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How a rape allegation against Trump became a symbol of media dysfunction

When longtime advice columnist E. Jean Carroll decided to go public in New York magazine with her shocking story of being raped by Donald Trump in a department store dressing room, she was likely prepared to be bullied and attacked by the president and his right-wing defenders. She was probably less prepared to be all but ignored by the political press.

This week's press failure shouldn't be viewed as a stand-alone event, and the lack of press coverage is an issue that extends far beyond the unfolding #MeToo movement. The press' malfunction with regards to Carroll's credible claim is part of larger, disturbing development, where the political press in this country often seems to have given up trying to hold Trump accountable in any serious way. Instead, D.C. journalists spend their days collecting his untruthful statements and passing them along as news.

It's almost as if everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the coverage of this rape story. We had The New York Times embarrassing itself with laughably tepid coverage that its editor soon had to apologize for. We had reports that an editor at Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post yanked the rape allegation story from the paper's website out of deference to the predator in chief. We had the Sunday network news programs completely ignoring the breaking news story. We had Fox News running interference for Trump. And we had Beltway journalists largely shrugging their shoulders, the same week many of them gathered for drinks to toast a fond farewell to Trump's press secretary, Sarah Sanders. Talk about priorities.

And let's be clear: The media failures all happened because the story involved Trump. And those failures represent a perfect distillation of what's gone seriously wrong with the political press in this country in recent years. Faced with the most radical player in American political history, the Beltway press has responded with timidity and deference. The press at this point has been almost completely bullied into submission, to the point where too many journalists spent the week effectively normalizing sexual assault.

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The accusation itself is shocking—and credible.

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