Media censorship of Hunter Biden laptop story was horrible and then it got even worse
Hunter Biden laptop coverage went from guilt and fear to revisionist history
Here we are, in February 2023, nearly two and a half full years after the Hunter Biden laptop suppression, and the Washington Post "Fact Checker" column publishes a new report titled, "The Hunter Biden laptop and claims of ‘Russian disinfo.’"
Glenn Kessler notes that among his media colleagues in October 2020, "few were willing to report information in the New York Post stories without their own due diligence, especially if Russia was once again seeking to meddle in the election."
He then drills into the infamous former "intel community members" letter, which points to the laptop story as one that "has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation." He talks to James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, one of the signers of the letter who gave it extra credibility.
CNN SILENT AS ANALYST JAMES CLAPPER ACCUSES COLLEAGUE OF ‘DELIBERATELY’ DISTORTING HIS HUNTER BIDEN LETTER
And then Kessler proceeds to remove all culpability for the misinformation and lack of accurate media coverage at the time. He allows Clapper to slam Politico, which picked up the letter’s clear implication, to say that now, more than two years later, Politico "deliberately distorted what we said."
Please. This revisionist history is embarrassing, serving to continue to cover the narrative-over-facts reality of that moment. As bad as so much of the Trump Era reporting was, what took place with the Hunter Biden laptop story and the New York Post censorship at the end of his presidency was perhaps the most egregious and obvious example of the elite censorship collusion racket between tech companies, government forces and the national media that we’ve ever seen.
We have seen now through the Twitter Files revelations that there was specific cooperation between Twitter and the FBI in the important months and weeks before the laptop story broke. But we must always remember how the media was a key cog in the racket – which allowed the censorship to take place, rather than jump to the defense of their New York Post colleagues.
"I tweeted a link to the NYP story right after it dropped yesterday morning. I immediately reached out to the Biden campaign to see if they had any answer. I wish i had given the story a closer read before tweeting it," tweeted reporter Jake Sherman, then of Politico, who continued his misspelling-laden apologetic tweet for daring to link to the story at the time: "my goal was not to spread informatoin. my goal was to raise questions about the story—as i did in subsequent tweets—and see how the biden campaign was going to respond. They later did respond."
It was utter panic. And why? The media wasn’t overly outraged about the egregious overreach from Twitter and other social platforms against a media outlet because it had journalistic PTSD from 2016.
In my new book "Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy With Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People," I begin with the Hunter Laptop story, because it truly exemplifies the overly censorious era that was to come out of the Trump Era. The media was fine with the censorship, because it was a means to an end.
There were two factors at the core of the media’s relative silence on the matter: guilt and fear. The press truly believed they were partly responsible for Donald Trump’s shocking victory over Hillary Clinton four years earlier, thanks to their coverage of her emails, the early easier treatment they gave him during the primary, and more. They felt guilty – and were not going to make that same mistake again.
And then there was fear. The social media ostracization. The attacks from their colleagues. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times previously worked at the New York Post, and she dared to link to the story early on the 14th, even though she was questioning the sourcing of it. By the afternoon she was trending on Twitter as "MAGA Haberman" for her supposed crime.
In my new book "Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy With Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People," I begin with the Hunter laptop story, because it truly exemplifies the overly censorious era that was to come out of the Trump Era. The media was fine with the censorship, because it was a means to an end.
For the book, I talked to dozens of media members, on-the-record. "I think there’s a really, really worrying tendency on the left and the mainstream media and the Democratic Party to censor anything undesirable as if that would make it go away," Shawn McCreesh, who worked at the New York Times at the time the New York Post published its first Hunter Biden story in October 2020, and now works for New York magazine, told me. "...Instead of either burying the story inside the paper, or just touching it lightly, the way they tried to wiggle out of covering it was by insinuating that it might not have even been real, which was a huge mistake, because of course everybody knew it was real. It was knowable. It was so obviously real."
Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner told me the Post’s colleagues should have come to its defense: "That’s the first thing that as a journalist, you should be concerned [about] is your profession, not as the team you work on, but your profession as a whole."
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Rich McHugh, a longtime investigative journalist previously at NBC News and other outlets, sees the tech suppression as a huge problem. "It’s shameful. It shouldn’t be happening with Big Tech," he told me. "...It’s this curious time where these major corporations are dictating what news we get. And I think there’s inherent problems in that. It shouldn’t be that way."
"However you feel about Trump or Biden, I do think it further diminishes, further erodes, the trust in the media, when it looks like you’re hammering Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russia, on the Trump side, and then there’s one little hint of impropriety on the Biden side, and it’s like, ‘we can’t even talk about that. We can’t even acknowledge that, God forbid, because the other side is so bad.’ I think it’s dangerous," former New York Times reporter Amy Chozick, who previously covered the Hillary Clinton campaign, told me.
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In the intervening years, outlets like the New York Times and CNN would go on to "verify" the original Hunter Biden laptop reporting. They eventually told their audience the truth – long after it was no longer relevant.
But even still, as we saw Feb. 13, with The Washington Post’s "Fact Checker," introspection and humility remain in short supply among the press – particularly when it comes to a story it worked with its powerful friends in tech and government to suppress, consciously or subconsciously.