NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Friday the 1st of May, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
BRIAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Brian Basham. It’s Culture Friday.
For a few weeks now, accusations have been swirling around presidential candidate Joe Biden. A woman named Tara Reade says Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 while she was working as his Senate staffer.
Now a former neighbor of Reade’s has come forward to corroborate her story.
The woman, who describes herself as a Biden supporter, is the third person to support Reade’s claims on the record.
Major media outlets for the most part declined to cover the story. That is, until last week.
That’s when a 1993 call to Larry King’s CNN show came to light. On the call, reportedly: Reade’s mother, who has since died. The call came shortly after Reade left her job in Biden’s office.
Here’s that call.
READE: Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him. In other words, she had a story to tell but, but out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it? That’s true.
Biden has yet to answer questions directly about Reade’s allegations, though his campaign released a statement denying them.
EICHER: It’s Culture Friday and time to welcome John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Good morning!
JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning.
EICHER: So, John, to say that mainstream papers and networks are taking a different approach to Joe Biden than the treatment they gave Brett Kavanaugh would be to understate the term understatement.
Just a quick example, probably the most risible one of the week: A Washington Post headline on people coming forward to support Tara Reade’s story. Try to untangle this one, “Developments in allegations against Biden amplify efforts to question his behavior.”
I could read that slowly and you still wouldn’t get it because this isn’t mere semantic gymnastics. This is hot yoga.
So why all this effort?
I mean, to its credit, The New York Times has done some pretty careful, non-sensational work, and put it out there to let readers judge the truth of it.
What executive editor Dean Baquet said about his team’s reporting is worth quoting at some length. Here’s some of it:
“What I think readers should take away from this is that this is a serious allegation made by somebody who has some standing. It is denied strenuously by [Biden’s] campaign. …
“Sometimes I think it is OK to tell readers they have to make their own judgment. I understand that people want simple answers, but in my experience editing stories like this, sometimes there aren’t simple answers and sometimes you just have to figure that the reader is sophisticated, thoughtful, will read it, weigh it, and make his or her own judgment. And I think in this case, that’s the best we could offer.”
Hey, y’know what? I didn’t think I would ever say this: I agree with Dean Baquet.
These things are hard to know. Of course, it’d have been nice if that was the approach the media took to the Kavanaugh case, but there it is, opportunity missed.
Here’s a question: Now that the me-too shoe is on the other ideological foot, is it possible, might this be a preview of things to come—better reporting, less sensationalism?
STONESTREET: No, I don’t think it is and I think the reason why is, good heavens, if a virus can’t be reported on and left alone and let the readers and the listeners and the viewers be sophisticated enough, than you’re not going to get it when it comes to an affair or an act of sexual abuse or some sort of accusation of this kind of moral gravity from someone who’s actually a political player. Look, if anything should be neutral, it should be a virus and it’s not. It’s being loaded up this same way.
And, honestly, I think part of this is politically motivated and I think part of this is not just politically motivated but driven by the media. The medium itself, this is, again, going back as we’ve done dozens and dozens and dozens of times here to Neil Postman’s idea of amusing ourselves to death where the forces that create the “if it bleeds it leads” and the agenda of wanting to go beyond reporting to commentating and, you know, the worldview underpinnings of how things are reported to us and so on and so on and so on, that’s just part of the structure of this thing. We don’t have a missed opportunity now when it comes to these stories. We have a broken structure from the top to the bottom that is built around and motivated by and actually kind of structured with some of these fundamental problems of truth-telling and agenda advancing.
Because, look, like it or not, we have two things that work. You’ve got what Alexander Soltenitzen said in his World Apart speech at Harvard, which is “the lack of great statesmen in the American context right now” and, on the other hand, you have got an ideologically driven press, which, for the record, is something else he talked about in that speech. So, maybe the answer to all this is let’s go back and read some more Soltzenitzen.
BASHAM: You know, John, I worked in the mainstream media for a long time. And these are the kinds of stories that can create endless news cycles, right? Discussing how campaigns will respond to them, what impact they’ll have on messaging and strategy. But at the end of the day they don’t seem to move the needle when it comes time to vote. And that’s not new.
