Comments: Week of July 8, 2019

1 E. Jean Carroll’s history of the “Hideous Men” she has encountered over the decades, and her allegation that President Trump attacked her, launched a wrenching, multifaceted national conversation. The cover story, which was published online Friday, June 21, had been read by over a million people by the time the print magazine arrived in mailboxes. Her account was widely discussed: “That [Carroll] can write a sentence like ‘my false eyelashes spring open like parasols’ while contemplating the depravity of men is awe-inspiring,” wrote Naureen Khan. Meredith Haggerty added, “This is so much worse than I imagined from the headline and it’s not like I walk around thinking the president is a good man. E. Jean Carroll is incredibly brave.” Carroll’s article was adapted from her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?, and many readers praised the skill with which she constructed it. Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, called it “one of the best pieces of magazine writing I have read in a very long time.” For Slate, Lili Loofbourow wrote, “Carroll’s essay risks a great deal … to acknowledge the blundering human complexity of the situation … The essay is doing things a news report can’t and wouldn’t.” Reflecting on her own feelings of becoming inured to allegations of misconduct against the president, Jia Tolentino wrote for The New Yorker: “He said that he grabbed women by the pussy, and many women — twenty-two, so far — explained that, yes, he did that, or something like it, to them. Carroll’s essay — exceptional, devastating, decades in the making — has made me consider how hard it is to understand right away that you’ve been exhausted into submission, especially when submission and endurance feel inextricable. It’s reminded me of how high I’ve let my own hideosity bar get lately, and also of the fact that no one can lower it again but me.”

2 Hours after the story was published, President Trump released a statement that read: “I’ve never met this person in my life.” (New York had published a picture of the two of them together.) “She is trying to sell a new book — that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section. Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda … It’s just as bad for people to believe it, particularly when there is zero evidence. Worse still for a dying publication to try to prop itself up by peddling fake news—it’s an epidemic.” In an interview with The Hill a few days later, he elaborated: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, okay?” Responses from Democratic politicians ranged from outrage — “This President needs to be impeached,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted — to resignation: Elizabeth Warren told reporters, “We know Donald Trump’s character, and it’s revealed every single day. There aren’t any real surprises here, just the details.” When asked about a possible investigation into the allegations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demurred: “I respect that, but I don’t know what Congress’s role would be in this … I haven’t paid that much attention to it.” In the Washington Post, George Conway railed against Republicans who voiced support for Bill Clinton accuser Juanita Broaddrick while casting doubt on E. Jean Carroll’s claim: “Trump called Broaddrick ‘courageous,’ and if Broaddrick was courageous, then certainly Carroll is as well. For Carroll’s story is at least as compelling as Broaddrick’s — if not more so … Republicans or conservatives who promoted Broaddrick’s charges would be hypocritical if they fail to champion Carroll and condemn Trump.” In the days following the story’s publication, USA Today reported, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s sexual-assault hotline saw a 53 percent spike in calls.

3 The media coverage of Carroll’s account — and the extent to which some outlets appeared to downplay it — itself became an extended conversation in the national press. On Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter posited that media fatigue was to blame. L.A. Times deputy managing editor Shani Hilton agreed: “By the end of the day on Friday it really felt like Here’s another allegation in a long line.” Gabriel Snyder, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, suggested that the Times’ initial coverage of Carroll’s account was colored by its competitive instincts. “The Times can be reluctant to tout other outlets’ big scoops; an apex predator in that ecosystem, its coverage decisions can, by extension, influence a story’s reach.” Times executive editor Dean Baquet responded to critics and admitted the paper had been “overly cautious” in its handling of the story. Later in the week, the Times published the first on-the-record interview with the two women Carroll told about the attack at the time, author Lisa Birnbach and TV host Carol Martin, and featured their account on its podcast The Daily.

*This article appears in the July 8, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Comments: Week of July 8, 2019