And right about now, Republicans probably can’t believe their luck. They’re like a three-card monte grifter who keeps pulling the same trick on the same guy who stops at their table every day and never seems to figure out he’s being conned.
Yes, I’m talking about Tara Reade’s allegation that then-Sen. Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. We’ve now entered the “Show us the documents!” phase of this game.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that Reade is lying; I have no idea, and the evidence we’ve seen so far is not conclusive in either direction. Moreover, in all likelihood we aren’t ever going to get proof, and we’ll be better off if we acknowledge that now instead of acting like a smoking gun will emerge if we dig hard enough.
But now this question has come to rest on Biden’s Senate papers, currently held at the University of Delaware. Despite the fact that those papers reportedly don’t include personnel records and there’s no reason to believe they contain anything at all about Reade, we’re hearing the first round of demands for Biden to publicly release them.
Transparency is a good thing, and if people want to argue that the release of those papers will be useful in giving us a full picture of Biden’s career as a senator, then that’s fine. I’m sure it would be of interest to historians to see drafts of Biden’s speeches or notes going back and forth between him and his staff as they write legislation.
The problem is that we’re already starting to treat those papers as though they will contain deep and shocking secrets that could transform everyone’s view of Biden and therefore must be brought into the light lest the electorate make a terrible mistake in November.
And we know that Republicans are just itching to get their hands on all those boxes, so they can find some sentence in a memo that can be taken out of context and turned into evidence that Biden is a villain, then plastered across Facebook and Twitter.
We know this because we’ve been here before, repeatedly.
In 2004, Republicans made the scurrilous charge that John F. Kerry lied about his Vietnam War service and didn’t deserve the medals he was awarded. Demands that his service records be released were repeated throughout the fall campaign.
In 2016, Republicans alleged that Hillary Clinton had concealed shocking proof of everything from Benghazi to Jimmy Hoffa’s murder to the Loch Ness monster in her personal emails. Demands that she produce them were repeated throughout the campaign.
It worked. One study of 2016 found: “In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” Other outlets weren’t much better.
The common thread linking Kerry, Clinton and now Biden is the allegation that hidden documents contain incriminating information, and if we can get our hands on them, then everything will change. As Republicans know, this plays right into reporters’ suspicion of secrecy. The result is wave after wave of news coverage that assumes that the Democratic candidate is concealing something nefarious.
And yet somehow, President Trump — the most dishonest and corrupt human being to ever sit in the Oval Office — largely manages to avoid that kind of coverage, all while he wages an unending war on transparency, including firing every inspector general who reveals his administration’s misconduct or incompetence. No one has more to hide than him, yet whenever those questions come up, they disappear in relatively short order. Reporters ask, he lies and evades, and then they move on.
Perversely, it’s precisely because Trump is so adamantly opposed to any kind of transparency that he gets fewer demands for transparency than Democrats do. We in the media wind up saying, “What’s the point of writing another editorial demanding he release his tax returns? We all know he won’t.”
Indeed, the Times reported back in the fall of 2018 — based on extensive documentary evidence — that the president of the United States and his family engaged in a years-long tax evasion conspiracy that defrauded the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet the story simply disappeared.
What if the hundreds of reporters who had been assigned to investigate Clinton’s email account were assigned to follow up on that? But they weren’t. So how many Americans know about it? Five percent? One percent?
The same apparently applies to the voluminous allegations of sexual misconduct, up to and including rape, that women have made against Trump. Biden’s running mate will be asked dozens or even hundreds of times about Tara Reade. How many times has Vice President Pence been grilled about Karen Johnson, or E. Jean Carroll, or Summer Zervos, or any other of the 24 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct?
Yes, Biden should be transparent. But let’s apply the same standards to Trump that we apply to him. And let’s not be fooled, once again, into going on a months-long crusade to uncover documents that swallows the entire presidential campaign, just because Republicans claim they must contain something incriminating.
We’ve been through this before, and we know how it ends.