Paula Jones didn’t stop Bill Clinton from getting elected. The Access Hollywood tape didn’t stop Donald Trump from getting elected.
So if I had to guess, I’d say this probably isn’t going to hurt Biden much.
It seems to me it’s the #MeToo movement that really stands to lose here because of the way some of its leaders are brushing off Tara Reade.
What do you think the Church should be saying to young women who are watching this play out and might be feeling really discouraged?
STONESTREET: Well, you know, it’s interesting to see what hurts what. At the end of the day, is it going to hurt Biden much? I actually think it probably will just because the power scenarios here are very different. I think that you certainly have Hollywood folks now running from a Biden endorsement. I think you’ll probably also end up with the choice at least on the left seeing their choice as many people on the right saw, which is the lesser of two evils, right? And I think that’s a real question.
But your question was different, which is what should the church be doing and saying and so on and that is the church really can’t say much more until the church does more. And that is that we have to handle the skeletons in the closet better than we see anybody else do it. Look, our worldview says that the fall is not out there, the fall is in here. And yet we oftentimes are still trying to protect our own people and we’re trying to disbelieve accusations because of the power of the people that are in charge. Look, we bring I think additional, the Christian worldview brings additional context and contours to this, namely that it’s not just the accused perpetrator that is a sinner and always capable of doing what is accused, but the accuser also has a capability as well. And that maybe complicates it, but it also means that we have a bigger, broader vision of human sin and human dignity than mainstream media outlets, or political parties and so we have to do better. And we can’t talk better. We have to do better.
So, look, let repentance begin with the house of the Lord. Let’s sweep up our own room first.
EICHER: Turning to the other dominant story right now, some states like Georgia, Texas, and Florida are allowing more businesses to reopen.
Everyone has an opinion about that, and everyone’s opinion is backed up by their preferred experts and data.
So I don’t want to talk about how or whether states should reopen, John. I want to talk about how some Christians are treating one another over it. On one side I’m seeing people accusing those who want to open their businesses of being reckless and greedy. Putting stocks over lives I saw one person say uncharitably on social media.
On the other I see sneers about cowardice and not valuing the liberty our forefathers died for.
And I just kind of sit here thinking, it’s fine to have opinions about what should happen. I have them.
But when did it become okay to attack and shame each other over choices that are really complicated, where the right thing isn’t clear cut?
STONESTREET: It goes back awhile. I mean, good heavens, we saw in 2016, right, when people of deeply held conviction about the president one way or the other, who shared all the other views—religious views, pro-life views, religious convictions and so on—came down on different sides and saw it as a mark of the other person’s orthodoxy. It’s bizarre to see it in this category when you’re talking about something like this. Mainly because I think—and maybe this is the only time I’ve agreed with Governor Cuomo of New York at any point in this whole thing, but everyone’s been wrong on this all the time. No one’s gotten this one right. No one’s gotten the death estimates right. No one’s done this before. No one’s bringing an experience to this that’s going to help us make the right decision. We’re literally all making this up as we go. And without that sort of humble starting point, both as elected officials and as pastors and as pundits, listen, the truest thing that I’ve heard about this is the Facebook meme which said, “Wow, that’s odd. Just three weeks ago, all of my friends on Facebook were political scientists and now they’re all immunologists.” Nobody knows what they’re doing. And so that needs to give us at least some grace with each other as we try to start this back up. The fact of the matter is we have two things to be concerned about: lives and livelihoods. And because livelihoods are connected with lives, it’s a legitimate question to ask when we start wrestling with when should we reopen? And what does it mean to reopen? And should we make policy in North Dakota based on New York numbers? These are legitimate things and at the same time to remember that every life is infinitely valuable, worthy, made in the image and likeness of God, including elderly people and the compromised people in our churches and communities who are further at risk. And, you know what, we should absolutely have on the front of our concern, too, that the government oftentimes takes rights and rarely gives them back. It’s not OK and it shouldn’t be OK and we should have a robust conversation and do whatever we can to help each other and give each other a little bit of grace.
EICHER: John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Thank you!
STONESTREET: Thank you guys.