News anchor Lester Holt recently declared that “it has become clearer that fairness is overrated,” adding that “the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.” Fortunately for Hunter Biden, that world is the one in which he lives and thrives. In interviews about his memoir “Beautiful Things,” some reporters either misstate the facts of his prior scandals or ignore certain leads, including potential evidence of a federal crime.
Facts, like fairness, appear overrated to much of the media today. Hunter spent the last few months evading questions, notably before the election, when an abandoned laptop apparently belonging to him was found to have hundreds of embarrassing photos and emails showing drug abuse and raw influence peddling. He is also said to be under investigation for possible federal tax violations linked to his foreign dealings.
Yet one of the “beautiful things” in his life is a media that puts a blackout on the laptop story and wraps him and his father in a protective press cocoon. That was evident in an interview by National Public Radio. The article by Ron Elving stated that the laptop story was “discredited” by American intelligence and investigations by news outlets. That is entirely and demonstrably false. National Public Radio issued a correction that news outlets “cast doubt on the credibility” of the laptop story.
There was, of course, an easy way to confirm the facts, rather than citing other news outlets which failed to pursue the story. Elving was talking to Hunter, so why not simply ask him if the laptop was his? CBS News did ask him that and received a bizarre answer that it might or might not be his. Hunter said, “There could be a laptop out there that was stolen from me. It could be that I was hacked. It could be that it was Russian intelligence.” Or perhaps it could be an initial attack by an alien technology.
Hunter denies any knowledge of the authenticity of the laptop months after its existence was disclosed by the New York Post and even longer since it was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During that time, the story presumably was researched by the campaign of his father and his own lawyers. American intelligence concluded it was not Russian disinformation. Yet Joe Biden claimed it was and his campaign brought out former national security officials to endorse this claim.
Efforts to look into that issue should include additional probes. “How can you remember details from your period of addiction going back 20 years, detailed in your book, but you cannot remember this laptop?” The media could have put it another way. “Even if you cannot remember your own laptop, you have seen the pictures and emails. Are those authentic?” But instead the media showed the flag and then left the field.
The problem is that Hunter has confirmed facts which could implicate him not just in a federal crime but in the very crime the administration is now making a priority as a policy matter. In his book and in interviews, Hunter says he continued to use drugs during campaign season. He wrote in 2019 that he was “done with the world of politics, of figuring out how to go out on the campaign trail with dad, if it came to that, as I would have in any other election year. I was a crack addict and that was that.”
Yet reporters appear to forget that basic journalism means asking about ramifications for his most recent scandal, including his possible action of a federal gun offense. Many of these are the very same reporters or news outlets that ran speculations about crimes allegedly committed by the family of Donald Trump. His latest scandal involves a missing gun and raises the issue of drug use and a possible felony. The Secret Service is said to have intervened in the incident, though it denies that, after a gun was thrown into a trash bin in Wilmington by Hallie Biden, widow of the deceased brother of Hunter. At the time, she was in a relationship with Hunter and had feared what he might do with the gun.
To get the revolver back, Biden answered “no” on the firearms transaction record that asked whether he was an “unlawful user of, or addicted to” a narcotic drug or any other controlled substance. Lying on that federal form can lead to prosecution under several provisions. The United States code makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to “make any false or fictitious oral or written statement” to obtain firearms. Although prosecutions are rare, the commission of a possible felony by the son of a president is presumably news, especially when that president is voicing the need to tighten and enforce our gun control laws.
Yet none of this matters when you are in the business of shaping rather than reporting news. Even a leading journalism professor with Stanford University has declared that journalism now needs to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” Once free from notions of fairness or objectivity, reporters are at liberty to ignore news in favor of a narrative. Things can be true but misleading.
As Holt himself stated in receiving the Edward Murrow award for lifetime achievement in journalism, giving “two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect” the world today, where allegations of gun offenses, influence peddling, and still other abuses can remain uncovered.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.