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It would be shocking if there is anyone, especially a conservative, who is as on record as being skeptical of President Donald Trump, the news media, and the #MeToo movement as me. Consequently, I come at the recent allegation by E. Jean Carroll that she was raped by Trump 23 years ago, and the media coverage of it, from a unique perspective.

It is extremely rare for me to praise the news media in their coverage of any controversial subject, but this is particularly the case when the topics include two of the media’s hottest buttons: Trump and rape. Yet the immediate reaction of most of the news media to Carroll’s accusation, detailed in a New York magazine article to promote her new book, was actually quite measured, sensible, and fair.

To be clear, this type of situation is an exceedingly difficult one to cover appropriately, especially in such a politically-charged environment. We have a detailed, but very old and unverified, allegation of rape against a sitting president of the United States who has a history of being accused of similarly horrendous behavior, but who has never been charged with a crime and strongly maintains his innocence.

The threshold for reporting such allegations against a person like Trump used to be that a crime was charged, an arrest made, or, at the very least, a legitimate lawsuit filed (I will get to the similar allegation made by Juanita Broaddrick against Bill Clinton shortly). None of that has happened in this case, or is likely to. But clearly, for better or worse, the media rules here have significantly changed post #MeToo.

There are plenty of other elements Carroll’s story also lacks which, in the pre-#MeToo era might have prevented any media outlet from reporting on it at all, or a major book publisher from printing it. There is no written record corroborating her account from 23 years ago, there is no specific date that this allegedly happened, no good explanation for why she didn’t come forward three years ago when this was a major issue in the presidential campaign, and her two friends who reportedly confirmed she told them about this at the time have, somewhat strangely, not gone on the record publicly to confirm that her details match what she said then.

To be clear, none of this, of course, means that Carroll is lying. But being able to prove that someone is making up a very old story (something that is nearly impossible to do given the current “rules”) should not be standard for whether an explosive allegation like this gets widely reported in the news media. This is expressly the case when the accused is the president of the United States who has literally just announced his run for re-election.

In this context, taking a measured approach to the allegations seemed like the prudent way to go. And for the most part, that is what major media organizations did. Most outlets reported the accusation (though at least one pro-Trump paper was convinced not to do so), but not in a way that was out of proportion with the credibility of the charge. Given the topic, and the fact that Carroll is a member of the “elite media club,” this restraint was kind of remarkable.

It didn’t take long, however, for Trump-hating liberals to be greatly irritated that their favorite media outlets were not immediately pulling out their pitchforks and going full Salem Witch Trial against the president. The New York Times was widely ridiculed for having reported on this story not on the front page, but instead in the “Books” section (which, since the allegation was revealed in a new book, excerpted by a direct competitor, seemed to be perfectly appropriate to me).

Pathetically, in response to having apparently not having been “woke” enough on the allegation, the Times’s editor actually released a statement essentially apologizing for having been “too cautious” in their handling of the story. Since there was not one shred of new information that came out to support her story since their originally prudent coverage, this caving to political correctness is kind of like a school bus driver apologizing to parents for being “too cautious” in their successful quest to get their kids home safely in a rainstorm.

There may be no set of circumstances which more perfectly displays the broken nature of the modern news media than when our premiere newspaper feels it has to express regret for having covered — and not remotely spiked — a story properly. This is all particularly bizarre in light of what happened the last time a woman accused a sitting present of having raped her many years before.

In 1999, Juanita Broaddrick did a highly-vetted and long-delayed interview with NBC, which was not connected to a commercial endeavor, alleging that Bill Clinton raped her 21 years before. This was particularly relevant at the time because she became part of Ken Starr’s investigation into Clinton, and some members of the House had actually referenced her still private story when explaining their vote to impeach him.

When the Broaddrick interview finally aired, it was not universally picked up in every major news media outlet like Carroll’s story was even before she had done her first T.V. interview. Unlike with Carroll, there were no other major television interviews with Broaddrick at the time, and it is safe to say that far fewer Americans were aware of her story then than are familiar with Carroll’s now.

As for what really happened between Carroll and Trump, strangely, neither of them is coming off as particularly believable. Trump’s attacks on the “failing” New York magazine, his incorrectly claiming that he had never met her, and his bizarre declaration that she’s “not his type,” all come off like the response of a man with something to hide. After Carroll’s two extremely strange interviews on CNN yesterday, however, it is difficult to feel comfortable hanging all of this on just her word about something that allegedly happened 23 years ago.

While it is very easy to see Trump having done something as horrible as what Carroll claims, I’m not at all confident in who, if anyone, is telling the truth in this situation. I am, however, quite sure that in circumstances like this one the news media should use restraint more, and apologize for that a lot less.

John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud  or email him at johnz@mediaite.com

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