assaulted them, or to admire or respect them,” Scott Berkowitz, the founder and president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) told me. “With people who work for politicians, there’s usually a strong measure of loyalty or respect in that relationship. So it’s not indicative that someone wasn’t telling the truth.”
It's true! Survivors may change their accounts in various ways. Some may falsely recant.
Beyond that, we'll assume that the statements by Berkowitz are also true. We'll assume that some victims may continue to "have positive feelings about aspects of the person who assaulted them, or to admire or respect them."
Possibly due to her true belief, Bruenig isn't forthcoming enough to explain why she's making these points. The points are being made because Reade has made quite a few statements over the years in which she praises Biden for his work on behalf of women's interests and rights.
This doesn't mean that her claim of assault is false. It simply means that Bruenig was a bit parsimonious in her account of the (many) behaviors which have led some people to doubt Reade's accusation—to linger in the land of uncertainty instead of passing over into the Eden of true belief.
Bruenig truly believes. You can see it in the passage we've just quoted, in which she traces the tribal logic according to which anything an accuser says will be taken as further proof of the depth of her trauma.
That's the logic of true belief. You can also see that logic in the passage which follows:
BRUENIG (continuing directly): Sexual assault is a crime unlike any other, and its hideous uniqueness is often manifest in the ways its victims cope. Cavalier dismissal of Ms. Reade’s story therefore runs the risk of advancing misconceptions about sexual assault and its aftermath.True believers—adepts of the tribe—will consider the tribe and its tribal members only. In this passage, Bruenig considers the harm that could result from "cavalier dismissal" of Reade's accusation.
Stating the obvious, "cavalier" dismissal of any claim is a bad way to go. That said, Bruenig doesn't consider the harm which could result from cavalier dismissal of Joseph Biden's denial.
What kind of harm could result from that? As a matter of basic wiring, the true believer won't consider or wonder or write about any such problem as that.
Before she's done, Bruenig has touched quite a few of the bases. She suggests that Democrats, or at least some Democrats, are subjecting Reade's accusation "to a level of scrutiny not widely applied to accusers in similar circumstances," with Christine Blasey Ford being named.
That may or may not be true; to a large extent, it all depends on what the meaning of "similar" is. That said, there is no doubt that some major Democrats have embarrassed themselves concerning this topic in the recent past.
That said, Bruenig's citation pushes us toward the dangerous point where we decide that, if we've behaved stupidly in the past, we have to be equally stupid now. Soon, she's telling us this:
BRUENIG: Liberal thinkers and organizations have begun to realize this, and many have responded accordingly. Feminist author Jessica Valenti has emphasized the import of believing women “even when it’s politically inconvenient,” and Rebecca Traister has observed that the credibility of Ms. Reade’s allegations puts any female politician who might agree to join a Biden ticket in a poisonous bind.Is it important to believe women “even when it’s politically inconvenient?" Presumably yes, it is—or at least, it may be.
But is it a good idea to believe a woman when you don't have any way of knowing if her claims are true? True believers will bypass such nagging points, while offering an unspecified claim about the accuser's "credibility."
True belief will be found wherever the human brain lives. It will often be put into print by the New York Times.
Elizabeth Bruenig is well regarded for many valid reasons. In this case, an intelligent newspaper would never have published this column.
The column should have been rejected as soon as an editor read its first two paragraphs. In those paragraphs, Bruenig turns an accuser into a victim. That's the behavior of a clairvoyant or a magician, not of a competent journalist.
The human mind is poorly equipped to deal with matters like this. The human mind is strongly inclined to settle matters of uncertainty by leaping to premature conclusions, especially those which adhere to tribal verities and norms.
This was once a survival skill. Today, it's a virus, a toxin.
Tomorrow: What the heck was Emily Bazelon actually talking about?