On Friday evening, former Fox News and NBC News host Megyn Kelly posted the first on-camera interview with Tara Reade, who has accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her when she was an assistant in his Senate office in 1993. The conversation, which was edited down to 42 minutes and can be viewed in full on YouTube, included a few more details about the alleged assault and the conversations Reade says she had with friends and family after the fact, but there were no new revelations or bomb drops. If you’ve listened to Reade’s interview with Katie Halper and have been following the story in the news, the Kelly video won’t much change your understanding of the case.
But there’s a reason both supporters and skeptics of Reade were waiting with great anticipation for her first on-camera appearance. Even with both versions of the story on the table—Biden says the assault never happened—it seems easier to assess a person’s credibility when you can see their face and hear their voice. Reading the text of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on Brett Kavanaugh was a very different experience from watching her deliver it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The difference may be entirely subjective, but in a situation with no clear objective way to find resolution, it makes a difference.
In this case, Reade conducts her conversation with Kelly with admirable poise. She gamely proffers minute details about her experience in the Senate and says she can’t remember when she can’t remember. She appears on the verge of tears when she recalls Biden’s alleged pivot from sexually cajoling her to insulting her, but she forges ahead and finishes her story.
Broadcast interviews have become a benchmark for public responses to controversies in part because America has a long of history of producing television journalists regarded as some of the most unbiased and rigorous in the business. In today’s polarized political landscape, there are few broadcast journalists out there that engender the kind of deep, trusting relationships many Americans had with the likes of Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw in years past. Even considering this, Kelly, who made her name agitating right-wing culture warriors on Fox News, is about as far as you can get in semi-mainstream journalism from a widely trusted character. According to BuzzFeed, Reade had gotten invitations to appear on every major television network, but chose to grant her first on-camera interview to Kelly, who is currently not affiliated with a network and instead broadcasts her interviews on her Instagram and YouTube pages. Without the backing of any established news outlet, Kelly has no established standards to uphold, or even job to keep. If Reade was looking to bolster her credibility by doing an on-camera interview with a broadly respected journalist, she didn’t make the most obvious pick.
So why did she choose Kelly? Reade told BuzzFeed that as she assessed her offers from television networks, she was looking for “a safe platform to tell my full history with Joe Biden,” and that she believes the “mainstream media” is biased toward Biden. Kelly, who famously helped oust Roger Ailes from Fox News by going public with her story of Ailes’ sexual harassment, may have seemed like a compassionate interviewer for a survivor of sexual assault. But Kelly’s current status as a one-woman show left viewers to wonder how else she made her broadcast look like the best option for Reade. Did she offer Reade a list of questions in advance? Input into the final edit? It’s possible that “The MK Interview” abides by strict journalistic standards, offering no leeway. It’s also possible that she’s a little less stringent, because she can be. The uncertainty makes Kelly a dubious choice for a woman who wants to be believed.
Based on the cut, the way Kelly structured the interview serves Reade well. She presses Reade for details without coming off as insensitive. Tangents that seem somewhat beside the point—during Reade’s recounting of the alleged assault, Kelly demands particulars about the precise construction of Reade’s underwear, for example—end up allowing Reade to paint a fuller picture of the story she’s telling. And the majority of the interview consists of Reade confronting a devil’s advocate, played by Kelly, who asks Reade to respond to the many reasons for disbelief people have raised in the wake of her allegation: her writings about Vladimir Putin’s “sensuous image” and “athletic prowess,” her tweet commending Biden’s political work on sexual assault, her support for Bernie Sanders, the way she first brought the allegation to the presidential campaigns of Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. What would Reade say to Democrats who think she’s making it all up to keep Biden out of office? Kelly asks. How would she respond to people who believe her but will still vote for Biden because they think Donald Trump is way worse? To those who wonder why, if Biden so brazenly assaulted Reade in a public corridor of a government building, no other alleged assault victims have come forward? Don’t men like this usually exhibit a pattern of behavior?
