Ruth Marcus is a columnist for the Washington Post who wrote a book about the Kavanaugh confirmation. Her book concluded that Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth and that, therefore, Justice Kavanaugh’s name would always have an asterisk next to it. Wednesday the Post published a piece in which Marcus weighed the evidence for Tara Reade’s claim against Joe Biden. You’ll be shocked to learn that she doesn’t believe Tara Reade is telling the truth, though she admits her claims could be true.
This column represents a good-faith effort to grapple with the seriousness of, and flaws in, the Reade allegations. My conclusion is that while Ford’s allegations are on balance stronger, those who took Ford’s complaints seriously cannot simply dismiss Reade’s claims out of hand. I don’t think what Reade claimed happened, yet the evidence is murky.
Marcus breaks her analysis of the evidence into four parts: Contemporaneous evidence, evidence predating the current allegation, credibility, and pattern evidence. Let’s look at those in order.
Contemporaneous evidence shows that someone told the same story back when the incident happened. As it stands now, Tara Reade’s story is backed by contemporaneous evidence where Dr. Ford’s was not. But notice how Marcus dismisses Ford’s lack of contemporaneous evidence as “no surprise.”
Bottom line: the contemporaneous evidence is inconclusive but stronger than that in the Kavanaugh case. That comes as no surprise; in fact, Ford said she took pains not to let family and friends know about the alleged assault.
What Marcus is doing here is using Ford’s later justification for not telling anyone her story at the time. But the fact that, many decades later, she can rationalize her own silence doesn’t mean it’s “no surprise” she didn’t tell anyone.
Leigh Corfman was a teenage high school student when Roy Moore allegedly asked her on a date, drove her to his home, convinced her to strip down to her underwear before driving her home. Corfman told friends about the incident, even mentioning the name of the man involved to one friend at the time. The fact that she told people about the incident gives her story credibility. The fact that Ford didn’t tell anyone means her story lacks credibility, no matter her excuse for that silence years later.
And the fact that the people she claimed were in the room didn’t remember the party in question is also a problem for her credibility. Why couldn’t Leland Keyser, a friend who obviously wanted to believe Ford’s story, back up her account about the party. It’s not just the assault Keyser doesn’t remember, it’s the entire setting? No part of Ford’s recollection of that night was backed up. Marcus simply ignores this completely.
Evidence predating current allegation
The next bit of evidence Marcus looks at is what Reade/Ford told people later, closer to the time the story became public. Both Ford and Reade claim they told a therapist about the incident, but Reade hasn’t released the therapists notes and Ford did. Also, Reade told a different story last year that didn’t mention sexual assault, just unwanted touching:
Bottom line: Reade’s shifting account introduces a confusing element. If Biden did what she now alleges, why did she not say this a year ago? Reade says she did not feel comfortable telling her full story then, but she seems to have offered no clue that there was more to her story. Ford had similarly shared her account about Kavanaugh with friends, family and therapists; however, by contrast with Reade, her story did not change over time.
I agree that Reade’s shifting story is a problem for her credibility. And if it weren’t for the contemporaneous confirmation from her friend, this would probably be the point at which I would conclude her story lacked consistency and credibility. However, it’s not true that Ford’s story never changed. The therapist notes she released did not tell the same story she told to the world. She blamed the difference on a mistake by the therapist. Here’s the Washington Post’s description of the notes:
Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.
Ford’s story, which she hadn’t told for 30 years, appears to have changed. There was also some confusion about the number of people at the party. But once again, Ford has a belated explanation for that, so we’re just supposed to overlook the fact that the therapist notes don’t quite tell the same story.
Here is where Marcus tries to make up for a lack of evidence elsewhere by suggesting Ford had loads of credibility and no reason to lie [emphasis added].
Reade presents a confounding figure — to me, much more so than Ford, although I have the advantage of not only having watched Ford’s testimony but also having interviewed her over many hours. One fundamental difference involves the matter of motive. Ford came forward only reluctantly, and without evident ideological motivation; she told me that she worried, actually, that if Kavanaugh were forced to withdraw, a more conservative nominee might take his place. Reade supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I) presidential bid, and the fact that she went public with her allegations just as Biden was on the verge of cementing the Democratic nomination raises the possibility of political motivation, although Reade denies this.
Two points. First, in the very sentence Marcus denies that Ford had an ideological motive, she points out that Ford was concerned about the ideology of the nominee. But of course, she frames this as something in Ford’s favor. She was worried the next nominee could be worse! Well, maybe she was also worried the current nominee, Kavanaugh, was bad enough. That’s what Ford’s own lawyer would later imply when she told a feminist legal conference, “When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade, we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him, and that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine.”
Marcus never mentions this statement, probably because it undercuts her argument. Meanwhile, she takes the fact that Tara Reade previously supported Bernie Sanders as possible evidence that she is lying to damage Biden’s campaign. Is that possible? Of course. Is it possible Dr. Ford wanted to keep a pro-life judge off the Supreme Court. Of course. Marcus can acknowledge the former possibility but not the latter.
The idea here is that Kavanaugh had a pattern of behavior that fits the allegations but Biden does not:
Bottom line: The Kavanaugh chapter produced evidence, albeit inconclusive, of other incidents, when he was young, of problematic behavior toward women. The absence of a pattern in Biden’s case does not disprove Reade’s allegations. Still, it seems unlikely that behavior this egregious would be a one-time incident.
So the “pattern of behavior” in Kavanaugh’s case relies on two other allegations. Marcus doesn’t even mention their names. One of those allegations, involving gang rape at parties, was completely unreliable. NBC interviewed Julie Swetnick and found that her story changed and wasn’t corroborated by anyone. NBC later clarified that the “corroborating witness” provided by Michael Avenatti said Avenatti had twisted her words. Pointing to this claim to establish a pattern of behavior is absurd. That’s probably why Marcus doesn’t mention Swetnick by name.
The other allegation, from Deborah Ramirez, came after Ramirez herself said she couldn’t remember if the person involved (in exposing himself at a party) was Kavanaugh. She even told Ronan Farrow she wasn’t sure. And as discussed above, no one could back up any of the details made by Ford. So the pattern of abuse by Kavanaugh is pretty thin.
As for the pattern by Biden, there clearly is one of him touching women in ways that make them uncomfortable. We’ve all seen the videos so there’s no room to doubt it. I agree that what Reade describes goes well beyond that pattern. So the evidence that he would do this is also pretty thin (on this basis alone).
My bottom line is that Marcus hasn’t really looked at the evidence fairly and evenhandedly. If she had, she’d have to admit that neither story is completely solid but that Tara Reade’s story has at least as much credibility as Ford’s did. Given that fact, it looks to a lot of us that the reason Reade isn’t getting much support has less to do with the evidence at hand and more to do with politics.