It has more to do with Trump’s treatment than with Biden’s actions.
I ’ll open with a statement that will probably piss off my mostly conservative audience: The Joe Biden classified-documents scandal is mostly a nothing-burger. But so was the Donald Trump classified-documents “scandal.” The massive media double standards that we observed during coverage of the two situations, however, aren’t a nothing-burger at all; they’re a real problem that we should call out and mock whenever possible, and that affect how fairly we can treat poor old Uncle Joe.
As we heard endlessly for weeks a month or two back, dastardly former president Donald Trump committed the potential felony of taking classified docs home from his former office and workstation, the White House. The national reaction to Orange Man’s possession of the wrong yellow folders bordered on “Red Wedding.” The FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home/hotel and seized the papers in question. Media speculation approached hysteria, with some outlets noting that Trump might have mishandled material bearing on global nuclear security. At least one million-follower Twitter account began publicly referring to the former POTUS as a “nuclear spy.”
And then, as I once said in a fine book titled Hate Crime Hoax, it happened. First, Trump turned out to have no real nefarious purpose in mind with regard to his papers, which were kept in a locked vault and which he seemed to see as personal souvenirs at most. Then, in an even more ironic turn of the wheel, current president Joseph Robinette Biden was revealed to also have highly classified documents scattered . . . all over the place.
A stash of the papers was found at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Center in Washington; documents were discovered on what appears to be two different occasions in the primary Biden home; and a box containing at least some classified paperwork was found literally in the ex-veep’s muscle-car garage. In some very real ways, the Biden documents matter was “worse” than the Trump documents matter: A vice president has far less ability to declassify high-level documents than a U.S. president (although he does have some), documents were found in many more distinct locations, at least some documents were located in unsecured areas accessed by sketchy individuals such as Hunter Biden, and so forth.
But here’s the thing: Neither case, looked at objectively, was probably a giant deal. Biden should be investigated to at least the extent Trump was, but no breathing person seriously believes that either man is an Emirati agent. And, after Big Jim Comey basically made possession of classified information an active-intent crime — at least for Special Humans — during the Great Hillary Clinton Email Wars of 2016, there is a 0.000 percent chance either will ever be prosecuted for his indiscretions. Speaking frankly, and as a cynic, I would suspect that a rather high percentage of elite former D.C. residents still have a sheaf or two of papers that they shouldn’t, after ordering that the contents of “every closet in my old office in the Dirksen Building” just “be shipped up to the new place in the Poconos.”
What is annoying about all of this is something so obvious and prevalent that I probably won’t ever write about it for NR again: the absurd level of partisan left-wing slant in non-Fox national media. In contrast to the “nuclear spy Donald Trump” tone of coverage of the last “scandal,” major headlines dealing with this one tend to be more along the lines of “Biden’s Classified Documents Scandal Isn’t as Bad as Trump’s,” and “MSNBC Legal Analyst Explains Why It’s Ok That Biden Took Classified Documents but Not Trump.”
More broadly, at some level, everyone knows that the exact equivalent of the Hunter Biden laptop crisis would have been the biggest story in the world if Donald Trump Jr. had been filming himself weighing ounces of pure crack and having sex with young prostitutes before closing seven-figure deals with sketchy foreign businessmen. Even the admittedly deplorable January 6 riot would be a historical footnote if conservatives or libertarians — versus “mostly peaceful protesters” — had been responsible for a previous year of urban riots that killed perhaps 30 people, caused $2,000,000,000 in damage, briefly established a city-state, and burnt down an active-duty police station.
As I recently noted for Tablet, there is a scientific explanation for the patterns of coverage that we see in these stories. In the 1993 book The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model, political scientists Jeff Segal and Harold Spaeth argue that — for all their yammer about “originalism” and “moral reading” and “the inevitable complexity of leadership” — roughly 80 percent of the decisions of High Court justices can be predicted by one simple measure of ideology, and there is no reason to assume this is not also true for other individual decision-makers. In American national media, liberals outnumber conservatives five to one, and the resulting trends in those stories that receive significant focus are almost exactly as one would expect. In fact, a quick glib-but-real rule of thumb is that any Democratic scandal might well receive five times as much coverage if it involved pachyderms or conservatives.
In this context, it may actually be fair — and it sure is fun — to hammer Joe Biden about “Car-a-Lago.” But this is not because the octogenarian pol actually is a foreign agent. It is because Trump clearly was not, either, and the Solons of our press need to be prodded to — in every leftist’s favorite phrase — “do better.”