Recalling what Bazelon said: Way back at the dawn of time—on April 30, 2020—Emily Bazelon offered two warnings concerning Tara Reade.
Bazelon offered her warnings during a podcast at Slate. Speaking with a pair of male colleagues who were being extremely correct, Bazelon offered these winged warnings about Tara Reade's accusation:
BAZELON (4/30/20): You know, in some cases, we’ve had people who’ve seemed incredibly durable as witnesses in terms of their credibility coming forward. So I’m thinking of Anita Hill. I’m thinking of Christine Blasey Ford. And I don’t see Tara Reade in that category.There was more to what Bazelon said that day. Because we transcribed the bulk of her warnings, you can peruse them here.
Now, I realize in saying that I’m basically showing my own bias against people who are alleged victims who also have a lot of, like, questionable actions in their past. I mean, reading about Reade’s activities with this horse rescue operation she was involved with, where the owner and employees are saying, like, "You stole stuff from us," and it just looks really like not credible.
And I guess my own basic bias is that, if you are going to bring a really long-ago serious allegation against a public official, and you can line up some pieces of corroboration but not real proof, your reliability is going to be on the line. And we should not err in the direction of deciding to let people destroy the careers of the men they accuse in those settings without some real sense that we are sure, because otherwise we are in a world in which the MeToo movement has turned into a place where we’re perilously close to letting people who, who lie, or who have problems, destroy other people.
Concerning the passage posted above, we're sorry that Bazelon used the term "bias" in describing her own words of caution. In our view, she wasn't displaying a "bias" at all.
In our view, Bazelon was displaying painfully basic common sense as he advanced her warnings. As we noted in real time, she did so in the face of two male colleagues who kept changing the subject to avoid what she had said.
At any rate, let's simplify! In the passage posted above, Bazelon said she that she didn't regard Reade as highly credible. She specifically cited an incident in which Reade was accused of stealing from a horse rescue operation—an incident her male colleagues didn't seem to want to discuss.
In the more general sense, Bazelon offered a pair of warnings concerning accusers like Reade. Sometimes accusers are lying, she said. And sometimes accusers "have problems."
Sometimes accusers are lying, and sometimes accusers "have problems!" For those reasons, Bazelon said, we need to "exercise caution in believing high-profile accusations which can destroy other people."
As events of the past thirty years have shown, those accusations can also change the course of world history, bringing death to innocent people all over the world. Perhaps for that reason, Politico's Natasha Korecki has "interviewed more than a dozen people, many of whom interacted with Reade through her involvement in the animal-rescue community."
Korecki conducted these interviews "as part of an investigation into Reade’s allegations against Biden—charges that are already shaping the contours of his campaign." Having said that, good lord:
Last Friday afternoon, Korecki published a lengthy account of what those people told her about Biden's accuser. We'll strongly suggest that you read every word, but at one point, the nub of Korecki's findings came out sounding like this:
KORECKI (5/15/20): [M]any of those who knew her well in recent years said she frequently lied or sought to manipulate them, in many instances taking advantage of their desire to help a person they felt was down on her luck.For the record, Hummer is the person to whom Bazelon referred when she mentioned the claim that Reade had stolen from the horse rescue operation.
“You can use these words: manipulative, deceitful, user,” said Kelly Klett, an attorney who rented Reade a room in her home in 2018. “Looking back at it all now, that is exactly how I view her and how I feel about her.”
“She has a problem,” said Lynn Hummer, who owns a horse sanctuary where Reade volunteered for two years, beginning in 2014.
She described Reade as “very clever, manipulative. ... I do think she’s a liar.”
According to Korecki, Hummer said that Reade is a "liar," and that she "has a problem." As you can see, Kelly Klett said similar things, as did other people with whom Korecki spoke.
Meanwhile, those are the specific concerns which Bazelon voiced. That's what Bazelon said!
Is Tara Reade lying about Biden? Now, exactly as before, we have no way of knowing.
People with problems can get attacked too. In some cases, a sexual assault can be the source of a person's later "problems."
That said, something else is plainly true—and, as Bazelon noted, we've had a string of examples, whether confirmed or apparent, dating back to Gennifer Flowers in 1992:
Especially in cases involving public figures, sex accusers are sometimes lying. Sometimes, accusers may perhaps be delusional, due to some previous problem.
They may be lying to gain attention. They may be lying for profit. They may be taking money from Putin. That's always possible too!
Korecki interviewed a range of people who say they've been scammed by Reade down through the years. We suggest you read every word of Korecki's report, but we'll offer three cheers for her work, with four cheers for Bazelon's thoroughly sensible warnings.
We'll offer no cheers for Dickinson and Plots, Bazelon's male interlocutors. They were exquisitely correct that day—correct in every respect. Have we mentioned the fact that people are dead all over the world because of such past correctness?
Two other reports casting doubt on Reade's accusations have appeared of late. One came from Laura McGann of Vox.
McGann receives only two cheers. We're stingy for a reason:
According to McGann's report, she has been in contact with Reade since April 2019. To McGann's credit, she never published a report about Reade's ever-shifting claims.
"I couldn't prove it," McGann writes at one point. At another point, she writes this about one of Reade's constantly shifting claims:
"But that wasn’t the narrative I wanted. I wanted the truth."
To the credit of McGann and Vox, she didn't report what she couldn't confirm. On May 7, she did publish a lengthy report—a lengthy report which also casts substantial doubt on Reade's claims.
