Moira Donegan: What Tara Read deserves
“If the Me Too movement means anything, it is that victims must not be swept aside and ignored, impugned, erased, and silenced when their claims are difficult to countenance,” Manne argued. As far as that goes, she is correct. But declining to reach a conclusion about an allegation isn’t the same as sweeping it aside, erasing it, or ignoring, impugning, or silencing the accuser. One can listen, assess, and still conclude that one knows too little to judge.
In Vox, the journalist Laura McGann described being approached by Reade, trying to corroborate her claims, and failing. McGann wound up “mired in the miasma of uncertainty,” she wrote. “I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.”
Her anguish is understandable. A tiny number of people––police officers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, human-resources professionals, and investigative journalists––are compelled by their role in public life to weigh particular allegations of sexual misconduct and reach a potentially high-stakes judgment.
But now many people with no professional or personal connection to sexual-misconduct allegations behave as if they too must reach and affirm conclusions in muddy cases involving public figures. “Believing” is now treated as a primary measure of whether one “supports survivors,” even though the great majority of women who are raped, assaulted, or harassed are parties in cases that will never get any public attention at all.
Read: Is it fair to compare Joe Biden to Brett Kavanaugh?
Public sentiment can influence outcomes in exceptional cases. Changing attitudes about Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein seemed to play a part in prosecutors’ holding serial predators accountable. But those matters involved an enormous amount of evidence from an atypically large number of accusers. Insisting that officials take their allegations seriously was an unusually easy call. Overall, the new norm that ordinary people should publicly assess allegations, especially in hazy cases where doubt is not uncommon, may do more harm than good.
Those who say “believe all women” want all alleged survivors taken seriously. But when masses of people are asked to comment on an allegation, supportive declarations of “I believe” will inevitably be accompanied by pronouncements of “that’s dubious” or “liar.” Might a majority of survivors fare better if all uninvolved parties were discouraged from sitting in judgment?
Political campaigns do add an extra wrinkle. Voters must decide whether to cast ballots in a candidate’s favor with imperfect information. If your vote in this election turns on the truth or falsehood of Reade’s allegation, by all means, study the matter and make an educated guess. But most voters aren’t in that camp, in part because Trump also stands accused of sexual misconduct, and by many more women than Biden does.