Why Should We Believe E. Jean Carroll?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Even if your extraordinary claim is that you were raped by a sitting President of the United States who wasn't elected as a Democrat.
When advice columnist E. Jean Carroll made headlines by claiming Donald Trump sexually assaulted and possibly raped her, my initial response was the same as my reaction to any other piece of news about the 45th POTUS: numb, weary acceptance. "Well, I guess this is possible. After all, he did say, 'Grab 'em by the pussy.' Let's hear what this woman has to say." So I have. I've listened. Rape is a very serious crime, and an accuser should be taken seriously.
But not uncritically. If you claim that women never lie about rape, either you don't think women are human beings and therefore are capable of dishonesty, or you're a leftist activist. An accusation is not its own proof. It requires evidence.
Carroll hasn't provided much evidence, but unlike the all-but-forgotten Christine Blasey Ford, at least she can give us a rough timeframe and a specific location. She claims it happened in 1995 or 1996, in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan. There are no security tapes. She didn't go to the police, but she did tell several of her friends about it at the time. Other than that, all we have is her account of the alleged crime, which she describes in vivid detail.
As for why she didn't come forward with this accusation for nearly a quarter of a century, Carroll writes:
"Receiving death threats, being driven from my home, being dismissed, being dragged through the mud, and joining the 15 women who’ve come forward with credible stories about how the man grabbed, badgered, belittled, mauled, molested, and assaulted them, only to see the man turn it around, deny, threaten, and attack them, never sounded like much fun. Also, I am a coward."
Well, none of this necessarily means she's lying. But it's not proof either. It's possible that this crime happened, but that doesn't prove it did. So, all I have to go on is the character of a woman I know nothing about.
So I tried to learn more about her. I Googled her. And I found... this.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would find Carroll's exuberant eccentricity delightful. She's what they used to call a real pistol. It's as if she stepped out of a Tim Burton movie, and I say that as a fan of Tim Burton movies. But when I'm expected to believe her account of a very serious crime she claims was committed by the president, I must admit I'm taken aback. This is who I'm supposed to believe?
And then there's this. When rageball pundit Lawrence O'Donnell asked Carroll if she would file charges, she said:
.@Lawrence: "Would you consider bringing a rape charge against Donald Trump?"
E. Jean Carroll, who has accused the president of sexual assault: "No." pic.twitter.com/LVqdigtVDt
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 22, 2019
"I would find it disrespectful to the women who are down on the border, who are being raped around the clock down there without any protection. They're young women... It would just be disrespectful. And mine was three minutes. I'm a mature woman. I can handle it. I can keep going. My life has gone on. I'm a happy woman. But for the women down there, and for the women, actually, around the world. You know, in every culture this is going on, no matter [how] high in society or low in society. It just seems disrespectful that I would bring a... It just doesn't make sense to me."
I know it's not very #woke of me to say so, but this is a very strange answer. What in the world does any of that have to do with her accusation against Trump? If you were raped, how are you helping women at the border, or anywhere else, by letting your rapist get away with it? If you've moved on from it, why are you talking about it on national television?
As for the accusation that she's only making this claim to sell copies of her upcoming book, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal, Carroll said this:
Advice columnist E. Jean Carroll responds to accusation that she is sharing her account of alleged sexual assault to sell books:
“What? A woman is not allowed to take a pen and put it to a piece of paper?” pic.twitter.com/6d8Qb3hzwU
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 22, 2019
Well, I'll just let that speak for itself.
If you hate Trump, you'll believe E. Jean Carroll without question. If you love Trump, you'll doubt her no matter what. If you don't filter your entire worldview through your personal opinion of one man, then you actually need to think about things.
I wish Carroll the best of luck with her book. But if she doesn't have more evidence than this, I'm skeptical. And that sense of skepticism, even about a story that might hurt a Republican, is why I'm not a journalist.
If that offends you, fine. If it delights you, also fine. If you're just exhausted, welcome to the club.
P.S. I wrote all that, and then I watched this.
E. Jean Carroll alleges Donald Trump attacked her at a New York luxury department store in the late 1990s.
Trump has denied the allegations, saying, “I have no idea who this woman is.”
— New Day (@NewDay) June 24, 2019
So... yeah. I'm gonna stick with "resigned skepticism."