Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden waves as he departs after casting his vote during early voting in Wilmington, Del., October 28, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
The journalist’s job is to provide transparency, not to worry about elections or be society’s hall monitor. 

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence.

It’s quite the conundrum.

Because other than the now-corroborated emails, the laptop, the on-the-record source who was a CEO of a Biden corporation, a trove of text messages and documents, and a lack of denials, the Hunter Biden email story reminds me of the “Russian collusion” story. Surely it deserves a modicum of scrutiny and follow-up.

Anyone who watched Tony Bobulinski’s interview on Tucker Carlson’s show this week — apparently it pulled over 5 million viewers — was confronted with a seemingly credible character. Bobulinski says he met with Joe Biden in 2017, and that the former vice president was intimately involved in the family business. Maybe someone will ask the candidate about this. Because Biden, widely seen as the frontrunner, has on numerous occasions emphatically denied any knowledge of what Hunter was doing. So even if he didn’t benefit from his son’s leveraging of the family name to strike deals with Chinese Communist energy interests, it is still newsworthy.

Bobulinski alleges that during a meeting with Joe Biden’s brother, he asked how the former vice president gets away with this sort of thing: “I remember looking at Jim Biden and saying how are you guys getting away with this? Aren’t you concerned? He looked at me, and he laughed a little bit, and said ‘plausible deniability.’”

Perhaps my favorite part of yesterday’s interview, though, was learning that Adam Schiff’s ugly and mendacious habit of smearing anyone he disagrees with as a Russian asset is what allegedly helped spur Bobulinski, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant, to come forward.

Hunter’s ex-business partner, in fact, confronted Rob Walker, a Biden “family representative” about it.

“If [Schiff] doesn’t come out, on record, I am providing the facts,” Bobulinski said in a recording.

“Ah, Tony, you’re just going to bury all of us, man,” responded Walker, which sounds odd coming from someone charged with representing a supposedly completely innocent venture.

To put all of this context as a journalistic matter, the week before the Post broke the Hunter Biden story, every major news network was reporting on surreptitiously taped conversation in which the First Lady was grousing about Christmas decorations.

Indeed, these are just allegations. Some of them more compelling than others. We still know very little, for example, about potentially damaging emails that purport to show Biden helping his son while he was vice president — namely, by meeting with a Burisma energy executive on behalf of Hunter at the White House.

In a strange way, the lack of coverage has perpetuated the story, not only through the Streisand effect, but because suppressing it — the New York Post’s Twitter account is still frozen — allows the imagination to run wild. While no conservative pundit has penned 8,000 words of Chait-style crackpottery pondering whether Joe has been Chinese asset since the 1980s, some have certainly jumped the gun.

Does it matter? Yesterday, a number of journalists were retweeting an Axios interview in which Senator Ted Cruz, asked about the “Hunter Biden stuff,” said the story won’t move a single vote. Perhaps that’s true. It’s also irrelevant. The journalist’s job is to provide transparency, not to worry about elections or be society’s hall monitor.

It is certain — and, boy, am I sick of framing coverage in this way, but what can you do? — that if a credible witness and former business partner of one of Donald Trump Jr.’s companies came forward to offer specific accusations and evidence that the president was profiting off of business dealings his shady son was striking with authoritarians, teams of investigative journalists would be descending on every tangential character as if they were a defunct Chinese bank account.

And the assertion made by many reporters that journalistic ethics prohibit them from even mentioning these allegations is a new and concocted standard. There are thousands of allegations against Republicans reported without verification. Not one outlet had a problem referring to the recent Atlantic piece citing unnamed sources who claimed Trump belittled soldiers, even though the story came from one writer at a partisan outlet. Allegations by whistleblowers are covered all the time, whether they have been fully vetted or not. Major outlets were eager to amplify not only the uncorroborated accusations of Christine Blasey Ford, but a host of other very obviously dubious claims about Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

But much of the reticence about investigating the Hunter Biden story is in reaction to the fallout from the Hillary Clinton email scandal. No matter what evidence emerged, political media were never going to repeat 2016. One assumes even good reporters don’t want to be perceived as tipping the election (which speaks to the poor health of journalism).

Lest we forget, as with this Biden story, the Clinton email scandal was newsworthy. There was, after all, an open FBI investigation into the frontrunning presidential candidate of the United States because of her reckless and potentially criminal behavior. It was Hillary who initially set up a secret server to circumvent transparency, likely to hide favor-trading related to her foundation, and sent unsecured classified documents through that illegal server, although she almost surely knew it threatened national security. As the New York Times reported at the time, the chance that her correspondences were being captured by foreign powers was extremely high. It was Hillary’s staff that destroyed evidence related to that server — or as James Comey noted in his testimony, they “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” Any government employees conducting themselves in a similar manner would have been sent to jail.

I’m not in the habit of defending Comey, but he saved Clinton by letting her and her staff slide on richly deserved charges. The letter Comey sent to Congress informing them that the bureau had found a cache of new evidence relating to a criminal investigation was Clinton’s fault, not his. It was her top aide and confidant Huma Abedin who failed to inform the FBI about her laptop. And it was Abedin’s then-husband who used that computer to court teenage girls. Comey had an ethical obligation to inform Congress when he was apprised that new evidence had been found — as he had promised to do under oath during his testimony. If he didn’t, and the story leaked, as it surely would have, the perception would have been that he was attempting to cover up the potential wrongdoing of one of the candidates.

Or, in other words, he would have been doing exactly what most of the political media are engaged in right now.

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