On Tuesday night, CNN’s Don Lemon asked former Georgia state lawmaker (and potential vice presidential pick) Stacey Abrams about allegations made by a former Senate staffer that Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her in the early 1990s. Here’s how she responded (bolding is mine):
“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.”
That bolded section about The New York Times finding that Reade’s accusation was “not credible” comes directly from talking points being distributed by Biden’s campaign, talking points first reported on by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer. Here’s the specific language from Biden’s talking points:
“Biden believes that all women have the right to be heard and to have their claims thoroughly review. In this case, a thorough review by the New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen.”
Pretty similar, right? And, no, of course that isn’t a coincidence.
It’s also not accurate. Because The New York Times’ piece that Abrams referenced with Lemon on Tuesday night – and which the Biden campaign talking points lean heavily on – does not, in fact, find that Reade’s accusation is either “not credible” (Abrams’ words) or that “this incident did not happen” (Biden talking points).
Let’s go through what the Times reporting did say.
The piece, headlined “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden,” ran on April 12 – and was subsequently updated on April 16. The Times spoke with Reade “on multiple days over hours” as well as “nearly two dozen people who worked with Mr. Biden during the early 1990s, including many who worked with Ms. Reade; and the other seven women who criticized Mr. Biden last year, to discuss their experiences with him.”
So, it was a comprehensive piece of journalism. And here’s what it concluded:
“No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation. The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.”
That is a far different conclusion than simply listening to Abrams or reading the Biden campaign talking points would lead you to believe. What the Times found was not that Reade’s allegations were false. They simply did not find any former Biden staffer who confirmed the report.
CNN has reached out to the Biden campaign to ask about BuzzFeed’s reporting on the talking points, as well as how they portray the New York Times piece.
In fact, of Reade’s allegation, the Times wrote this:
“A friend said that Ms. Reade told her the details of the allegation at the time. Another friend and a brother of Ms. Reade’s said she told them over the years about a traumatic sexual incident involving Mr. Biden.”
(CNN reported Tuesday that a former neighbor of Reade, Lynda LaCasse, confirmed that Reade told her about the incident in the mid-1990s.)
So, what the Times report says, in sum, is this: Reade’s allegations are corroborated by her brother and a friend. Biden denies that accusation, and no one the Times interviewed who does or did work for Biden at that time says they can remember anything like it happening.
The NYT’s vice president of communications, Danielle Rhoades Ha, told CNN Wednesday that “BuzzFeed reported on the existence of talking points being circulated by the Biden campaign that inaccurately suggest a New York Times investigation found that Tara Reade’s allegation ‘did not happen.’ Our investigation made no conclusion either way. “
We have two stories from two different sides. The stories are, without a doubt, contradictory. Whether that contradiction is because one side is lying or one side is misremembering is not entirely clear – and may never be.
THAT is what the Times report says. Biden’s campaign is, to put it simply, twisting the report to suggest that Reade’s allegations (and the corroboration from her brother and friend) are meaningless because, well, Biden denies it and no former staffer can corroborate it. Again, not accurate.
As I have written before, an allegation like this in the #MeToo era can’t be pushed aside with a dismissive denial from an aide or talking points that misconstrue great reporting by the Times. The accusation merits a personal response from Biden. Still.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly refer to Stacey Abrams’ legislative role in Georgia.