We need to talk about Biden’s sexual assault accusations, not celebrities feuding | Jessa Crispin

The conversation about Tara Reade’s allegations somehow shifted to Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano’s Twitter war – being ignored has to be better than this

At first the conversation was: why is no one talking about Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against Joe Biden? Then somehow it changed to: did you hear about the Twitter war between Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano about Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against Joe Biden? Somehow we skipped over the part where we actually talked about Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against Joe Biden.

So did you? Did you hear? About what Rose McGowan said about Alyssa Milano to her face? I mean to her Twitter account, which is basically the same thing? She called her a fraud! And they used to work together! I don’t know, one of those shows about witches or whatever. No, the other one. Oh my God, it was so vicious.

Reade has been vocal about her difficulty in getting attention and assistance regarding her allegation: she says that in 1993, while she was a staffer for Joe Biden’s Senate office, she was harassed and assaulted by the politician and then faced retaliation for alerting her superiors to the incidents. And now that we are in a moment of believing women and treating such accusations seriously and with the dignity and due process they deserve, it surprised her that both avenues of investigating her claims against the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, the media and the justice system, seemed closed to her. Reporters would not return her calls, politicians would not return her calls and Time’s Up, the organization that claims to assist women looking for legal representation to manage claims of sexual misconduct at work, said they could not help her out without legally risking its not-for-profit status.

This weekend the New York Times released an investigation into Reade’s claims, which found support for some of what she’s said – she says she was punished for her complaint against Biden by being removed from her duties supervising interns, and interns who worked with Reade confirm she suddenly disappeared - but also found a lot of people willing to disavow her account. What remains is the usual he-said-she-said murk, which allows people to use the same story to confirm wildly different beliefs. If you think Biden is a creep, the small bits of support to Reade’s harassment and assault claim will confirm that. If you think Biden is above reproach, you’ll find the lack of eyewitness testimony proof he is a good man. So we all get to have public opinions about a terrible thing - whether that is an assault or a false accusation of assault – and sometimes use those opinions to get attention or further our careers. If you’re a celebrity, anyway; if you’re someone like Tara Reade the best you can usually hope for is to be largely ignored.

But being ignored has to be better than this: being “helped” and her visibility expanded by some decade-long feud between a couple of rich celebrities. Both McGowan and Milano claim to be advocates for survivors of sexual violence, using their connections and their media visibility and their social media followers to draw attention to cases like the trial against the supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh or … I don’t know, they tweeted about Harvey Weinstein or whatever.

Neither one of them seemed to be able to do much to help Reade or Biden get the due process Milano now so wholeheartedly believes in. In all of her support of and consultation work for the organization Time’s Up, she couldn’t seem to intervene to help Reade get the kind of pro bono advice that Weinstein enjoyed from Anita Dunn, a communications guru who now works for Biden as a consultant. Milano claims she very strongly wants the accusations to be vetted and for justice to be done, so surely she’ll get on the phone and help sort out whatever complications are preventing this organization – you know, the one that has raised more than $20m for its legal defense fund – from helping to settle this matter once and for all.

Both actors are taken seriously by the media as advocates and spokespeople for survivors, even though Milano “started” the #MeToo movement with a tweet that failed to give credit for the phrase to its rightful originator, actual activist and social organizer Tarana Burke. Alyssa Milano – who became famous on television when it was decided that at 12 years old she was good at saying things like “Dad!” or “What?” and then holding a cutesy pose while a live studio audience followed its instructions to applaud or laugh – cannot in any seriousness be called an “organizer”. And McGowan, whose Twitter bio is literally “I am here to help society be better”, can’t seem to stop herself from trying to make all the bad things that happen to women ultimately about her.

It used to be that celebrities highlighted good charitable causes worthy of attention and money by using the fame they already possessed to gesture toward the people doing the real work. Think of Elizabeth Taylor’s work with Aids charities long before the red ribbons became fashion statements. Think of Princess Diana standing out in a field full of landmines. Now we have has-beens and never-wases trying to claw back any lost fame or fortune or public attention by standing in front of survivors of real hardship with a bullhorn, screaming “Don’t you know who I am” and trying to take credit for anything good that might follow.

This is what happens when the attention economy takes over matters of real importance. When the squabbles of the rich and privileged suck up all of the air, it’s hard to have anyone hear you when you try to talk about how maybe it’s bad that Time’s Up and Biden’s campaign share the consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker and maybe that has something to do with Reade’s inability to retain affordable counsel. Or how the rich in this country are the only ones with easy access to justice. Or how an election between one old guy with a credible sexual assault accusation against another old guy with a credible rape accusation against him isn’t the sense of hope we were looking for.

But no, instead let’s talk about how this McGowan-Milano thing really goes back to on-set tensions back when they were working on that show together. Oh my God, tell me everything.

  • Jessa Crispin is the host of the Public Intellectual podcast. She is a Guardian US columnist


Jessa Crispin

The GuardianTramp

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