Hunter Biden, the protected third rail of journalism

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Seventeen months after the New York Post broke its exclusive bombshell regarding emails from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, the New York Times – widely considered the nation’s “newspaper of record” – finally got around to confirming the story’s authenticity. 

But even when the Times finally admitted there were emails showing Joe Biden’s son involved in seemingly shady deals and influence-peddling of the family name for profit, it still did its best to bury the lede

“Hunter Biden Paid Tax Bill, but Broad Federal Investigation Continues,” the Times recent headline reads before this sub-headline: “The Justice Department inquiry into the business dealings of the president’s son has remained active, with a grand jury seeking information about payments from around the world.” 

The reader needs to go (checks notes) 24 paragraphs down before reading anything about verifying the contents of the laptop.  

“People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation,” explains the story with three bylines. 

The “revelation” is certainly an about-face from the way the Times and other major news outlets first reported on the Post exclusive that came shortly before the 2020 presidential election. Headlines included: 

New York Times: “Trump Had One Last Story to Sell. The Wall Street Journal Wouldn’t Buy It: Inside the White House’s secret, last-ditch effort to change the narrative, and the election — and the return of the media gatekeepers.”   

CNN: “The anatomy of the New York Post’s dubious Hunter Biden story

Washington Post: “The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal

But the top-seed in this March madness of journalism goes to taxpayer-funded NPR:

“The biggest reason you haven’t heard much on NPR about the Post story is that the assertions don’t amount to much,” wrote NPR Managing Editor Kelly McBride at the time in 2020. 

“We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions,” Terence Samuels, NPR’s managing editor for news, said of NPR’s refusal to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story. “And quite frankly, that’s where we ended up, this was … a politically driven event, and we decided to treat it that way.”

And then there was this incredible exchange between President Trump and CBS’s Lesley Stahl during a contentious “60 Minutes” interview regarding the anchor’s refusal to broach the Hunter Biden story: 

“This is the most important issue in the country right now?” Stahl condescendingly asked Trump when he broached Hunter’s laptop. 

“It’s a very important issue to find out whether a man’s corrupt who’s running for president, who’s accepted money from China, and Ukraine, and from Russia,” Trump replied. “Take a look at what’s going on, Leslie, and you say that shouldn’t be discussed? I think it’s one of the biggest scandals I’ve ever seen, and you don’t cover it.”

“Well, because it can’t be verified,” Stahl retorted. “I’m telling you —”

“Of course it can be verified,” Trump retorted. “Excuse me, Lesley, they found a laptop.” 

“It can’t be verified,” Stahl repeated. 

It couldn’t be verified back then, of course, because almost no outlets bothered to use their resources to verify it.  

Instead, most of the media relied on 51 former U.S. intelligence officials, many proven to be partisan actors on cable news, to declare in an open letter that Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents appeared to be the product of Russian disinformation. The signatories of said letter included anti-Trump former intelligence officials John Brennan (former CIA director, current NBC/MSNBC national security analyst), James Clapper (former director of national intelligence, current CNN analyst) and Jeremy Bash (former CIA chief of staff, current MSNBC analyst). 

So, did these former intelligence officers have proof to back up their claim?  

Of course not.  

“We do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement,” reads the letter provided to Politico. “Just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.” 

“If we are right, this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this,” the letter adds.

So, to unpack this in retrospect, these former intel heads admitted they did not “have evidence of Russian involvement,” but all were in total agreement because of their suspicions from afar? And like seagulls at the beach, most of the press ate it up. 

We heard a lot about collusion during the Trump era, but the real collusion happened between broadcast, print and social media all working together to either squash or dismiss the Hunter Biden laptop story. 

Twitter and Facebook handled the squashing part, with the former locking the personal accounts of anyone who even shared the New York Post story in October 2020. The Post’s own account was locked, as was then-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s and the official handle of the Trump campaign. Again, these Pyongyang tactics all occurred just a few weeks before a presidential election. 

Facebook also pointed to “the spread of misinformation” as a reason to “reduce distribution” of the story. 

“While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact-checked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform,” wrote Andy Stone, Facebook’s communications policy manager, on Oct. 14, 2020. “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review,” he added.  

It should be noted that before Stone became a powerful Facebook executive, he worked for the Democrats’ House Majority PAC, for then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and for Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.).

Hunter Biden, now one of the most successful first-time artists in the history of art, apparently is the third rail of journalism. Because, despite the New York Times report verifying his laptop and his damning emails, CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News and CNN committed zero seconds to it on the air in the past week, according to the Media Research Center

Ask yourself this: What if Donald Trump Jr. were under investigation by the IRS and the FBI for the same reasons. Would we also see this kind of muted coverage?  

We all know the answer to that question.  

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags 2020 election Barbara Boxer Biden–Ukraine conspiracy theory Donald Trump Hunter Biden Hunter Biden investigation James Clapper Jerry McNerney Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign John Brennan Kayleigh McEnany Lesley Stahl New York Post Rudy Giuliani

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