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NYT Editor Tries to Justify Distinction in Coverage of Kavanaugh Versus Biden

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

After an abundance of backlash following an article exonerating former Vice President Joe Biden from sexual misconduct allegations made by his former aide Tara Reade, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet shed light on the paper’s decision in an interview with NYT media columnist Ben Smith. NYT has been scrutinized for running interference for the presumed Democratic nominee for president, after their blisteringly biased coverage of the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh just a year and a half ago. 


NYT took 19 days to publish anything regarding Reade’s charges against Biden, as Smith points out; when pressed on the delay, Baquet says that Reade’s story was not newsworthy:

“Lots of people covered it as breaking news at the time. And I just thought that nobody other than The Intercept was actually doing the reporting to help people figure out what to make of it...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."

Smith then addressed the question on most people’s minds: the distinction between the coverage of the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh, which were far more unsubstantiated and clearly motivated by partisan hatred, versus the presumptive Democratic nominee. Smith points out that NYT published a story on the allegations made by Julie Swetnick, who was represented by Michael Avenatti, on the day Swetnick came forward, despite the severe lack of outside corroboration. On the contrast between Justice Kavanaugh and former VP Biden, Baquet says that Kavanaugh was “already in a public forum:”

“Kavanaugh was already in a public forum in a large way. 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,” Baquet claims.


Indeed, Justice Kavanaugh was a public figure in a huge way; but Biden served as the vice president for eight years under the Obama administration and has all but locked up the Democratic nomination for president. Baquet’s insinuation that Kavanaugh had more of a public image, or that the allegations made against him were more urgent, is preposterous. Joe Biden is poised to be the Democratic nominee for president. 

Baquet does characterize one thing correctly, though: the average American probably does not recognize Tara Reade’s name, and probably is not familiar with her allegations against Biden, because mainstream outlets such as NYT, which Americans rely on, have remained silent even after piling onto the coup against Kavanaugh.

Smith pressed Baquet again about the distinction between the treatment of Kavanaugh and Biden, asking if there might be a double standard. 

“The standard, to be really simple, is that we try to give the reader the best information we can come up with at the time. And we try to give the reader the information they need to make their own judgments. Unless we can make the judgment. And Kavanaugh was a running, hot story. I don’t think it’s that the ethical standards were different. I think the news judgments had to be made from a different perspective in a running hot story,” Baquet said.

The “best information” that NYT can give readers is 19 days of silence, followed by a biased exoneration of the former vice president based on the Biden campaign’s word and the denial of then-Senator Biden’s staff. Smith points out that in the NYT’s assessment of the allegations, and broad conclusion that they were fabricated, the original language was edited. The original article read: “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” The previous sentence was removed, Baquet reveals, because the Biden campaign was unhappy with the language:


“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. And that’s not what the sentence was intended to say."

Smith’s excellent questions exhibit the real differences between the NYT’s coverage of sexual allegations against public figures, depending upon their ideological bent. This is not to say that the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh should have been brushed off, and Senate Republicans made that clear during the confirmation when they bent over backwards to accommodate those who wanted to come forward. But the NYT presuming Kavanaugh’s guilt while running interference for Biden in the face of credible allegations, is telling of the NYT's, which was once an objective newspaper trusted by Americans, real agenda.

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