If you’ve been anywhere near Facebook or Twitter in the past several months, you’re probably aware that there is a case working its way through the courts that accuses Donald Trump of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1994.
On Wednesday, the woman, who remains anonymous, will appear at a press conference with her new attorney, Lisa Bloom, the daughter of Gloria Allred. Bloom wrote a column about the case in The Huffington Post last summer.
For months, people have wondered why this case isn’t getting more ― or, really, any ― attention in the press, even now that Trump faces an actual court date: a Dec. 16 status conference with the judge.
The allegations aren’t entirely implausible on their face. The accuser says Trump raped her repeatedly at parties thrown by since-convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who was widely known to throw wild parties with young women and girls. Epstein was convicted in 2008 of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution and served a small portion of an 18-year sentence.
In a New York magazine profile of Epstein before he went to prison, and long before Trump ran for president, Trump acknowledged that he knows Epstein. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’’ Trump says in the story. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it ― Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
The lawsuit against Trump includes affidavits from two anonymous women who say they were witnesses. Yet there’s been little coverage of the case. As one of the media outlets that has not published much about it, I can say there are two main reasons we shied away.
The accuser is anonymous.
The accuser in this case is anonymous, and the suit is filed under a pseudonym in New York. A previous case filed in California used the name “Katie Johnson.” To accuse someone in print of forcibly raping a child is about as serious a charge as can be made. To do that with an anonymous accuser would be an extraordinary step, putting the journalist’s reputation on the line.
One senior national reporter who has covered both campaigns said that the anonymity was the main stumbling block. “If it’s something that’s this damaging to a candidate, you better be sure, and she’s anonymous,” the reporter said, asking for anonymity to talk openly about the decision-making process. “Look, if she came out and she would do an interview, that would be different, but she’s an anonymous plaintiff.”
To go forward with an anonymous source shifts responsibility for the veracity of the claims from the accuser to the reporter. If the person is named and on record, the reporter can argue that he or she is merely reporting what the person is saying, and people are free to believe her or not. But giving anonymity says something different to an audience. It suggests, I, as a journalist, have investigated this person and these charges, and find them sufficiently credible to bring them forward without a name attached. Especially in the wake of the Rolling Stone fiasco, that requires an extreme amount of confidence in the source.
And the way the case rolled out did not inspire that confidence.
The accuser’s public backers have been savaged in the press.
One of the leading organizers of the effort to get the press to pay attention to this case is Steve Baer, an outspoken Republican donor. Baer last made news when his effort to out an alleged affair between Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) contributed to McCarthy dropping his bid to become House speaker. Baer’s style is to liberally cc and bcc an endless stream of powerful people, and it usually has the effect of getting none of them to listen.
When I wrote to him Monday night, for instance, to say I was going to write a story on why the media were avoiding the child rape story, he replied and cc’ed Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, along with a host of other media figures.
And Baer, in fact, is among the more credible advocates the accuser has going for her.
The accuser initially filed the case on her own behalf in California, but it was tossed for not stating an articulable violation of her civil rights. The case has since been refiled in New York, under the representation of a patent lawyer named Thomas Meagher. A patent lawyer handling the case hasn’t inspired the most confidence. (He didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
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