Once again, McGann and Vox deserve full credit for failing to rush into print. So why does he only get two cheers? She gets only two cheers because, at various point, her report includes such problematic remarks as these:
MCGANN (5/7/20): All of this leaves me where no reporter wants to be: mired in the miasma of uncertainty. I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.Should a reporter "want to believe" certain types of claims? Wanting to believe some such claim, should a reporter "work hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe [it], too?"
In our view, that's a Halloween-inflected version of the reporter's mission. Rather plainly, though, that's what happened at Rolling Stone in the journalistically gruesome case of the UVa fraternity gang rape allegation, a claim which turned out to be false.
At Rolling Stone, an experienced reporter wanted to believe the claim. This led her to blow past various warning signs concerning the accuser, "Jackie," a young woman who rather plainly "had a problem" and needed some help, as we humans sometimes do.
"Jackie" apparently ended up getting help, the kind of help we people sometimes need. First, though, her false accusation caused tremendous harm to various parties, with reporters and editors at Rolling Stone "wanting to believe" her tribally pleasing tale.
Unlike the reporter at Rolling Stone, McGann didn't publish prematurely. But even now, does she understand the basic logic of a case like this? We were struck by these passages:
MCGANN: Eight women have now said they’ve been made uncomfortable by Biden in public settings. Reade is the lone woman to accuse him of sexual assault. This is a situation out of her control, but it means that reporters can’t build a story about Biden around a pattern of behavior, where multiple accusers boost one another’s story. Instead, reporters are looking at Reade’s account in isolation—and that account has changed.In those passages, McGann says that the lack of other accusers "is a situation out of [Reade's] control." She says the need for such types of corroboration, or for some type confirmation, "isn't fair to an individual survivor."
If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the Union piece had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago. It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here.
In those passages, McGann still seems to be boo-hoo-hooing on behalf of Reade, who has changed her story a million times. According to McGann herself, Reade has offered a string of unconvincing accounts of why she has done so.
"It isn't fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation?" The fact is, McGann doesn't know if Reade is a "survivor" of anything at all!
She doesn't know if Reade's a survivor! But does she know that she doesn't know? We'd say that still isn't clear.
In truth, Reade may simply be lying, whether for attention or for money. Given some of her crazy writings, she may be on the Putin payroll. There's no way to know that she isn't.
Putting profit from Putin to the side, Reade may be lying, or she may be delusional. Such situations exist in this world, just as Bazelon noted.
Last Friday, the PBS NewsHour also published and broadcast long reports casting doubt on Reade's accusations. In this post for New York magazine, Jonathan Chait links to all of these reports, at Politico, Vox, PBS.
We're going to give Chait one cheer, not three, for what he says in that post. We may be especially jaundiced at this site, but we hear hints of tribal positioning games when he starts like this:
CHAIT (5/15/20): When Tara Reade first made her assault allegation against Joe Biden, I thought the charge was more likely to be true than false. To be clear, I had no intention of changing my vote. The allegation came too late to reopen the nominating process without doing violence to the expressed will of the electorate. And I’ve always believed the primary criteria for voting on a candidate is their policy impact (which is why I wrote a column in 2018 defending Republicans who still supported Roy Moore over Doug Jones). But I did feel bad about voting for a candidate I suspected had done something terrible.Before these debunking reports appeared, Chait "thought the charge was more likely to be true than false." He doesn't explain why he thought that, or why he had formed a provisional judgment at all, but this keeps him on the side of the tribal angels.
Since then, however, three detailed reports—by Vox’s Laura McGann, PBS NewsHour, and Politico’s Natasha Korecki—have delved into Reade’s allegations. Neither reaches a definitive conclusion. But all of them on balance add a lot of grounds for skepticism. At this point, Reade’s allegation seems to me to be more likely to be false than true.
Meanwhile, don't get him wrong—he was still planning to vote for Biden! This stance also conforms to the tribal agreement which had taken shape as of Friday last. Our tribe had now decided that, while we should continue "believing women," we didn't have to let the purity of our unfounded assessments affect the way we vote.
Did Chait "feel bad about voting for a candidate [he] suspected had done something terrible?" Out here in the real world, he wasn't going to vote for six months! To our ear, this too sounds like the performative tribal morality which had Bazelon's male interlocutors changing the subject whenever she suggested that Reade might be lying, or that she might even "have problems."
Chait didn't know whether Reade's accusation was true. Why did he think the ugly charge was likely to be true? Why did he think anything at all? Skillfully, he didn't say.
Starting in 1992, we've gone through similar charges from Gennifer Flowers, from Kathleen Willey and from Julie Swetnick. We've had Stormy Daniels seeking cash for a report about one alleged instance of fully consensual sex ten years in the past.
Along the way, we also had the false accusation in the Duke lacrosse case, followed by the false accusation in the UVa case. But people like Chait are still pretty sure that we should believe such accusations, even when we have noway of knowing whether they're true or they're false.
All the way back on April 30, Bazelon offered a pair of winged warnings. We offer four cheers for Bazelon, with the standard three cheers for Politico's Korecki.
Concerning the basic logic of such situations, we human beings, with our flawed intellectual architecture, still have a long way to go. We'll have more on this case as the week proceeds, and on other examples of our species' extremely frail intellectual infrastructure.
We'll look at The Crazy and at The Dumb, as seen in more than one tribe.