Biden’s Hair Smelling Allegation Got Blanket Media Coverage. Trump’s Rape Allegation Got Ignored.


Though it seems ancient by comparison, there was a time in the not-so-distant past in which a sitting president being accused of rape would be bombshell news. Wall-to-wall panel discussion on cable news suggesting a possible constitutional crisis and front page newspaper coverage with screaming headlines. This president, it seems is different, now we are so inured to sexual assault allegations against him.

New York magazine website The Cut first published the mag’s cover story Friday afternoon. In it, well-known Elle advice column E. Jean Carroll alleged that she was assaulted by the then-businessman Donald Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the ’90s. As skeptics have pointed out, Carroll’s account originates from a soon-to-be-published book entitled What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal, which has raised reasonable questions about the self-promotional timing.

Yet in cable news interviews with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Carroll comes off as dead-serious and, as a result, her claims appear entirely credible. Given that vast majority of the nation has already heard the Access Hollywood tape of candidate Trump bragging about “grabbing [women] by the pussy” it’s not difficult to believe Carroll is telling the truth.

By any measure, it should be an enormous story. But it’s not.

No, this story is not being ignored (except by the pro-Trump opinion programs on Fox News), and the coverage has been remarkably measured and sober. Camerota, for example, did terrific work challenging Carroll on the timing of this release in conjunction with the promotion of her new book. But comparing the media reaction to this recent allegation stands in stark contrast to an allegation of a completely different stripe: Lucy Flores’ claim that she was made to feel uncomfortable by former Vice President Joe Biden’s public display of affection.

For those who may have forgotten, Flores wrote a report of her experience with Biden which was coincidentally also first published on New York magazine’s website The Cut. The key paragraph from that write-up:

I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.

That story was released on March 31 and set off a wildfire chain reaction of breathless media coverage, which was fueled in part by Biden’s somewhat half-hearted apology and home-video style reaction.

Nonetheless, the week that followed Flores accusations was filled with cable news segments and editorials that questioned Biden’s “touchy-feeliness,” and if disqualified him from the nation’s highest office. And yes, even I wrote such a column (as it was the style of the time.)

Major newspapers that ran extensive coverage of the Flores allegation all but ignored Carroll’s. When the Lucy Flores news broke, The New York Times published three specific stories on Biden-Flores and even more pieces of analysis and opinion on the questions it raisedBy comparison, Carroll’s account has only two stories: the first is on the front page of the Books section; the other, focused on Trump’s full-throated denial of the allegation, ran on page 23 of Sunday’s paper.

TVEyes is a television transcript database that allows search by terms. In the three days that followed the news Flores’ allegations against Joe Biden, cable news transcripts showed her name mentioned a sum total of 150 times (CNN: 59, Fox News: 46,  MSNBC: 45.)

By comparison, a similar search for E. Jean Carroll and Trump in the three days that followed last Friday’s breaking story, cable news has mentioned Carroll’s name a meager 41 times (CNN: 23, Fox News: 2 (!), MSNBC: 16.)

Yes, there are some vagaries between the two stories that likely affect the search results. Carroll’s story broke on a Friday before a summer weekend in which many media folk check out, while Flores story broke on a Friday (March 29) amidst Mueller report ballyhoo. But those areas of grey do not make up for the more than three to one ratio of coverage between the two stories. Flores had accused a presidential candidate of uncomfortable touching; Carroll accused the sitting president of rape.

So why is the media apathetic to the Trump rape allegation when it couldn’t get enough of Biden smelling a women’s hair in front of a crowd?

One reason for the lesser media coverage is the very real questioning of the veracity of the claim. Carroll is a smart and very successful writer and she apparently told her story to two media professionals people at the time who confirmed it. That said, it’s worth noting that she didn’t reveal this story during the run up the general election that saw Trump become president. Instead, she held this bombshell story until it had promotional value for a book that she described to Camerota as “light” and “funny.”

But chief among the many reasons is the fact that, shockingly, there is very little surprising about this most recent assault allegation against Trump. There are nearly a dozen women who have made similar claims, nearly all of which came to light over two years ago, and have already been discussed, and yes, many largely ignored.

Trump has bragged about his sexual “conquests” for years which most in the media recognize his braggadocio as hyperbolic self-promotion. But there is no denying that the raft of women claiming everything from harassment to full-on assault. And again, there is audio of the man bragging about it…about which no one seems to care?

What makes for a good cable news segment? Unique and surprising content. Impossibly, another rape allegation against this sitting president is neither unique or surprising.

What a weird old world we find ourselves living in.

[Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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