Note: On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that “Jane Doe,” the anonymous woman who claims that Donald Trump raped her in 1994, will hold a press conference at 6 pm tonight. Her new lawyer, Lisa Bloom, tweeted the news. Bloom also represents Jill Harth, who claims that Trump sexually assaulted her. The following story tracks the mainstream media’s—especially TV’s—lack of coverage of the various accusations of rape and sexual assault from women against Trump throughout much of the campaign.
Update, 6:15 pm: Bloom announced that the press conference was canceled because of threats that Jane Doe has received today. Bloom says it will be rescheduled.
Once the Access Hollywood video revealed Donald Trump bragging that he likes to grab women “by the pussy,” the news media finally began to do their job and report on the women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years. As most everyone now knows, Trump has called these dozen or so accusers “liars” and threatened to sue them. But what voters don’t know, because most mainstream media have not informed them, is that one woman is currently suing Donald Trump for allegedly raping her when she was 13. The case is scheduled for an initial hearing in a Manhattan federal court on December 16, well after the election.
“Jane Doe,” now 35, alleges that Trump and notorious convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused her at four of Epstein’s parties at his Upper East Side mansion in 1994. At the fourth and last party she attended, she alleges, Trump raped her. In her complaint, she claims to have a witness to the rape, “Tiffany Doe,” who recruited young women to the parties with promises of money and a modeling career, and a school friend, “Joan Doe,” to whom she confided her story in the “1994-1995 school year.” The complaint also states that Trump told her that if she ever revealed what happened, “Plaintiff and her family would be physically harmed if not killed.”
Trump attorney Alan Garten vehemently denies the allegations. “As I have said again and again, the lawsuit is a complete hoax,” he said in an e-mail. “It has been filed and either dismissed or withdrawn multiple times and appears to be politically motivated. The allegations are false and the claims altogether lacking in merit.”
Jane Doe’s attorney, Cheney Mason, best known for defending Casey Anthony, who was acquitted in 2011 of the death her 2-year-old daughter, has issued a statement saying that the case against Trump and Epstein is “based on the sworn declarations of the victim and two corroborating witnesses” and that the defendants “will be required to answer questions under oath.”
This is explosive stuff. But in light of how corporate media—particularly cable news—are extensively covering the latest FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, it’s especially outrageous that these same outlets are virtually silent on allegations of rape against Donald Trump. Cable news has barely mentioned the news that the man who could become the president of the United States has an upcoming hearing in federal court.
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. There are understandable reasons for the press to tread carefully on this story. To begin with, it was only last week that Rolling Stone went to trial in the first of two defamation lawsuits over its discredited story of a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The website Gawker was shut down earlier this year basically for showing a celebrity sex tape featuring pro wrestler Hulk Hogan. And Trump has often brayed that as president, he will “open up” libel laws—not impossible if he were to stack the Supreme Court.
Not to mention that a couple of questionable characters had tried to make money off a video of Jane Doe (who’s also used the pseudonym Katie Johnson) telling her story; the video was made in February, when it looked like Trump would win the Republican nomination. Aware that might look as if the prime motive for her case is financial or political, Doe’s lawyers have apparently cut those characters loose.
Lastly, this is not the first time that Epstein’s powerful, wealthy friends have been accused of sexually abusing underage girls working for him. In an offshoot of the 2008 case in which Epstein pled guilty to soliciting and procuring minors for prostitution, a federal judge in 2015 threw out a woman’s claims that, as a “sex slave” of Epstein’s, she had sex with lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Prince Andrew, and other men. Dershowitz, who served as Epstein’s lawyer in the 2008 case (ending in Epstein’s serving just 13 months of an 18-month sentence, outraging both local police and victim’s-rights advocates), was able to loudly denounce the charges against himself in the media, including on CNN. (Buckingham Palace denied the claims on behalf of Prince Andrew.) Bill Clinton hasn’t been similarly accused in court, but he, too, was an Epstein pal, having flown on the billionaire financier’s private plane, dubbed “the Lolita Express,” multiple times between 2001 and 2003, before the feds began investigating Epstein. Indeed, until the Jane Doe case against Trump surfaced this spring, speculation among media insiders was that it was Trump who was going to drop the Epstein stink bomb on Bill to hurt Hillary. (The Bill connection pretty much eliminates the possibility of Hillary’s campaign using Jane Doe as a November surprise.)
