Media’s pre-election burial of Hunter Biden story proves dereliction of duty
There are two kinds of bias in the media. First there is the kind we regularly see from many – not all – outlets in broad daylight, which includes openly rooting for one political party while echoing rapid-response opposition research against another. And then there is the more invisible, insidious variety — the bias of omission.
If teaching a class in the latter, as it pertains to the bombshell admission that President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has been under grand jury investigation for “tax affairs” by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware, then the bias of omission absolutely has been applied in the most blatant manner.
To be clear, omission-bias is when an outlet or publication purposely suppresses or outright ignores a newsworthy story that is carried by others. In this case, the “others” initially was an exclusive in the New York Post, which was dismissed immediately by other media outlets and by Democrats as Russian disinformation or a smear campaign by the Trump administration.
And not just dismissed, either. The story was outright banned from public discourse by social media giant Twitter, which limited its members from sharing a New York Post report on Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China. This New York Post report wasn’t just the usual “he-said, she-said” hearsay that we once saw on a daily basis as it pertained to alleged Russian collusion and the Trump campaign. It contained actual emails from Hunter Biden’s own laptop.
As a result, Twitter went through the Orwellian exercise of locking the New York Post’s Twitter account while initially demanding that the country’s oldest newspaper delete its original tweet or stay in social-media lockdown for the foreseeable future. The locked accounts also extended to those who shared the Post’s reporting, a list that included White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who said at the time that Twitter “essentially” had her at “gunpoint” by locking her out of her account with its 5.7 million followers. The Trump campaign account at the time also was locked for committing the same “crime,” as were several prominent conservatives for sharing the story.
So, while the novel “1984” was playing out as nonfiction in 2020 leading up to Election Day, the media mostly yawned in not defending the New York Post in any capacity. In fact, the coverage was very much the opposite:
Politico: “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.”
CNN: “The anatomy of the New York Post’s dubious Hunter Biden story.”
Washington Post: “The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal”
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.”
And then there was the exchange between President Trump and CBS’s Lesley Stahl shortly before 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 asked Trump when he broached the topic.
“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 shot back. “I’m telling you —”
“Of course it can be verified,” Trump retorted. “Excuse me, Leslie, they found a laptop —”
“It can’t be verified,” Stahl repeated.
Well, it’s difficult to verify anything when you don’t bother to check under the hood in the first place, right? Because that’s exactly what happened here, except that the cake was baked with a condemnation of the few who decided to pursue the story.
Taxpayer-funded NPR summed up the pious perspective at the time with an explanation that still lives in infamy on Twitter. “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,” wrote NPR’s managing editor for news on Oct. 22.
For the past four years, and even post-Mueller report, American viewers and readers were inundated with stories of purported Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. The Eric Swalwells and Adam Schiffs of the world were booked hundreds of times on cable news with claims that President Trump was an agent of Putin.
Then a real story with actual evidence hit: Emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop, texts and witnesses close to Biden, including business partner Tony Bobulinski going on the record.
But an election was coming. And, so, the media mantra apparently became: Protect the candidate at all costs. Dismiss the story as an “alternative facts,” “right-wing media” fantasy.
Gallup and the Knight Foundation have found that 84 percent of Americans believe the media bears the blame for the divide in this country.
Just one-in-ten believes social media has a positive impact on the country.
If looking for a textbook reason for that finding of overwhelming, disturbing sentiment, look no further than the way the Hunter Biden story was handled before the 2020 election.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.