When the New York Post broke its “Hunter Biden laptop” stories in October 2020, mainstream media tried to ignore them. On the social media side, Twitter banned linking to them and Facebook used its algorithm to minimize discussion of them pending “fact checks” that apparently never happened.
The Streisand Effect — a tendency toward keen public interest in anything that looks like a cover-up — came to the rescue. If you were the least bit interested in presidential politics, you knew as much as you wanted to about the matter (and then some) in short order.
The fallback plan, as is so often the case these days, was to trot out “former intelligence officials” in an attempt to discredit the laptop’s provenance and contents as a “Russian disinformation” operation.
Seventeen months later, even the New York Times admits the laptop (and the incriminating emails) are very real. Without, of course, admitting any prior error or bias. What was the problem back then? Or, alternatively, what’s the problem now?
The “problem” back then wasn’t that the stories weren’t true. They clearly were. But they were also potentially damaging to Joe Biden, and helpful to Donald Trump, in the November 2020 presidential election. That’s why the Post ran the stories and Fox covered them; that’s why other outlets ignored or tried to discredit them. If you think American mainstream media are non-partisan, think again.
The “problem” now? In December, federal investigators served subpoenas to Hunter Biden and several associates pursuant to a tax probe. Grand jury testimony followed, with indictments possibly to come. Publications which wouldn’t touch the story then are racing to get ahead of it now.
I didn’t consider the matter any more a “scandal” than Trump’s hush money to Stormy Daniels. Everyone already knew Trump was a philanderer, and that Biden abused his influence to financially benefit and protect his son. Voters had already made up their minds on the importance of such things before the story broke.
But if Hunter Biden is indicted, Joe Biden probably won’t seek a second presidential term. And any likely successor will bring similar closets full of skeletons, which our media protectors will reveal, or try to conceal or discredit, based on their partisan leanings..
“Just the facts, ma’am” journalism has always been myth, not reality. But our media should willingly give us those facts, even with partisan spin, instead of trying to hide or discredit them.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.