Maybe this Jane Doe case will hold up, maybe it won’t. Maybe it’s too tabloidly for even some Trump haters to believe. But a number of sites, including LawNewz, The Daily Beast, Buzzfeed, Vice News, and Fusion, have pointed out the various cautionary if, ands, and buts, and have nevertheless managed to report the story with neither knee-jerk credulity nor dismissiveness.
Turn on or stream TV news, however, and there’s nary a mention of the mere fact that this case exists. It’s as if it’s the Voldemort of lawsuits. Media Matters helped me on a Nexis search, looking for “Donald Trump” within 25 words of “Jane Doe,” “Katie Johnson,” “Epstein” or “13 years old” on ABC, CBS, NBC, and nighttime CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News for the last year through October 21. Only one brief mention of the case came up: by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, talking about Trump and rape culture on MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word in late September.
Maybe TV has different standards than print or online. Maybe television news has avoided Jane Doe v. Donald J. Trump and Jeffrey E. Epstein because the accuser and her two witnesses are anonymous and, at least for now, won’t do press interviews. (People familiar with Jane Doe say she fears for her life.) The press can’t question them directly, as they did with the named women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct.
I e-mailed CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News spokespeople to ask if anonymity makes the Jane Doe story off limits, or if the journalistic standards differ for their television and online platforms. Why, for instance, has MSNBC.com covered the Jane Doe allegations, but, except for that brief Eve Ensler mention, MSNBC TV has not? It’s no surprise that Fox News isn’t touching this case, but online Fox News Entertainment ran a story on NBC’s rescheduling a Law and Order: SVU episode about a Trump-like candidate, reportedly inspired in part by the Jane Doe allegations, until after the election. The cable-news spokespeople haven’t gotten back to me.
Whether or not TV news is shunning the Jane Doe story because of her anonymity, we do know that before the Access Hollywood video broke, on October 7, it had a lousy record on reporting or even acknowledging the many sexual assault allegations against Trump. Through October 6, media in general ignored the well-established case of a woman who was not anonymous, who had filed a lawsuit, and who was willing to be interviewed.
Jill Harth, a former business associate of Trump’s filed a $125 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Trump in 1997. Among the many allegations, Harth claimed that in 1993 Trump forced her into Ivanka’s empty bedroom at Mar-A-Lago, and forcibly kissed, fondled, and restrained her from leaving despite her protests. In another incident, she alleged attempted rape. Harth withdrew the suit when her husband settled a related suit with Trump. For years, Harth had no intention of talking to the press. But in February 2016, Rachel Stockman at Law Newz was looking into the multitude of federal lawsuits involving Trump, and unearthed Harth’s. Stockman spoke briefly with a reluctant Harth and posted a piece. In April, The Boston Globe picked up on the story in great detail (Trump called the allegations “all false”), and on May 14, The New York Times included Harth’s story in a long article on Trump’s treatment of women. Trump responded by calling the women “liars,” and an earlier clip of Ivanka Trump saying “my father is not a groper” began to resurface.
“Those two things together were Jill’s breaking point,” Harth’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, told me. In July, Harth granted long interviews with The Guardian and Law Newz. “And then we thought everyone was going to want to talk about this,” said Bloom, an NBC legal analyst and CNN commentator. “But radio silence, even on Web sites and radio.”
But it got Donald’s attention. “Literally, I kid you not,” Stockman told me, “eight minutes after we posted, I got an e-mail from [Trump aide] Hope Hicks saying, ‘Call me.’” Trump then got on the phone, in the middle of the Republican National convention, to dispute the allegations. “If you look in The National Enquirer, there was a story in there that she was in love with me. The woman has real problems,” Trump said in a phone call. “It’s ridiculous, I’ve never touched this woman.”
There were a few exceptions to the no-Harth rule, like on WNYC public radio and on Chris Hayes’s All In, both in August. A Media Matters analysis found that “Television News Stayed Virtually Silent On Harth Allegations Throughout The Summer And Fall” until the Access Hollywood recording was leaked. Since then, Harth and her lawyer Bloom were suddenly in demand on TV. “It was a complete turn-around,” said Bloom.
