Below is my column in The Hill on recent interviews by Hunter Biden, which appear to incriminate him in a possible federal felony. What is most striking from a journalistic perspective is that Biden’s book is a target rich environment for reporters with references to his alleged influence peddling, abandoned laptop, and drug abuses. Yet every major network and newspaper that interviewed Biden skillfully avoided any damaging questions. It was no small feat to delicately avoid obvious problems in his account while seemingly interviewing him on those subjects. Reporters would raise the laptop of Burisma contract and then just shrug and move on without any serious followup. The glaring contradictions were left unaddressed like admitting that he was a crack addict during the time he was receiving massive contracts from foreign companies due to his unestablished “expertise” on energy issues. The conflicts with his own father’s accounts were entirely ignored. The protective press cocoon around Hunter and his father remained intact.
In the end, it is not the possible crime by Biden but the demonstrable collusion by the media that is more of the story from these interviews.
Here is the column:
News anchor Lester Holt recently declared that “it has become clearer that fairness is overrated,” adding that “the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.” Fortunately for Hunter Biden, that world is the one in which he lives and thrives. In interviews about his memoir “Beautiful Things,” some reporters either misstate the facts of his prior scandals or ignore certain leads, including potential evidence of a federal crime.
Facts, like fairness, appear overrated to much of the media today.
Hunter Biden spent the last few months evading questions, particularly during the 2020 election, when an abandoned laptop apparently belonging to him was found to have hundreds of embarrassing photos and emails showing drug abuse and raw influence-peddling. He reportedly is under investigation for possible federal tax violations linked to his foreign dealings.
Yet, one of the “beautiful things” in Hunter’s life is a media that imposed a pre-election blackout on the laptop story and continues to wrap him and his father in a protective press cocoon. That was evident in an interview by National Public Radio this week. The article by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving stated categorically: “The laptop story was discredited by U.S. intelligence and independent investigations by news organizations.” That is entirely and demonstrably false. Widely criticized for that false statement, NPR issued a tepid “correction” for the article that now states: “Numerous news organizations cast doubt on the credibility of the laptop story.”
There was, of course, an easy way to confirm the facts, rather than citing other news organizations which also failed to pursue the story. Elving and NPR were interviewing Hunter — so why not simply ask him if the laptop was his?
CBS News did ask that question and received a bizarre answer from Hunter that it might be his, or it might not be: “There could be a laptop out there that was stolen from me. It could be that I was hacked. It could be that it was the — that it was Russian intelligence.”
Or, perhaps, it could be alien technology from the Andromeda Galaxy.
Hunter is denying any knowledge of the laptop’s authenticity, roughly seven months after its existence was disclosed by the New York Post and even longer since it reportedly was seized by the FBI. During that time, the story presumably was researched by the Biden campaign and by Hunter’s own lawyers. U.S. intelligence concluded it was not Russian disinformation, even though Joe Biden claimed it was. His campaign brought forward 50 former national security officials to endorse this unsupported claim. The other parties on many of these emails have confirmed the authenticity and the FBi seized the laptop as evidence (which Hunter and his lawyers have been addressing in months of discussions with prosecutors). Yet, Hunter claims that he is entirely unsure if the laptop is his or possibly the work of Russian intelligence.
One might expect some effort to explore that issue with a followup question: “How can you remember details from your period of addiction going back 20 years, detailed in your book, but you cannot remember this laptop?” Or: “Even if you cannot remember your own laptop, you’ve seen the pictures and emails — are those authentic?”
Instead, the media showed the flag and then left the field.
The media did little better with the facts confirmed by Hunter. The media now has facts implicating Hunter not just in a federal crime but in the very crime the administration is making a priority as a policy matter. In his book and in interviews, Hunter says he continued to use drugs during campaign season. He wrote in 2019 that he was “done with the world of politics, of figuring out how to go out on the campaign trail with dad, if it came to that, as I would have in any other election year. I was a crack addict and that was that.”
Yet reporters appear to forget that basic journalism means asking about ramifications for his most recent scandal, including his possible action of a federal gun offense. Many of these are the very same reporters or news outlets that ran speculations about crimes allegedly committed by the family of Donald Trump. His latest scandal involves a missing gun and raises the issue of drug use and a possible felony. The Secret Service is said to have intervened in the incident, though it denies that, after a gun was thrown into a trash bin in Wilmington by Hallie Biden, widow of the deceased brother of Hunter. At the time, she was in a relationship with Hunter and had feared what he might do with the gun.
To get the revolver back, Biden answered “no” on the firearms transaction record that asked whether he was an “unlawful user of, or addicted to” a narcotic drug or any other controlled substance. Lying on that federal form can lead to prosecution under several provisions. The United States code makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to “make any false or fictitious oral or written statement” to obtain firearms. Although prosecutions are rare, the commission of a possible felony by the son of a president is presumably news, especially when that president is voicing the need to tighten and enforce our gun control laws.
Yet none of this matters when you are in the business of shaping rather than reporting news. Even a leading journalism professor with Stanford University has declared that journalism now needs to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” Once free from notions of fairness or objectivity, reporters are at liberty to ignore news in favor of a narrative. Things can be true but misleading.
As Lester Holt said in receiving the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism, giving “two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect” today’s world — a gravity-free media world in which allegations of gun offenses, influence-peddling and other abuses hold little weight.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.