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NYT Grilled by NYT Over Biden Allegations

Editor Dean Baquet defends delay in story about alleged sexual misconduct
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2020 10:50 AM CDT

(Newser) Allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden by a former Senate aide, Tara Reade, got mainstream traction over the weekend when the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NBC News joined the outlets reporting on them. But critics (including supporters of Bernie Sanders and of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh) want to know what took so long, given that Reade made the allegations on a podcast in March. She alleges that Biden assaulted her in 1993 by groping her and penetrating her with his fingers, accusations that are strongly denied by Biden. Times media writer Ben Smith grilled the executive editor of his own newspaper, Dean Baquet, about why the Times waited 19 days to report on the allegations. The full interview is here. Some highlights:

  • Baquet: "Mainly I thought that what the New York Times could offer and should try to offer was the reporting to help people understand what to make of a fairly serious allegation against a guy who had been a vice president of the United States and was knocking on the door of being his party's nominee. Look, I get the argument. Just do a short, straightforward news story. But I'm not sure that doing this sort of straightforward news story would have helped the reader understand. Have all the information he or she needs to think about what to make of this thing."

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  • Kavanaugh: So why, Smith asked, was Kavanaugh treated differently? (The Times immediately reported on allegations that surfaced against him during his court nomination process.) "Kavanaugh was already in a public forum in a large way," says Baquet. "Kavanaugh's status as a Supreme Court justice was in question because of a very serious allegation. And when I say in a public way, I don't mean in the public way of Tara Reade's. If you ask the average person in America, they didn't know about the Tara Reade case. So I thought in that case, if the New York Times was going to introduce this to readers, we needed to introduce it with some reporting and perspective. Kavanaugh was in a very different situation. It was a live, ongoing story that had become the biggest political story in the country. It was just a different news judgment moment."
  • Another view: At the Federalist, Emily Jashinsky doesn't buy the above Kavanaugh argument. "This is how media bias works," she writes. "Sometimes it's outright, but often it's done more subtly through framing. While I would hardly call this contrast subtle, it's certainly true the Times emphasized different elements of the story to frame Reade's allegation more skeptically, starting right away with the headline. ('Examining Tara Reade's Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.') It's about what you include and what you leave out."
  • An edit: The Times story originally said, "The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses, and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable." It was then edited to say simply, "The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.” Critics (including journalist Glenn Greenwald, who called it "whitewashing") have criticized the quiet change. Baquet: "Even though a lot of us, including me, had looked at it before the story went into the paper, I think that the campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward and made it look like there were other instances in which he had been accused of sexual misconduct," he said. "And that's not what the sentence was intended to say." He added that a correction wasn't necessary because "we didn't think it was a factual mistake. I thought it was an awkward phrasing issue that could be read different ways and that it wasn't something factual we were correcting."
(Read more Joe Biden stories.)

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