Rather than dominating the news cycle, former Senate staffer Tara Reade’s recent allegation that former Vice President Joe Biden sexually assaulted her has been slow to receive coverage in many outlets.
Reade first stepped forward in spring 2019 as one of several women who accused Biden of inappropriate touching, but it wasn’t until March 25, 2020, that Reade alleged Biden had sexually assaulted her while she was a staffer in his office in 1993. In a podcast interview with left-leaning commentator Katie Halper, Reade accused Biden of pushing her against a wall, reaching under her skirt and penetrating her with his fingers. (While some of Reade’s family and friends say Reade told them about the incident shortly thereafter, other Biden staffers at the time do not recall hearing about it, and Biden has denied that it ever took place.) But the story wasn’t really featured in the mainstream media until after April 12, when The New York Times published an in-depth investigation of Reade’s claims.
Since then, the accusation has gotten more attention, starting on April 24, when a “Larry King Live” clip from 1993 emerged in which a caller who may be Reade’s mother describes her daughter’s “problems” with a “prominent senator.” Coverage continued to climb after April 27, when Reade’s former neighbor said that Reade had told her details about the alleged assault in the mid-1990s, and May 1, when Biden himself made his first public comment on the allegation. Nevertheless, our analysis of closed captioning data for Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, pulled from the TV News Archive,1 and of online news articles from the Media Cloud database2 finds that the volume of coverage of the allegation remained low until very recently, and it has gotten more attention from right-leaning outlets, both on television and online.
Of the three major cable news channels, Fox News has devoted the most attention to Reade so far.3 Through Friday, May 1, Fox News mentioned Reade in 371 clips collected by the TV News Archive — 344 of them on or after April 24. Many of these mentions were by the channel’s conservative commentators criticizing Democrats and the media for not giving Reade’s allegation more air time.
By contrast, CNN and MSNBC mostly covered the story with on-air interviews of reporters who had investigated the allegation — but these channels also covered Reade much less. Through May 1, CNN had only mentioned Reade in 35 clips, the first of which aired on April 25. And MSNBC barely mentioned her until last Friday, when Biden personally appeared on the network to deny Reade’s claims. (According to what Reade has told The New York Times, neither CNN nor MSNBC has asked to interview her on air, though they have spoken to her off camera.)
But while cable news didn’t mention Reade at all when the sexual assault allegation was first revealed, online news outlets did. After the story broke on March 25, conservative news organizations like The Blaze and the Daily Caller picked it up right away. But while right-leaning outlets covered the story most heavily, HuffPost, Vox and The Guardian also wrote about the allegations in March. The Guardian and Vox even noted then how the story wasn’t yet appearing in mainstream news outlets. Fox News, which hadn’t yet mentioned Reade on TV, also published an article online about the allegations on March 27. Starting in April, mainstream media coverage of the allegation began to pick up, but the volume of coverage mentioning Reade has still increased the most in conservative-leaning online media, which sometimes published multiple articles a day on the story.4
Read the rest of this FiveThurtyEight.com feature article HERE.