In September 2018, when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, actress Alyssa Milano did not hesitate to support her. On the same day that The Washington Post published its interview with Ford, Milano tweeted: "I stand in solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford. #MeToo."
But in the wake of an equally if not more serious sexual assault allegation against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee, Milano has remained silent. Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer who claims that her boss digitally penetrated her in 1993 without her consent, received no tweet of solidarity from the self-described feminist activist.
Milano finally addressed this blatant hypocrisy in an interview with the radio host Andy Cohen. Here is what she had to say.
"I believe that even though we should believe women, and that is an important thing, what that statement really means is that for so long, the go-to has been not to believe them," said Milano. "We have to societally change that mindset to believing women, but that does not mean at the expense of not giving men their due process and investigating situations. It's got to be fair in both directions."
Cohen frequently interrupted Milano to express his wild agreement with her remarks.
"I've been very vocal about Biden and my support for him," Milano continued. "I don't feel comfortable throwing away a decent man that I've known for 15 years in this time of complete chaos without there being a thorough investigation."
What a difference the partisan affiliation of the accused makes!
Milano also explained that she would be remaining quiet about the accusation in part because "the mainstream media would be jumping all over this…if they found more evidence." The implication being that the failure of mainstream media to do reporting on the Reade allegation means that it ought to be doubted and dismissed.
This speaks to the power of silence: The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and other media outlets generally trusted by moderates and liberals have all refused to cover Reade's story. Indeed, thus far they have essentially pretended that it does not exist, declining to acknowledge Reade in the most basic way and refusing to question Biden about it, even in interviews with the candidate. This mainstream media blackout has evidently provided cover to people like Milano, allowing them to ignore an inconvenient political development.
Yet it's difficult to see the media's treatment of this story as anything other than blatant hypocrisy because there's nothing novel about the Biden accusation when compared to the Kavanaugh accusation. At the time of Milano's tweet in support of Ford, there was no evidence of Kavanaugh's guilt beyond what Ford had claimed in her statements (and little corroborating evidence of Ford's claims ever materialized, given how long ago the incident had unfolded). The Reade allegation is at exactly the same stage: She is speaking up about what happened to her, and asking to be believed. But this time, Milano—who attended an anti-Kavanaugh rally while draped in a banner that read, quite literally, "believe women"—thinks it's not enough.
To those who are not invested in Biden's candidacy, the hypocrisy is obvious. Rose McGowan, a prominent proponent of "believe all women" and Milano's former Charmed co-star, said this:
You are a fraud. This is about holding the media accountable. You go after Trump & Kavanaugh saying Believe Victims, you are a lie. You have always been a lie. The corrupt DNC is in on the smear job of Tara Reade, so are you. SHAME https://t.co/B7NHK4k09K
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) April 6, 2020
But aside from the hypocrisy, the disparate treatment of Reade really shows that popular variations of the #MeToo catchphrase—believe all women, believe all victims, etc.—are incoherent. Journalists, policymakers, and an informed public cannot simply default to automatically believing every person who claims to be a victim. De facto presumptions of belief are constantly weaponized by liars and frauds against a gullible populace. Those who work in the business of telling other people's stories—be they reporters or activists—must be skeptical and discerning. They must gather facts and contextualize allegations. They must operate within the broad framework of generally assuming innocence until guilt is proven. Believing everything they hear is a recipe for disaster—it's religion, not journalism.
Ironically, Milano's impulse to protect her preferred candidate may have inadvertently helped her arrive at the correct default.
"I sent the #MeToo tweet two years ago, and I never thought it would be something that would destroy innocent men," she said in the Cohen interview. "So we have to find this balance in the 'believe women' movement, and also giving men their due process and realizing that we are destroying lives if we don't go through the right steps."
If that's actually her standard, then good. But I suppose we won't know for sure until another high profile Republican is accused of wrongdoing.