Lucia Graves, who wrote the Guardian piece, sees a pattern: The media tend to take women’s sexual harassment and assault allegations more seriously when men affirm them, as Trump and Billy Bush inadvertently did, and as comedian Hannibal Buress did in the Bill Cosby case, by calling Cosby a rapist on stage. “Allegations about Cosby go back almost 30 years, but it didn’t actually get any traction until 2014 when you had a male comedian” make a crack about it, Graves says. She adds that Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment charges against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes were not widely believed until word came out that she had him on audiotape. “We have a tendency to think of sexual assault as ‘he said, she said,’ and we throw up our hands,” Graves told the Columbia Journalism Review. “But, in fact, many times it’s not ‘he said, she said,’ it’s ‘he said, and she said, and she said, and she said,’ and we don’t hear it until the formula is ‘he said, he said.’”
* * *
During this campaign, some media have also steered away from Ivana Trump’s early ’90s allegations that her then-husband Donald Trump assaulted and raped her. In his 1993 biography of Trump, Lost Tycoon, former Texas Monthly reporter Harry Hurt III obtained a copy of the 1990 deposition Ivana filed in their divorce proceeding. In it, she had claimed that in 1989 Trump was enraged at her for recommending a plastic surgeon who gave Donald a painful “scalp reduction” to remove a bald spot. Hurt writes that Ivana alleged that Donald started “ripping out Ivana’s hair by the handful,” and then raped her. Trump has denied that he assaulted or raped her or that he had such surgery. His lawyers pressured the book’s publisher, W.W. Norton, to add a statement from Ivana to the first page. “As a woman, I felt violated” during the incident, Ivana Trump said. “I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
Fast forward to July 2015, when Trump was beating the rest of the GOP pack for the nomination. The Daily Beast writes about the incident and interviews Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who said that Ivana Trump was talking about how “she felt raped emotionally.” Cohen went on to scream at the reporter and to erroneously state that “there is no such thing, legally, as a man raping his wife.” That mistake, Cohen’s subsequent apology for it, and a new statement from Ivana more or less calling her own previous story “totally without merit” did make the news.
Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough had Daily Beast writer Tim Mak on Morning Joe, apparently to put an end to such distasteful and irrelevant news. Mika seethed at the very mention of the story and essentially threw Mak off the show, telling him, “Let me know when you uncover something.”
As for biographer Hurt, Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last week, that after the 2015 Beast story, “CNN booked him four times, but kept cancelling. The only TV host to have him on the air to talk about the rape allegation was Megyn Kelly, at Fox News.”
Post–Access Hollywood video, Hurt did make it on to CNN, Mayer writes. But his hope earlier this spring that Norton would reissue his newly topical but out-of-print book had already been dashed, writes Mayer: “Word came back that the publisher’s lawyers had deemed the book ‘too dangerous to publish.’ (Norton said it had made ‘a business decision.’)”
Given all that, you can practically feel the MSM’s flop sweat as they struggle over whether to simply state that a woman claims Trump raped her when she was 13.
Trump famously loves to sue and to threaten to sue. His promise to sue his named accusers is probably as empty as his vow to sue The New York Times for writing about two of the women. Empty, because a lawsuit, much less a dozen of them, would open him up to discovery and deep scrutiny of his past. Plus, he’d have no chance of winning. (Harth says that if he sues, she’ll sue right back.) Threatening to sue, however, gets an immediate headline disputing the claims, and tells anyone who might join the suit that they will face aggressive resistance.
That mere risk can be enough to silence his critics, even the lawyered-up ones. The American Bar Association recently stifled its own study finding that Trump was a “libel bully,” the ABA admitted, for fear of being sued.
“Everybody’s avoiding it,” says Bloom, who met with Jane Doe for a few hours and says, “I find her credible.”
(And, for what it’s worth, I find Leslie Millwee credible. She’s the woman who recently made new allegations, at Breitbart, that then-Governor Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her several times in 1980. That doesn’t mean I accept Millwee’s story as the truth—that’s what trials are for.)
Back in June, Bloom explained at The Huffington Post just why the media should not ignore the Jane Doe case:
In covering a story, a media outlet is not finding guilt. It is simply reporting the news that a lawsuit has been filed against Mr. Trump, and ideally putting the complaint in context. Unproven allegations are just that—unproven, and should be identified that way. (Mr. Trump’s lawyer says the charges are “categorically untrue, completely fabricated and politically motivated.”) Proof comes later, at trial. But the November election will come well before any trial. And while Mr. Trump is presumed innocent, we are permitted—no, we are obligated—to analyze the case’s viability now.