We often discuss media coverage and accuracy on developing legal and political controversies. Much of this discussion recently has focused on the bias shown by the media in the last four years. I have worked for the media as a legal analyst and columnist for years, but I have never before seen this raw and open bias in major media. At the same time, academics are rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy.
This morning, Fox News called out all of the networks for zero coverage of the bombshell story from Axios that Rep. Eric Swalwell may have had a close relationship with a suspected Chinese spy who fled to China a few years ago. Many of us were struck by the lack of coverage, particularly given the position of Swalwell on the House Intelligence Committee and his former bid for the presidency. It was particularly striking when the media is now reluctantly covering the Hunter Biden story after a long blackout before the election. Yet, the most stark comparison is with the exhaustive coverage given the highly analogous story involving an alleged spy, Maria Butina, who had an affair with a high-ranking figure in the National Rifle Association.
Swalwell is alleged to have had a close relationship with Chinese national, Fang Fang or Christine Fang, who not only raised money for him but placed at least one intern in Swalwell’s congressional office, according to Axios. Bizarrely, Swalwell has refused to confirm or deny that he had an intimate relationship with his office claiming that such an answer could compromise classified information. Even that ridiculous comment did not prompt ABC, NBC, or CBS to cover the story. Obviously, Fang and the Chinese already know if she had a sexual relationship with Swalwell. The only people in the dark are the voters.
Swalwell himself explained why this is news. The congressman was one of the most vocal voices calling out a June 2016 meeting that President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was accused of being an asset for the Russian government.
Swalwell declared on MSNBC in January 2019: “Stated plainly, the President’s son met with a Russian spy. We now have the best evidence of that in our minority report the Democrats put out that Ms. Veselnitskaya was going all over the world and bumping into Dana Rohrabacher, which is a sign of a spy, someone who tries to create a coincidence encounter, and now we know that she was working at the behest of the Russian government.”
Not even the utter hypocrisy of Swalwell’s position or the lunacy of his classification claim was enough to generate minimal coverage. There is also no interest in Swalwell remaining on the intelligence committee given his ill-considered relationship.
Swalwell says that he cooperated with the FBI and cut off ties with Fang, who fled to China years ago. There is no indication that he compromised classified information, but such assets are used to often influence powerful leaders or acquire useful background information on other leaders.
MSNBC and other news outlets could not get enough of that story about Trump Jr. but has an effective blackout on the same allegation of Swalwell not just “bumping” into a spy but carrying on a long relationship and even allowing her to raise money for him and help put an intern in his congressional office.
Yet, the greatest contrast is with the NRA story which was endlessly covered. Even when NRA moved to address the relationship between Butina and 57-year-old Republican activist named Paul Erickson. Hundreds of stories ran on every deal and media explored whether a Russian activist influenced powerful figures or shared information.
The FBI Director just gave a public speech on the extensive and growing espionage efforts of China. Yet, the success of planting an agent with Swalwell and a couple of other politicians is a story given virtual Hunter Biden treatment. While the coverage was never ending, I viewed the stories on the Trump tower meeting and the NRA scandal to be legitimate matters for public concern and discussion. It is the contrast that is disturbing with the Swalwell story. There was a host of legal experts calling for charges for treason and other crimes against Trump Jr., but there is nothing but crickets when a liberal Democratic member is accused of far more extensive contacts with a Chinese spy. Why?