If a male CEO accused of rape insisted the allegation was untrue because the accuser was “not my type,” it stands to reason he’d no longer be CEO anymore. Amazingly, this standard does not apply to the President of the United States.
While Donald Trump’s familiar “she’s not attractive enough to sexually assault” defense has not yet led to his downfall, at least this most recent gross and insulting denial is getting some attention. When writer and author E. Jean Carroll revealed last Friday that Donald Trump allegedly raped her 23 years ago—in a disturbingly graphic account, corroborated by two friends who recall the author confiding in them at the time—the news seemed to barely register at all.
The New York Times relegated its coverage of the accusation to its Books section, neglected to promote the story on its home page initially, and didn’t follow up with a print story until Sunday—all decisions that executive editor Dean Baquet eventually admitted were “overly cautious.” As the Times wrote:
“In retrospect, Mr. Baquet said, a key consideration was that this was not a case where we were surfacing our own investigation — the allegations were already being discussed by the public.
The fact that a well-known person was making a very public allegation against a sitting president ‘should’ve compelled us to play it bigger.'”
Yes, Dean. It should’ve compelled you to do that.
Additionally, several major papers decided not to lead with the story on Saturday and Fox News Channel’s range of programming has hardly mentioned it. Most insidious of all is that The New York Post scrubbed its site of the incident on Friday night at the request of Trump pal and former New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan.
And now here we are: A prominent writer has made a credible rape accusation against the CEO of America, and it’s just a Friday-afternoon news wave that dissolved into a ripple before reaching the shore.
So, why isn’t this bigger news? Considering the scrutiny Joe Biden has (deservedly) come under of late, it’s obvious that traditional norms surrounding politicians—that they don’t behave inappropriately or sexually assault anyone—still at least somewhat apply.
Sunday shows: 3/31/19: ABC asked 3 guests about the Biden allegations; NBC asked 6 guests about it; CBS asked 2 guests. All three hosts suggested the allegations might be "disqualifying."
This Sunday: the new Trump rape allegations weren't mentioned on any of the 3 Sunday shows. https://t.co/HVm6TmnoD8
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) June 24, 2019
Well, for one thing, the world is on fire. At this moment, the president is threatening obliteration of Iran in response to Iran calling him “mentally retarded.” At the Southern border, six children have died due to conditions in detainment centers that are on par with “torture facilities,” and the most controversial element around this crisis is that some people don’t agree with the language other people used to describe the detainment centers. The roughly 3,000 Democratic candidates for president are having their first debates this week. And on top of all that, Meryl Streep is killing it on this season of Big Little Lies. It’s all happening concurrently and it’s too much. But still, it’s hardly an excuse for a presidential rape accusation to not make a dent.
Another reason why this news has failed to break through in a significant way is the fact that the author made her accusation as part of her book launch. Women are under no obligation to report their sexual assault on anyone’s timeline but their own, so I personally have no qualms with Carroll waiting 23 years to reveal what Trump allegedly did to her. At the same time, by tying this personal disclosure to a product she stands to profit off of, the MAGA faithful have an opening to dismiss her account entirely.
The main reason this news is probably not receiving the attention it deserves, however, is presidential sexual assault fatigue. Carroll is, by Vox’s accounting, the 22nd person to accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault. (Well, not counting the Miss Teen USA contestants Trump bragged on the radio about barging in on while they were undressed, a thing I will bring up absolutely every chance I get until somebody explains why it’s not a bigger deal.) Over time, the public seems to have internalized the idea that Trump’s accusers are Girls Who Cry Wolf—only instead of false alerts about the wolf’s existence, the false alert is about whether wolfiness is really such a bad thing with regard to this particular wolf.
The fact that this isn’t even the first time Trump has shrugged off an assault accusation by claiming the accuser wasn’t up to his beauty standards shows what we’re willing (resigned?) to put up with from him. Every time a new accusation surfaces, there’s an aura of stultifying, Groundhog Day repetition. We’ve been through this before. Millions of people knew exactly who they voted for when they voted for him, and they are still ecstatic with their choice. The same people who simply consider Bill Clinton a rapist—case closed!—insist on Trump’s innocence with only his exceedingly worthless word to cite as evidence. If we’re waiting around for the line that makes those people feel otherwise—whether it’s a high number of accusers, or a high-def video of an assault—we’ll be waiting for a long time.
Just because Trump’s base is numb to sexual assault accusations against him is no excuse for the rest of us to feel that way. That’s why it’s important to expect, and demand, that media do better with the practically inevitable next instance.