New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet admitted on Monday that his newspaper didn’t proceed aggressively enough in response to a new sexual-assault allegation against President Trump. “We were overly cautious,” Baquet told the New York Times Reader Center.
The admission relates to the story of E. Jean Carroll. In a New York magazine excerpt from her book “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” Carroll, a longtime advice columnist for Elle, alleges that Trump sexually assaulted her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York 23 years ago. Before getting into the horrific details, Carroll, as though mimicking the considerations of an investigative journalist, cycles through various questions about the event and its aftermath. For example:
Did I report it to the police?
Did I tell anyone about it?
Yes. I told two close friends. The first, a journalist, magazine writer, correspondent on the TV morning shows, author of many books, etc., begged me to go to the police.
“He raped you,” she kept repeating when I called her. “He raped you. Go to the police! I’ll go with you. We’ll go together.”
My second friend is also a journalist, a New York anchorwoman. She grew very quiet when I told her, then she grasped both my hands in her own and said, “Tell no one. Forget it! He has 200 lawyers. He’ll bury you.” (Two decades later, both still remember the incident clearly and confirmed their accounts to New York.)
Trump has responded by saying, in part, “She is trying to sell a new book — that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section.” He also said that he has never met Carroll.
As George Conway wrote in The Post, Carroll’s claims deserve to be taken seriously. Just as Trump claimed in his famous “Access Hollywood” tape — that he would simply “grab” women by their genitals — Carroll describes a sudden and brazen attack by Trump in the high-end Manhattan department store. “The moment the dressing-room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips,” writes Carroll. “I am so shocked I shove him back and start laughing again. He seizes both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time, and, as I become aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my coat dress and pulls down my tights.”
Another data point is that Trump has denied ever meeting Carroll, a denial contradicted by a photo, republished in the article itself, of them at a party in the 1980s. “By making the absurd and mendacious assertion that he never even met Carroll, Trump utterly annihilates the credibility of his claim that he didn’t assault her,” writes Conway.
The Times published an 800-word piece on the same day of the New York magazine piece, though it “did not promote the story on its home page until late Saturday morning and did not run a print story until Sunday,” as the paper’s Reader Center piece acknowledges. Whether it’s Bill O’Reilly or Harvey Weinstein or other exposés, the Times has done a lot of #MeToo reporting. Along the way, it has developed some internal requirements, as the Reader Center piece by Lara Takenaga notes:
Those guidelines include locating sources outside those mentioned by the accusers who not only corroborate the allegations but also are willing to go on the record.
But the Carroll story, Mr. Baquet said, was different because the allegations were already receiving broad attention, with New York Magazine publishing an excerpt from Ms. Carroll’s book detailing the incident. “We were playing by rules that didn’t quite apply,” Mr. Baquet said. “They’ve allowed us to break major stories, from Bill O’Reilly to Harvey Weinstein. But in this case, it was a different kind of story.”
In the case of Ms. Carroll’s allegations, which she revealed in her forthcoming memoir, “What Do We Need Men For?,” The Times did not find independent sources — people beyond the two friends Ms. Carroll cited in her book — who could verify her account at the time of the article’s publication, or any other additional corroboration.
In any case, Baquet said the paper should have given more prominent exposure to the story, and that the newspaper continues its work on the story.
Katie Sullivan of Media Matters for America demonstrated that many major U.S. dailies omitted the allegations from the front pages of their Saturday editions, with The Post being an exception.
There has since erupted a backlash over the quiet response to the allegations, which is certainly a factor in the formal response from the Times. As the Times — and hopefully other outlets — seek more details on this particular episode, they face the prospect that their reporting will land with feeble impact. During the 2016 presidential campaign, after all, several media outlets broke stories on strikingly similar claims from women against Trump for sexual misconduct. Carroll names 15 women in that group.
A December 2016 study conducted by Thomas E. Patterson for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy examined the campaign coverage and reached this conclusion: “[Hillary] Clinton’s controversies got more attention than Trump’s (19 percent versus 15 percent) and were more focused. Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies. Clinton’s badgering had a laserlike focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage — four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position."
No impact, however, is no excuse. The fact that many similar cases precede Carroll’s allegations amplifies the importance of her story, rather than minimizes it. Dump all the debate preview coverage, and do a story that matters.