The Democrats and the Joe Biden presidential campaign find themselves embarrassed by an accusation of sexual assault dating back to 1993. Donald Trump and Bill Clinton before him have clearly demonstrated that allegations of sexual assault do not disqualify a candidate from becoming president. But in the era of #MeToo, following the Harvey Weinstein affair, this scandal may have more impact than in previous US elections.
Democrats Erase Bernie Sanders’ Name in New York
Biden may not have done what his former staff member Tara Reade accused him of doing. Or, if there was an incident, it may have played out differently than her description. But so far, Biden’s campaign has denied even the existence of the incident. Biden himself has avoided mentioning it. The complacent if not complicit media who have had opportunities to interview him have consistently let him off the hook. On the other hand, his surrogates have been instructed to defend his honor.
Put on the spot by CNN’s Don Lemon, Stacey Abrams, one of Biden’s prospects as a running mate, asserted her belief in the integrity of the former vice president and cited what she claimed to be decisive proof of his innocence. Lemon asked a direct question: “Is this a credible allegation?” Abrams responded with a carefully scripted message: “I believe that women deserve to be heard and I believe they need to be listened to, but I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible. I believe Joe Biden.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
1. In law enforcement practice, a formal exploration of all existing and potential evidence of a crime
2. In political practice during election campaigns, any shoddy partisan commentary by non-investigative reporters published in a supposedly serious newspaper
The New York Times article that Abrams cites as conclusive proof of Biden’s innocence has become a central element of a debate that is finally going public. For weeks, out of deference to the Biden campaign, The Times had stonewalled on the entire story. The article, published on April 12, did its best to instill doubt about the accusation and even impugn the sincerity of Reade. This should surprise no one since The Times is known for defending the positions taken by the Democratic Party establishment, to the point of conveniently bending the truth of its reporting in the most favorable direction.
Following this week’s revelation by Buzzfeed that the Biden campaign had carefully organized the stonewalling effort, The Times was forced to acknowledge the contradictions. On April 29, the day after the Abrams interview, a new story in The Times revealed that the Biden campaign had circulated to its surrogates, for use with the media, a series of “talking points” that “instruct supporters to describe the candidate as a ‘fierce advocate for women’ who has never faced any ‘complaint, allegation, hint or rumor of any impropriety or inappropriate conduct.’” The Times then makes this emphatic point: “The talking points also inaccurately suggested that an investigation by The New York Times this month found that ‘this incident did not happen.’”
The answers Abrams gave to Lemon’s questions demonstrate one of the skills expected in a vice president: her capacity, under pressure, to parrot all of the points listed and to preface each one with the phrase “I believe.” In her response to Lemon’s first question, she said “I believe” five times. When Lemon asked a second question concerning the inconsistency of the position she took concerning Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser regarding sexual misconduct and her dismissal of Reade, Abrams repeated “I believe” another five times. Abrams has fully assimilated the Biden campaign’s credo. As vice president, she will be a defender of the faith.
Abrams also demonstrated her capacity to add a personal touch. Not content to use the ennobling word “investigation” alone to describe the initial Times article — clearly a shallow partisan piece resembling more an op-ed than an investigative exposé — she insisted on dignifying it with the epithet “deep investigation.” The article reported numerous attempts to talk to random people, including co-workers and lawyers, who simply had no knowledge, one way or the other, of the incident or its consequences. The New York Times now admits that its “investigation ‘made no conclusion either way.’”
Following the initial publication, new corroborating testimony emerged, the most serious of which Lemon mentioned to Abrams before asking his first question. Abrams ignored the evidence cited and stuck to what she believed were the conclusions of The Times.
The latest New York Times article, dated April 29, reveals that “privately, Biden advisers have circulated talking points urging supporters to deny that the incident occurred.” It would be normal for anyone who was not a witness to deny knowledge of the incident, but “urging” them to deny that the incident ever occurred is quite simply asking them to lie. That, nevertheless, is precisely what Abrams does. That’s what vice presidents should know how to do.
After weeks of trying to kill the story (the paper took 19 days to report on it), The Times now describes the situation from the point of view of Biden apologists as “a tense standoff with a candidate they want to support but who they say has made little attempt to show leadership on an issue that resonates deeply with their party’s base.” For the first time, The Times seems to acknowledge that Biden may not be the solid, trustworthy, “electable” pillar that the Democrats had been counting on to maintain the party’s crumbling edifice.
The article somewhat surprisingly admits that as Biden “seeks to unite the Democratic Party after the primaries and pivot to a general election against Mr. Trump, Ms. Reade’s allegation remains a subject of intense discussion in the political world.” Why then has The Times dedicated just a few articles to this “intense discussion” in the five weeks it has been in the news?
Buzzfeed reminds its readers of this simple historical fact: “With good news and bad, talking points are standard fare on presidential campaigns.” In the past, people called this “the party line.” Seventy years ago, in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” George Orwell invented a special term for it: newspeak, “the language preferred by Big Brother’s pervasive enforcers.” Stacey Abrams has now offered us a shining example of modern newspeak when she terms a shabby New York Times op-ed masquerading as news an “investigation.”
One commentator points out that what some people call cancel culture — a practice of denigration that now dominates social media — marks a historical shift in political discourse. This should be seen as a danger signal for campaigns that depend on their own newspeak. Talking points can no longer get the job done, mainly because there are too many voices in the various media that have the power to shout at the same time. The Times cites Yvette Simpson, the chief executive of Democracy for America, who deems that Joe Biden may be vulnerable. “While it is absolutely essential that we defeat Donald Trump in November, trying to manage the response through women surrogates and emailed talking points doesn’t cut it in 2020,” she says.
Though the Biden campaign believes the story will die and the issue will be forgotten, not everyone agrees. Who better than a pollster understands the nature of historical shift? Tresa Undem, a specialist of surveys on gender issues, sees this scandal as “a huge deal that’s not going away. The story is going to be on the hypocrisy, and that is the No. 1 thing voters loathe.”
The latest Times article ends by quoting a former senator from California, Barbara Boxer, who has publicly endorsed Biden. “She said the Biden campaign had not given her talking points,” which presumably means the thoughts she expresses are sincere. Unlike Abrams, Boxer doesn’t reveal what she “believes.” Instead, she offers this piece of wisdom: “If they ask me my advice, it would be keep on doing what they’re doing.” In other words, don’t stick your neck out but do what has to be done to protect the status quo. And, whatever you do, don’t challenge newspeak.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.