How come the news media hasn’t told the story of “Katie Johnson”?
I put that name in quotation marks because it might well be a pseudonym, but it represents a real person who claims that in 1994, when she was 13, Donald Trump had sex with her on four occasions, once holding her down, hitting her, and threatening her with retaliation if she told anyone. Sounds wild, I know, but the episode supposedly occurred while Trump was hanging out with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire hedge fund guy who pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges involving soliciting sex from underage girls. Moreover, there is some news in the case: A federal judge in New York has scheduled a hearing in December for the alleged victim.
U.S. 1 reported this accusation in last week’s paper after my colleague Sara Hastings heard a report about the charge on Buzzfeed that referred to a New Jersey attorney who had taken on the case. Hastings then did a little research and determined that the “New Jersey attorney” was in fact a Palmer Square-based patent lawyer named Thomas Meagher. The next day another one of my colleagues, Diccon Hyatt, reached Meagher by phone and discovered that the lawyer, while he would offer absolutely no comment while the case was pending, nevertheless acknowledged that the case was for real, not some kind of Internet prank.
Meagher did not appear to be some ambulance-chasing, publicity-hunting celebrity attorney, but rather a regular guy about town. Meagher was the subject of a U.S. 1 story on December 12, 2007, describing a charity album he produced, “A Princeton Christmas: For the Children of Africa.”
According to that 2007 article, Meagher, the son of a patent attorney and a stay-at-home mom, was born and raised in Princeton and earned a bachelor’s in engineering at Carnegie Mellon and a law degree from Catholic University of America. Meagher was a founder of the Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, and, oh yes, also served as a Republican councilman in Lawrence in the 1990s.
So Katie Johnson’s claim didn’t appear to be so off-the-wall. Buzzfeed did its article, a few other media outlets gave the story a mention, and U.S. 1 did the same on October 12. That night I settled in to watch a little television to see who, if anyone, would give Katie Johnson a mention. I switched between MSNBC and Fox News, the two most diametrically opposed news channels that I could find.
It turns out that Katie Johnson had a lot of competition that night. Some in the media were still digesting the Billy Bush/Access Hollywood tapes in which Trump was taped bragging about how he was able to have his way with women. Meanwhile two women had come forward saying that was exactly how they had remembered Trump’s behavior. If you believed these women’s testimony, and contemporaneous statements they had made to family and friends at the time of the incidents, you would conclude that Trump’s Access Hollywood boasting was more than locker room banter, it was a blueprint for action. As the evening unfolded news of a People magazine reporter was released, in which she claimed she was groped by Trump in 2005. Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, et al on MSNBC were chasing those stories for all they were worth.
Over on Fox it was another story — literally, another story. Fox News’s Sean Hannity was interviewing Tucker Carlson, who said “the best form of propaganda is to not report the story at all.” He was referring to the Wikileaks of E-mails generated by Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives and the ongoing scandal of Clinton’s use of a private E-mail server. Meanwhile Fox was taking Carlson’s propaganda advice to heart by not reporting anything about the recent accusations against Trump and instead going back to Bill Clinton’s accusers from the 1990s, put on parade by Trump just before the second presidential debate.
Why doesn’t the mainstream media report on that? Two reasons: One is that Bill Clinton isn’t running for president. The second is that the mainstream media did report on it, in nauseating detail, back when the charges first surfaced. Imagine that 20 years from now Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, decides to run for high office and that her opponent drags out her father’s accusers from the year 2016. Would anyone view that as anything other than a political stunt?
That brings us back to the first question: Why isn’t the media reporting on the story of “Katie Johnson”? One reason is that the accuser is still standing behind a cloak of anonymity, unlike the other Trump accusers who have subjected themselves to the full glare of the media spotlight. Another is that the mainstream media is less conspiratorial than some people might think. And it’s not going out of its way to make more work for itself. Let’s wait ‘til that hearing in December.
To me there’s one takeaway from this, one that possibly unveils a point of bipartisan agreement in these fractious times. Think back to the days of Clinton and his accusers, and recall those nauseating details and their very real consequences for Clinton: impeachment and disbarment. For all that ignominy Clinton’s public approval rating kept climbing.
Now take Trump. Princeton professor Sam Wang has turned his hobby of monitoring and analyzing public opinion polls into a serious public resource, the Princeton Election Consortium (election.princeton.edu). Wang reports that, despite all the drama of the current election season, this has been the most stable presidential election in terms of swings in public opinion since 1952. The most dramatic change — in Hillary’s favor — came in the aftermath of the first debate. The release of the incendiary Trump/Access Hollywood tape and Trump’s sexual boasting hardly changed the collective polls.
So when it comes to their president or presidential candidates, a substantial number of people on both sides of the political divide just don’t seem to care about their leaders’ sexual conduct. The Moral Majority dissolved back in the late 1980s. Maybe it should have rebranded itself as the Moral Minority.