Donald Trump. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

From the moment that President Biden started coming under fire for his disastrous debate performance of June 27, Biden’s most vociferous supporters on social media have demanded that the press focus on Donald Trump’s undemocratic and sociopathic behavior.

No doubt that Trumpworld is a target-rich environment. He is an insurrectionist and a felon. He’s been found in a civil case to have committed rape. He is accused of illegally taking classified documents from the White House and of attempting to rig the election results in Georgia. He and his allies are planning an authoritarian takeover through an agenda known as Project 2025.

Recently, though, we’ve also seen the resurfacing of an allegation that, if found credible, could shake Trump’s support even among his most devout supporters: accusations that he sexually assaulted two young girls, ages 13 and 12. It is by far the most disturbing accusation he has faced, and is obviously the sort of thing for which people go to prison for the rest of their lives.

But even though this horrifying story is being told anew, and even though some elements of the anti-Trump movement on social media have been demanding to know why the press isn’t covering it, the reality is that this is an old allegation lacking in credibility. Journalists should be looking into this again, and maybe some are. But there are good reasons that you’re not reading about it in The New York Times or The Washington Post. As Tom Nichols wrote for The Atlantic on Monday, “credible news outlets rarely treat a single deposition as adequate sourcing for incendiary accusations against any individual.”

Nichols was so leery of giving the story any oxygen that he didn’t even explain what he was talking about. Well, I will. The Trump allegations were reborn as the result of a Florida judge’s recent decision to release 150 pages of transcripts regarding the late Jeffrey Epstein. According to The Associated Press, “The transcripts show that the grand jury heard testimony that Epstein, who was then in his 40s, had raped teenage girls as young as 14 at his Palm Beach mansion. The teenagers testified and told detectives they were also paid to find him more girls.”

Trump, as you no doubt know, liked to pal around with Epstein. So did many other prominent men. Only Trump, though, has ever been accused of raping young girls procured for him by Epstein.

The release of the transcripts prompted Ed Krassenstein, a harsh Trump critic, to post on Twitter/X a page from an affidavit containing the allegations. “So many people didn’t even know that Donald Trump was accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl with Jeffrey Epstein,” Krassenstein wrote. “They pretend that this complaint never happened.” The affidavit is date-stamped April 26, 2016. Krassenstein’s July 2 tweet, as of this morning, had been liked 34,000 times.

There’s even a fake AI-generated photo of Trump, Epstein and a teenage girl that’s making the rounds.

Both girls are identified by pseudonyms — Katie Johnson, who was the 13-year-old, and Maria Doe, who was 12. Johnson’s allegations were actually investigated in some detail back during the 2016 campaign. In fact, if you take a look at Vox right now, you’ll see that its own 8-year-old story about Johnson’s allegations is currently the seventh-most-viewed story on the site.

In case you’re not familiar with Vox, it’s a high-quality outlet that specializes in fact-checks and explainers. To cut to the chase, what Vox’s Emily Crockett found in 2016 was not just that Johnson’s accusations couldn’t be verified, but that there was some reason to believe that she doesn’t even exist. As Crockett wrote after Johnson failed to appear at a news conference:

It was the end of an incredibly strange case that featured an anonymous plaintiff who had refused almost all requests for interviews, two anonymous corroborating witnesses whom no one in the press had spoken to, and a couple of seriously shady characters — with an anti-Trump agenda and a penchant for drama — who had aggressively shopped the story around to media outlets for over a year.

Crockett notes, too, that even the Hillary Clinton campaign wouldn’t touch the story, writing:

It’s true that the allegation is explosive, and could make voters see Trump’s many disturbing comments about young girls over the years in a new light. But it’s also very dubious and uncertain, and there’s no real need to promote a case like that when a dozen women have come forward with much more credible stories, using their own names and making themselves available to reporters for scrutiny.

Not that any of it mattered on Election Day.

Both the affidavit and the Vox stories I’ve linked to are full of lurid, disturbing details that I needn’t quote here, and the latter should give you a clear understanding of why the mainstream media have not touched this.

Those of us who fear the authoritarian threat that Trump poses to our democracy would like every possible negative story about him to be true, or at least to get a thorough airing in respectable news outlets. But this particular rancid tidbit doesn’t rise even close to the level that journalistic ethics demand.

To repeat: I hope that some reporters are sifting through this even now in order to determine whether there’s anything they missed the first time. Absent that, though, we ought to concentrate on the very true Trump stories that really matter.

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