Fox News has unsurprisingly become the go-to cable-news outlet for chatter about the sexual-assault allegations about former Vice President Joe Biden. But when it came to similar (and more voluminous) allegations against his opponent, President Donald Trump, the network was seemingly nowhere to be found.
Earlier this year, Tara Reade claimed that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee forced her against a wall and put his hands up her skirt when she worked as a staffer in his Senate office in the early 1990s. The narrative became instant red meat for Fox News, which has made the allegations one of its top stories across its cable and digital platforms, largely aggregating or riffing on reporting done by mainstream outlets while lamenting a supposed lack of media coverage of the story.
According to a transcript search via media-monitoring service TVEyes, the Reade accusations have been mentioned at least 289 times on the network since late March, when Reade first detailed them in an interview with leftist podcast host Katie Halper.
The same cannot be said of the conservative network’s coverage of the many sexual-misconduct allegations against Trump—most recently the ones made by journalist E. Jean Carroll.
In June 2019, Carroll came forward with allegations that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the ’90s. Like Reade’s claims, several of Carroll’s friends confirmed to various outlets that the writer had told them about the then-future president’s sexual assault at the time.
Carroll’s story received major coverage across the news-media spectrum, but was virtually absent from Fox News in the months after she came forward.
According to a review of Fox News transcripts, in the two months following Carroll’s claims, the network dedicated only just over a half-dozen segments to the allegations. Her credible claims received mostly peripheral mentions in news reports, without the sort of panel discussions and debates that typify the network’s coverage of Reade’s allegations.
In some of the brief moments that Carroll’s accusations were given airtime, the channel’s news anchors largely just read a line about the story and moved on. Elsewhere, Fox News merely framed its coverage around Trump’s denial of her claims.
In an interview with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), anchor Martha MacCallum brought up the accusation by noting Trump loyalist Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had reacted to it, asking the Louisiana lawmaker how he thinks the accusations should be handled.
“Just because you are accused of something doesn’t mean you’re guilty and doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to due process,” Kennedy declared. “I understand that the accuser is also coming up with a book. Some will say it’s true but some will wonder if she’s doing this to sell her book. I’m not saying she is or isn’t.”
The only daily host who dedicated any serious time to the claims was Tucker Carlson, who spent an entire segment bashing the media coverage of her claims and eventually outright dismissing them, saying the allegations were “confusing” and that there was “no corroborating evidence.”
“It's embarrassing and discredits all involved,” he told his guest.
Fox’s resident media critic also decided the incident was worth a mention—but only from the perspective of whether the media’s coverage of #MeToo allegations had been politicized by liberals.
In an interview with former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson, MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz (who was once a Daily Beast columnist) framed the conversation around mainstream media outlets allegedly feeling “heat from the left” to devote more coverage to the famous writer’s claims against the president.
Attkisson, for her part, said that being “overly cautious is not a bad thing when we're talking about these sorts of allegations” while Kurtz would go on to wonder if journalists were allowed to say “I have doubts about her story or she’s saying some odd things” in the #MeToo era.
Carroll wasn’t the only Trump sexual-assault accuser to receive minimal coverage from Fox News. Former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, for example, came forward in 2016—just days after the infamous Access Hollywood tapes, and amid a bevy of other accusers—with accusations that, a decade prior, the former reality-TV host-turned-president forced himself upon her, kissing and groping her while “thrusting his genitals” on her. Those claims, according to transcripts, were mentioned less than six times on Fox News, including one bizarre segment in which pro-Trump pundit David Wohl, father of right-wing mega-grifter Jacob Wohl, dismissed Zervos as “reading from a script.”
And the paucity of mentions of Carroll (or the accusers that came before her) could hardly be more stark compared to Fox’s coverage of Reade, which has been one of the only major non-coronavirus stories the network has covered in recent weeks.
The vast majority of the coverage, however, has occurred over the past week following progressive news outlet The Intercept’s April 24 report on Reade’s mother calling into CNN’s Larry King Live in 1993 and a Business Insider story from April 27 featuring two additional sources corroborating Reade’s claims.
Much of Fox’s coverage of the allegations has largely centered on the perception of Democratic hypocrisy and a media double-standard compared to the way Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018.
“If any of that had existed in the Kavanaugh case, Kavanaugh would've been finished,” Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen said on April 28, in an example of a standard Fox panel segment on the allegations. “The Democratic standard here is that we believe the women as long as they are accusing a Republican,” he added. “I don’t know if Tara Reade is telling the truth or not but we should hold the Democrats to the same standards that they held themselves in the Kavanaugh case.”
Tucker Carlson also blasted Democrats for their double standard on Biden vis a vis Kavanaugh, saying that “we’re not demanding that Democrats assume Joe Biden is guilty” but that it is “a little weird that they don’t take this seriously,” adding that it is now apparent “that their attempt to destroy Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t based on any genuine belief that he committed those crimes.”
The presumption, if one were to watch Fox News coverage of the Reade story, would be that mainstream outlets more favorable to Democratic Party causes have ignored her claims about Biden while having dedicated much more airtime to Trump’s and Kavanaugh’s accusers.
But while Fox’s rival outlets CNN and MSNBC may have been slow to cover the accusations, both have worked to advance the story in recent weeks, including critical coverage of Biden’s handling of the accusations on CNN and, on MSNBC, Morning Joe’s grilling of Biden on the matter—which Fox’s own media critic praised as “relentless.”
And while Fox News hosts and commentators have breathlessly slammed the rest of the media for supposedly ignoring the story, the lion’s share of original reporting they have relied upon for their media-bashing segments has come from left-leaning or mainstream media outlets.
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