The Media Today

E. Jean Carroll’s Trump rape claim did not get enough coverage

June 24, 2019

“This is what I was wearing 23 years ago when Donald Trump attacked me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.” With those words—and an accompanying image—on the cover of New York magazine, E. Jean Carroll, the longtime advice columnist for Elle, became at least the 22nd woman to accuse the president of the United States of sexual misconduct. The allegation features in an excerpt—published Friday, from Carroll’s new book—about the “hideous men” she says have assaulted her; that group also includes Les Moonves, the former CEO of CBS.

Despite the litany of claims against Trump, Carroll is only the second woman to publicly accuse him of rape. Her account is graphic and detailed; was corroborated by two friends who recall Carroll telling them about it at the time; and echoes what Trump told Billy Bush, in the Access Hollywood tape, about grabbing women “by the pussy.” You’d think, then, that it would have been a much bigger story over the weekend. Many commentators were furious that it was not.

ICYMI: Journalist who broke Trump groping story on why others were slow to follow

As is often the case, the criticism that “the media” did “not cover” Carroll’s accusation should not be taken literally. The story was generated by the cover of a major magazine and provoked a vocal reaction on Twitter; Carroll subsequently spoke to major networks, and will continue her interview round today as New York hits newsstands. The complaint, rather, is one of magnitude, and on such terms is entirely legitimate. As Media Matters for America’s Katie Sullivan pointed out, Carroll’s claim did not make the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, or Chicago Tribune; The Washington Post did put it on A1, but did not lead with it. Also on Saturday, Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton calculated that the story was not among the 164 articles featured on the Times’s homepage; it appeared there later on, but the Times tagged it in its books section, and even there it was downplayed. As of this morning, the story is all but absent from the homepages of major outlets. Yes, it’s three days old at this point. But, as MSNBC’s Joy Reid said yesterday: “In any other universe, in any other presidency, in any other news cycle… [Carroll’s allegations] would have been the lead story all week long.”

Why the low play? It could be a case of fatigue. We are hit so often with claims of Trump’s misconduct—and liberals, at least, have such low expectations of him—that horrifying allegations lose their shock value and slide off. Deeper forces are likely at work, too: as the writer Molly Jong-Fast asked on Twitter, “Is the misogyny so baked in that we no longer treat allegations of rape seriously?” It’s not a new question. Ahead of the 2016 election, CJR’s Pete Vernon interviewed Lucia Graves, a reporter with The Guardian, about the muted reaction to her interview with Jill Harth, who accused Trump of groping. Graves, who was “extremely frustrated” that other outlets did not pick up Harth’s claim, said it took the Access Hollywood tape for the allegations against Trump to dominate the news cycle. “I think it’s so remarkable that Trump had to literally say every single one of those things to another man, and people had to hear it recorded before people believed the story that has been out there for months,” Graves said.

Whatever the reason, it’s astonishing that Carroll’s allegation isn’t ubiquitous in our news media this morning. Its relative absence is doubly surprising when you consider that the #MeToo moment—with its brilliant reporting on Harvey Weinstein and so many other abusive men—has arguably been the biggest story of the Trump era not to centrally feature Trump. Somehow, Trump escaped accountability at the height of that moment. It looks like that’s happening again.

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Trump escaped accountability, too, during his 2016 campaign. Over the weekend, Carroll told CNN that she didn’t come forward with her rape allegation back then because other women were already saying “similar things.” Besides, she added, “I picked up very quickly that it was helping him, not hurting him.” We all bear some responsibility for that.

Below, more on E. Jean Carroll and Trump:

  • “The problem with headlines”: Trump lashed out at Carroll: in a statement, he asked the public for “information” about the Democrats working with Carroll and/or New York, threatening that “people should pay dearly for such false accusations.” Trump also said he “never met” Carroll. New York had published a photo of the pair talking; nevertheless, several outlets led with Trump’s lie. “We are two and a half years into the Trump presidency, and news outlets are still putting Trump’s far-fetched and false assertions right in the headlines,” CNN’s Brian Stelter said.
  • A deleted Post: On Friday, the Murdoch-owned New York Post ran a story about Carroll’s allegations, then took it down. It still appears to be gone this morning. CNN’s Oliver Darcy noticed that an Associated Press wire story about Carroll also disappeared from the Post’s website; he asked the paper why but did not receive a response.
  • Trump-adjacency: In February 2018, I wrote that while Trump was not a central character in #MeToo, the prior sexual-abuse claims against him made the story “Trump-adjacent” and helped it to capture public interest. “Weinstein was a Democrat, but his behavior as a bully and crude-talking ‘Master of the Universe’ was reminiscent of Trump,” the Times’s Jim Rutenberg told me at the time.

