NEW YORK — If Joe Biden was looking for a soft landing place to address sexual assault allegations made by a former Senate staffer, he didn’t find it Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
The 20-minute interview of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee conducted by Mika Brzezinski was blunt and frequently uncomfortable, a milestone media moment in the 2020 campaign.
The former vice president had faced increased pressure to publicly address the accusations by Tara Reade that he had assaulted her in the early 1990s, which he has consistently denied. During the interview, Biden said “it never, never happened.”
The New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press have all done ultimately inconclusive investigations of the charges. Biden opponents say others in the media have been slow to report on them.
Much like President Donald Trump concentrates his interviews on Fox News Channel, Biden came to a network stocked with supportive opinion hosts. Brzezinski and her co-host, Joe Scarborough, have been blistering in daily coverage of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
When another MSNBC host, Chris Hayes, discussed Reade’s accusations earlier this week, there was an immediate call for his firing on Twitter by Biden supporters who thought that they didn’t deserve the public airing.
Despite that backdrop, Brzezinski didn’t pull punches. She graphically described the charges against Biden and asked him to “go on record with the American people. Did you sexually assault Tara Reade?”
Biden repeated his denial of the accusation.
Brzezinski homed in on a Biden quote made during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that women who make charges of sexual assault should be treated with the presumption that the essence of what they’re talking about is real.
“I’m going to try and ask many different ways,” she said.
There were five. “Should we not start off with the presumption that the essence of what she’s talking about is real?” “Why is it real for (Kavanaugh accuser Dr. Christine Blasey) Ford but not for Tara Reade?” “Are women to be believed unless it pertains to you?” “Why is it different now?” “Do you regret what you said during the Kavanaugh hearings?”
Biden said accusations should be taken seriously but that “in the end, the truth matters.”
Similarly, Brzezinski pressed Biden five times about why the former vice president did not request that personal papers surrounding his career that had been donated to the University of Delaware be unsealed so people could determine whether there was anything there about Reade’s accusations. Biden said personnel records that would contain any accusations would be with the National Archive.
“Are you absolutely certain there is no record of any complaint by Tara Reade against you?” the former CBS News correspondent asked.
Brzezinski also asked Biden whether there were any non-disclosure agreements signed by women who had worked for him.
Later, Brzezinski tweeted that the interview with Biden was difficult, “having known and greatly respected him for decades,” adding parenthetically, “I still do.”
She received some praise online from conservatives in the media.
“Really tough questions today,” tweeted Scott Whitlock, associate editor of the NewsBusters, a website run by the conservative Media Research Center. “Again, the question must be asked: Why did this take five weeks to happen?”
Ed Morrissey, senior editor at the Hot Air blog, said “many of us will owe an apology” to “Morning Joe” and Brzezinski.
CNN commentator S.E. Cupp called it a terrific interview.
“Now, without more facts, it may just be up for the voters to decide what they believe,” Cupp wrote.