As It Happens

Why the media 'shrugged' after 16th woman accuses Trump of sexual misconduct

After columnist E. Jean Carroll came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump, journalist Molly Jong-Fast explains why she thinks most media outlets shrugged off the story.

Media 'burned out' by sheer volume of Trump scandals, says Molly Jong-Fast

E. Jean Carroll, a New York-based advice columnist, claims Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. Trump denies knowing Carroll. (Craig Ruttle/Associated Press)
Listen7:16

Read Story Transcript

"She's not my type."

That's how U.S. President Donald Trump responded Monday to a sexual assault allegation levelled against him by E. Jean Carroll.

Carroll, a long-time advice columnist, wrote about her assault by Trump in a recent New York Magazine article. She describes an incident in the mid-90s, where Trump cornered her in the change room of a luxury department store.

She's the 16th person to allege unwanted sexual touching against the president.

American author and journalist Molly Jong-Fast wonders why the story didn't get very much prominent media coverage. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

Molly, there are now several women accusing Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. And to the latest accuser, the president says, "She's not my type." What do you make of that response?

I mean, it's a very Trump-y response. And he actually said that about someone else too. The larger question is … when he says that, is that it's not rape that's problematic, it's her appearance. Which I think is preposterous. I mean, I think it shows his complete lack of any … morality.

And we're talking about the president of the United States.

Yes. I mean, depending on the math you do, somewhere between 15 and 22 women have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Everyone in Trump's space treats this as if the blame is still on the victim. You know, the impetus is on the victims to prove [the allegations].

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday a New York-based advice columnist who has accused him of sexually assaulting her in a department store in the mid-1990s is not his 'type.' (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Since this story came out last week in New York Magazine, how did other media organizations report on it?

I feel that the media really has failed E. Jean Carroll. When it came out, I wrote something about it for The Daily Beast and I thought for sure that the base would ignore it because they don't really care.

But I thought the mainstream media would treat this as a major story because it's not just an allegation of sexual assault. It's an allegation of rape against the president of the United States. And just that fact alone should make it absolutely breaking news.

But instead what happened was the New York Times put it in the book section. And the Washington Post had it, it was like A1 but below the fold, or wasn't on the front page.

There were a lot of other things; you know, there's a very big pro-Trump media here. It's very conservative. And they spun this story. [The Washington Examiner] put the denial in the headline.

And then the New York Post actually killed a story about it, because they were told from on high that they had to kill it.

What do you think is behind this lack of interest or surprising placement of this story by the mainstream media?

So I think it's two things. One is that the media is completely burned out. That there are so many Trump scandals about so many things — the kleptocracy, the corruption, you know that we're on the brink of war with Iran and then we're on the brink of war with Venezuela. There's a constant drumbeat of like, you know, crisis at all times.

I also think some of it is that she is an older woman. And I think culturally the media very much wants to ignore older women and their plight.

I also think it's possible, and I hope this is not true, that Trump has moved the Overton window so far towards misogyny … that the allegation of rape is no longer what it once was.

Molly Jong-Fast is a journalist and author. (Submitted by Molly Jong-Fast)
But he is the president. And what effect do you think it has when the president appears to brush off these allegations, and most recently using the argument she's not attractive enough to rape?

It's terrible. I think it's terrible for the culture. I think it's terrible for women and feminism.

Besides the media and beyond Trump's base, why isn't this resonating politically?

The best case scenario is Democrats are just too busy — that they're so overwhelmed with all the corruption in the administration — that they can't handle another piece of corruption.

Really?

Well I mean, that's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is … they're so worried about public sentiment and they're so worried that it will hurt them politically, that they don't want to hold the president accountable. I mean, that's the worst case scenario, is that they're just so mired in self-interest that they won't do what's right.

What about the Republicans?

Well, the Republicans are like ... no one is ever going to hold the president accountable. … I mean, these congressmen are terrified of Trump.

And I think it's because of a number of things. But I also think ultimately they're just not brave. They're not putting their country first. They just are caring about their re-election and thinking that they can wait this Trump thing out.

And you personally — how does it make you feel?

I have two sons and a daughter. So I'm always scared for my daughter because I just feel like more misogyny in America is not going to go anywhere good.

The Trump presidency has set back equality. It's set back LGBT and it's really set back women.

I didn't even think that he was capable of being as destructive as he's been. And it's been really shocking. I think that as bad as I thought he'd be, he's much worse.


Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A edited for length and clarity.