The E Jean Carroll circus
The desire to ‘get Trump’ by any means necessary has drained journalists of their scepticism.
A Manhattan jury has awarded a whopping $83million to E Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine advice columnist. She claimed that Trump sexually assaulted her in a department-store dressing room in the 1990s. Last week, the court found that Trump had defamed her by strenuously denying it.
It is hard not to escape the conclusion that this wasn’t exactly a fair trial. For one thing, it was a civil trial, so Carroll didn’t have to prove her allegations ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. She only had to prove that they are more likely to be true than false. The case couldn’t be held in a criminal court as the statute of limitations had long run over. In fact, this same statute of limitations usually applies to civil trials, too. It is only thanks to a law in New York, passed hastily in the wake of the #MeToo movement, that the statute of limitations could be set aside in this case.
The judgement itself is troubling, too. Essentially, Trump has been punished here – to the tune of $83million – for defending his own character, for denying the serious accusations that were made against him. The implications for free speech and the rule of law are staggering. But such things seem to count for little whenever the defendant is the former US president.
Then there is the media circus around the trial. E Jean Carroll’s interviews are something to behold. I have to give begrudging respect to a woman who truly does not seem to care how she comes across. She is completely oblivious to how batshit crazy she appears.
Carroll’s TV appearances, stretching back decades, have always been zany. But last week’s performance on MSNBC was a knockout. She managed to embarrass both Rachel Maddow and her own lawyers by gloating over the shopping spree she was about to go on with Trump’s $83million.
Interviewing Carroll after the verdict was announced, Maddow fawned over her like she was the new Joan of Arc. ‘The guts factor here is real, in terms of how much you put yourself out there’, Maddow told Carroll. This supposedly tough journalist threw her the softest of softballs, saying: ‘You’ve talked about using some of Trump’s money that you’re about to get to help shore up women’s rights. Do you know what that might look like?’
But Carroll failed to pick up Maddow’s cue, that this was her time to be politically correct and to pledge to give all the money to minority, disabled, trans victims of misgendering. Instead, she went hilariously off-script:
‘I had such great ideas for all the good I’m going to do with this money. First thing, Rachel, you and I are going to go shopping. We are going to get completely new wardrobes, new shoes.’
Carroll – not skilled at reading a room – continued: ‘Rachel, what do you want? Penthouse? It’s yours!… France? You want France? You want to go fishing in France?’ Her lawyer made a pitiful attempt to cover for her, saying quietly, ‘That’s a joke’.
Back in 2019, Carroll went off-book with another sanctimonious journalist, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, when talking about her rape allegation against Trump. Presumably, he expected her to act as if she was traumatised. Instead, she left him flummoxed and obviously uncomfortable when she told him: ‘I think most people think of rape as being sexy. Think of the fantasies.’ Cooper, squirming in his seat, tried to cut to the adverts.
To be fair to Trump’s opponents, his initial response to Carroll’s allegations – that’s ‘she’s not my type’ – was not exactly the best defence against an alleged sexual assault. But perhaps he wasn’t taking her claims seriously because he doesn’t believe they’re true. While only those two really know what happened, there are plenty of reasons to at least question Carroll’s account.
She could not even be sure of the year the assault was meant to have happened. She had to change her mind when it was pointed out that the dress she said was wearing hadn’t been designed yet. And the only solid proof that Trump and Carroll had ever met was from a photo at a party in the 1980s.
To be clear, the eccentricities of E Jean Carroll do not mean she is incapable of telling the truth about being sexually assaulted. But the seriousness and the flattery with which she has been treated by a credulous press is nonetheless striking. It shows just how much professional judgement, decorum and precedent the media are willing to set aside if – and only if – it might hurt their nemesis, Donald Trump. Because let’s be honest, if E Jean Carroll were a MAGA type accusing Biden of similar crimes, she would have been laughed out of CNN’s green room and never heard from again.
It’s not just Carroll who has been making a spectacle of herself in the trials against Trump. The judge presiding over her defamation case even threatened Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, with jail, following an argument over evidence she tried to present in her client’s favour.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, also in Manhattan, a Democratic judge is currently weighing up what penalty to impose on Trump’s business empire. His company was found to have misrepresented its business’s finances when applying for loans. But all of these loans have since been repaid. The judge is reportedly considering whether to dissolve Trump’s business entirely – a totally unprecedented punishment. According to the Associated Press, hardly a bastion of Trumpist fervour, there has never been a case like this in the past 70 years, where a company ‘was threatened with a shutdown without a showing of obvious victims and major losses’. Still, the New York Times has praised the presiding judge as ‘independent and thoughtful – if somewhat quirky’. Which is quite the understatement.
When we look back on this period, I think people will marvel at just how unserious so many of the players in the ‘Get Trump’ game were. Yet, despite this, the press has willingly and uncritically propped them up – systematically dismantling their own credibility in the process.
These attempts to stop Trump by any means necessary are incredibly serious. The rule of law is being twisted in favour of one side. The Democrats would rather turn America into a banana republic than allow a man they dislike to become president again. The so-called Resistance is a menace to democracy.
Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.
Picture by: Getty.
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