Other notable stories:

  • For CJR’s new print issue on journalism around the world, Maria Ressa, the founder and CEO of Rappler, a news site in the Philippines, describes the anti-media campaign of Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s authoritarian president. “Duterte, the first politician in my country to have used social media to win an election, wages a relentless campaign of disinformation—patriotic trolling—to pound critics into silence,” Ressa writes. “His administration spews lies so fast that the public doesn’t know what reality is anymore.” The magazine will roll out online in the coming days. ICYMI on Friday, we published Kyle Pope’s introduction to the issue, and Suzy Hansen’s dispatch from Turkey.
  • Unusually for the Trump era, the president and the vice president both did Sunday show interviews yesterday. CNN’s Jake Tapper won plaudits for his tough questioning of Mike Pence: Tapper called out Pence’s false claim that the US “has the cleanest air and water in the world,” and held Pence’s feet to the fire on the conditions imposed on detained migrant children at the border. Over on NBC, Trump faced a similar question from Chuck Todd: “The conditions are terrible,” Todd said; when Trump said he agreed, Todd replied, “Do something! Do something!” In going on NBC, the president continued his recent push to reach a wider audience—but, as Ron Brownstein noted on CNN, Trump “delivers the same kind of narrowcasted, sectarian message” no matter who he’s talking to.
  • Late last week, a neighbor of Boris Johnson, Britain’s putative next prime minister, recorded a blazing late-night row between Johnson and his partner and passed the tape to The Guardian. The neighbor also called the police. Over the weekend, as Johnson dodged journalists’ questions about the episode, his defenders variously impugned the motives of the neighbor and called the focus on Johnson’s private life improper. (Journalist Tim Montgomerie encouraged Johnson to attack “fake news,” Trump-style.) For The Guardian, Matthew d’Ancona counters that Johnson, more than anyone else, has turned “public life into a game of personality,” and that it should be no surprise that “his character is now being examined as never before.” ICYMI last week, I profiled Johnson the journalist for CJR.
  • On Saturday, Trump delayed plans to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement round up and deport immigrant families. In an extraordinary interview on Fox News, Tom Homan, the former acting director of ICE who Trump has picked to be his border czar, “heavily implied” that Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, leaked details of the operation to the Post in order to undermine it, BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz reports. Also on Fox, Jeanine Pirro railed about “illegals” to Mark Morgan, the current director of ICE. The Post’s Sarah Ellison has a new profile of Pirro “the loyalist.”
  • Seth Harp, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, was returning to Austin following a reporting trip to Mexico City when Customs and Border Protection officials pulled him in for “secondary screening.” The officers, Harp writes for The Intercept, denied Harp access to a lawyer, conducted a thorough search of his electronic devices without a warrant, and asked him about his journalism and political views. CBP later admitted to recording the process despite officers denying, at the time, that they were doing so.
  • Splinter’s Hamilton Nolan argues that mainstream outlets are complicit as conflict with Iran inches closer. They do “not call for the war outright; they simply allow themselves to be dragged along into war by more cutthroat actors, insisting the entire time that the paperwork must be in order,” Nolan writes. “The only thing to write is ‘no war.’”
  • For The Nation, Tara Sepehri Far, the Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, writes that the Twitter account for Iran Disinfo, a project funded by the US State Department, targeted a number of journalists and analysts, including Far, for sharing news and views that go against the grain of the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Late last month, the State Department suspended its funding of the project.
  • Last month, NPR’s affiliate in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley went off the air. For CJR, Gus Bova explores the ramifications of the station’s absence, and the fight to bring it back. “With the loss of NPR, I think we’re getting close to being fairly described as a news media desert,” Steve Taylor, editor and publisher of the Rio Grande Guardian, says.
  • And Extinction Rebellion, an international movement focused on the threat of climate change, protested the way news organizations cover the topic outside the Times’s offices in Manhattan yesterday. According to CNN, 66 people were arrested. CJR and The Nation recently launched a climate-coverage project; you can find more details here.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.