This type of questioning is exactly what broadcast interviews were made for. Whether or not they believed her, people wanted to see Reade answer to her critics. Though the Kelly interview’s clumsy editing makes every cut plainly audible, viewers still get a sense of how Reade responds to the kinds of pointed follow-up questions journalists ask their sources that are difficult to convey in print. Some skeptical viewers might grow more trusting of Reade after hearing her calmly address a wide array of their disparagements and doubts. Others will remain unconvinced. But it’s useful to see Reade face down her detractors’ arguments in a public venue. Every public figure accused of sexual assault has been allowed to do so, after all. As voters continue to assess Reade’s story and discuss her allegation in their own circles, they’ll have a stronger foundation for their eventual conclusions, with Reade’s responses in their minds alongside the criticisms of those who disbelieve her.
The opportunity to counter her critics may have also been cathartic for Reade. While she’s called for Biden to remove himself from the presidential race, this interview makes it seem that this isn’t the main reason she’s spent the past several months trying to get a news outlet or political leader to promulgate her story. Reade even tells Kelly that she doesn’t think Biden will step down. She sounds more concerned with unveiling the hypocrisy she sees in Biden—he “should not be running on character for the president of the United States,” she tells Kelly—and getting her story of her encounter with Biden out in the open. Even the experience of having her past bankruptcy dragged into the public eye by Biden supporters has felt freeing, she tells Kelly. Throughout the interview, she expresses a strong desire to have a “platform” for her story, to correct the record on Biden’s public persona, and to support other survivors of sexual violence by standing firm. The Kelly interview is one major step toward those goals.
It’s hard to imagine, at this point in the presidential race, anyone but Biden securing the Democratic nomination, given the way leaders in the party have responded to Reade’s allegations. It’s unlikely that any more corroboration of an assault will come out, even if someone does unearth the sexual harassment complaint Reade said she filed in the Senate in 1993. (The San Luis Obispo Tribune found a 1996 court document in which Reade’s ex-husband says Reade told him about “a problem she was having at work regarding sexual harassment, in U.S. Senator Joe Biden’s office,” but it doesn’t say whether Biden was the one doing the harassing, nor does it mention a sexual assault.) The people who’ve said Reade told them about the alleged assault in the days or years after it happened—an anonymous friend, Reade’s brother, and her former neighbor Lynda LaCasse—have either changed their stories or had their memories refreshed by Reade before speaking to the press. This doesn’t mean the alleged assault didn’t happen, but neither does it do much to convince voters that Uncle Joe, the public BFF of America’s favorite president, sexually assaulted Tara Reade. This lack of any feasible path to definitively proving what happened makes it nearly impossible for political leaders to justify devising a swift-yet-somehow-democratic rejiggering of the presidential nomination process six months before a world-historically important election in the midst of a pandemic.
Reade seems like she’s already coming to terms with that reality. In her conversation with Kelly, Reade sounds a bit resigned, like she understands this public stalemate, even if she believes it’s terribly unfair to her. At times, it sounds like she is accepting that Biden might never be held to account for the alleged assault—that a few rounds of dignified interviews and the chance to air her story might be as much as she can hope for under the present circumstances. Reade tells Kelly she’s been disillusioned by the Democratic Party and now considers herself “politically homeless,” but she doesn’t call on the party to replace Biden, nor does she suggest that voters should choose someone else for president. (LaCasse, for one, has said she still intends to vote for Biden, even though she believes he assaulted her friend.)
Instead, Reade puts the onus on Biden to step down and laments the failings of a society that has delivered voters a presidential choice between a multiply accused sexual assailant and, at the very least, a multiply accused manhandler who famously mishandled Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. “You don’t need to discredit me or not believe me to vote for Joe Biden,” Reade says to Kelly. She repeats the line a few minutes later. It was part condemnation of progressive politicians who’ve defended Biden, part gesture of generosity and grace. Maybe it was part self-preservation, too: If Biden wins the presidency, it won’t be a referendum on her.