Boston Globe contributor Adriana Cohen is a cognitively biased person. By itself, that’s not bad. But her failure to honestly scrutinize that bias makes her an immoral person.
In an editorial for the Boston Globe, Cohen argues that the current around-the-clock coverage of sexual assault/impropriety accusations against Trump is irresponsible of the press because it violates the Constitutional maxim of “innocent until proven guilty”. Cohen proposes that these attacks are largely unsubstantiated. Cohen also questions the timing of these attacks as suspicious, implying that the timing of the accusations was a calculated move by anti-Trump forces to cost Trump the presidency.
To Cohen’s credit, she maintains that the “alleged victims” should be heard and treated with respect, along with accused. But for Cohen to argue that the attacks are unsubstantiated is willfully ignoring the hot-mic conversation between Trump and Billy Bush. The content of this ‘Trump tape’ serve as the substantiation.
The details of many of the accusations parallel Trump’s own words in the Trump tape. Jessica Leeds claimed that Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. Kristen Anderson claims that Trump touched her genitals without consent. Jill Harth claims that Trump pushed her up against the wall, made unwanted physical contact, and tried to put his hands up her skirt. Temple Taggart McDowell claims that Trump kissed her without her consent. Mindy McGillivray claims that Trump grabbed her buttocks. Rachel Crooks claims that Trump forcibly kissed her. Natasha Stoynoff claims that Trump pushed her against the wall and kissed her.
Compare these details to Trump’s words:
“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
The similarities between the details of the accusations and Trump’s own words are too striking to ignore. We can infer that there is some substance to these allegations, putting aside the questions that arise out of the verisimilitude. Therefore, Cohen mischaracterizes these accusations as unsubstantiated. They’re not baseless accusations.
Is this an equivocation on my part? No. Substantiated is different from proven, and no major report has characterized these statements as anything other than accusations. These accusations aren’t provable with the evidence available right now. That may change in the future in either direction. The Trump camp has already provided the press with two witnesses to undermine some of the claims: specifically the claims of Leeds and Stoynoff. One of the counterclaims is dubious, though. Leed’s counterclaim was made by a person who claims he has a photographic memory when no such thing exists. Cohen doesn’t make use of either of the counterclaims.
Still, the thrust of Cohen’s argument is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Can Cohen prove that these all these women are lying? No, she can’t. She can only speculate as to the motivation of these women without offering evidence. Cohen’s speculation itself betrays Cohen’s own cognitive bias: that people who don’t share her political persuasion are to be doubted before they are to be believed. That is, Trump’s accusers are guilty until proven innocent. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
This is a cognitive bias that we’re all susceptible to, myself included. But complaining that the press is being irresponsible about the coverage of the accusations by violating the “innocent until proven guilty” maxim, while violating it yourself, is hypocrisy.
That we have such cognitive biases is a part of the human condition. When we don’t subject these biases to honest scrutiny, it is a moral failing. Cohen, like many hardcore Trump supporters, doesn’t subject her own cognitive biases to honest scrutiny. And yes, that makes Cohen (and those hardcore Trump supporters) immoral in this regard.
Still, nobody can honestly deny that conversation of late has been lopsided. But has it been unfairly so? Is the media unfairly biased against Trump or are Trump supporters unfairly biased against the media?
To say that these accusations are being handled irresponsibly by the media only because it is your candidate who is the subject of these accusations is the epitome of cognitive bias. Instead of subjecting that cognitive bias to rational scrutiny, Cohen, like many other Trump surrogates, uses speculation to confirm that bias. That’s confirmation bias on top of cognitive bias.
Perhaps this positive feedback loop of bias is the source of the contention that the media is biased against Trump. Trump’s own positive feedback loop of bias makes many of his claims beyond the purview of rational analysis. The media isn’t perfect by any means, but they can only work with what they can find. And if the majority of what they can find is untrue, misinformed or incoherent statements from your candidate, maybe it’s not the media who’s biased. Maybe it’s you.