“Denial is not just a river in Africa.” Those sage words from SNL character Stuart Smalley seemed prophetic this week as ex-MSNBC boss Phil Griffin and ex-CNN boss Jeff Zucker were confronted about their burying of the Hunter Biden story. Their tortured and transparent rationalizations caused an immediate response from some of us who have written about the scandal since its inception. That included Griffin’s almost laughable claim that their approach before the election was justified because “he was never arrested.”
Zucker and Griffin were in full spin mode in explaining why they did not believe that it was simply not worthy pursuing an alleged multimillion dollar influence peddling scheme with foreign interests by the Biden family.
Okay. No, I mean but I mean, that’s the problem…
We did. We did look into it. But first of all, you know, with regard to the son of the candidate, you know, he was the son of the candidate. He wasn’t the candidate. The question that you’ll come back with is, well, but what role did the candidate play in his business dealings? You know, frankly, with ten days or two weeks to go, it was looked at by very credible organizations, including The Wall Street Journal —Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal — and they found nothing at that time.
The problem is that the laptop makes repeated references to access to “the candidate” and millions in obvious influence peddling with Russian, Chinese, and other foreign sources. It is laughable to suggest that CNN would not have pursued such a story involving Trump children.
Joe Biden was not the vehicle of the influence peddling proceeds. He was the object of the influence peddling.
Nevertheless, CNN continued to report President Biden’s repeated and unchallenged claim that “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” Those denials continued even after an audiotape surfaced showing President Biden leaving a message for Hunter specifically discussing coverage of those dealings.
Some of us have written for two years that Biden’s denial of knowledge is patently false. It was equally evident that the Biden family was selling influence and access.
There are emails of Ukrainian and other foreign clients thanking Hunter Biden for arranging meetings with his father. There are photos from dinners and meetings that tie President Biden to these figures, including a 2015 dinner with a group of Hunter Biden’s Russian and Kazakh clients.
People apparently were told to avoid directly referring to President Biden. In one email, Tony Bobulinski, then a business partner of Hunter’s, was instructed by Biden associate James Gilliar not to speak of the former veep’s connection to any transactions: “Don’t mention Joe being involved, it’s only when u [sic] are face to face, I know u [sic] know that but they are paranoid.”
Instead, the emails apparently refer to President Biden with code names such as “Celtic” or “the big guy.” In one, “the big guy” is discussed as possibly receiving a 10 percent cut on a deal with a Chinese energy firm; other emails reportedly refer to Hunter Biden paying portions of his father’s expenses and taxes.
Yet, Zucker maintained:
Okay. So my point is, it’s easy to say we should have spent more time on that. Listen, do I think it’s legitimate to look at. Sure. Do I think that like it’s a legitimate criticism to say that in the ten days, 14 days prior to the election, you didn’t spend enough time on it? Not really.
The problem is that, even after the election, CNN did not even acknowledge the authenticity of the laptop for roughly two years despite key figures confirming the contents.
CNN continued to ignore the story even as more details emerged. The laptop contained details to the extent of his knowledge and involvement. It appears that Biden met with at least 14 of Hunter’s business associates from the U.S., Mexico, Ukraine, China and Kazakhstan over the course of his vice presidency. That includes Hunter’s Mexican business associates, Miguel Aleman Velasco and Miguel Aleman Magnani who visited the West Wing on Feb. 26, 2014. Joe was later photographed with Hunter giving Velasco and Magnani a tour of the White House Brady Press Briefing room.
Even as foreign intelligence involvement and millions in payments were being discussed, CNN engaged in willful blindness under Zucker, who previously admitted that ratings drove the unrelenting anti-Trump focus of his coverage. CNN is currently trying to undo much of Zucker’s work that led to plunging ratings.
Griffin then added his own spin on the refusal of MSNBC to pursue the story:
“He was never arrested. The Justice Department was looking into it, never reported it until he is the son of a candidate. I don’t think it’s a main story until that happens.”
So the millions in influence peddling or criminal acts featured on the laptop was not particularly newsworthy. It was the absence of a perp walk?
That may come as a bit of a surprise to Donald Trump Jr. who was the subject of 24/7 coverage on the Trump Tower meeting, including unsupported claims from CNN and MSNBC legal experts that there was strong evidence of criminal conduct. Some of us pushed back on these claims but CNN and MSNBC did wall-to-wall coverage with the same legal experts for weeks on the criminal enterprise revealed at Trump Tower.
On CNN, viewers were told that this is the long-sought “smoking gun” on collusion. Norm Eisen, a White House ethics czar under former President Obama, invoked the Logan Act — a law from 1799 that makes it a crime for citizens to intervene in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments. (The law is widely viewed as facially unconstitutional).
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, declared that the meeting “borders on treason.” Others declared it a possible violation of the federal law banning foreign contributions to federal campaigns.
MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller said Trump Jr. could now go to jail because “it doesn’t have to be money … it can be, potentially, accepting information. So he’s potentially confessing in his statement to committing a crime.”
There was no circumspection or hesitancy at CNN or MSNBC in airing any and all such criminal theories on the meeting. Of course, no such charges were ever brought.
When the transcripts of the meeting came out, the media simply moved on. CNN, which had a bevy of legal analysts who have been flogging the Trump Tower conspiracy for months, ran the headline, “Trump Tower transcripts detail quest for dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Nothing on the great conspiracy or collusion.
Notably, it was still news that Trump’s team wanted to hear about possible criminal conduct. Yet, the media pushed false Russian collusion claims from the Steele dossier that the Clinton campaign funded (while denying that it was doing so). That was not worthy of the attention on the “quest for dirt on Donald Trump.”
Likewise, stories rebutting the laptop allegations were considered important news on the networks. Both CNN and MSNBC eagerly spread the false claim of 51 intelligence experts who declared that the laptop was likely “Russian disinformation.”
That is why SNL’s Stuart Smalley might have been more useful than CNN’s Michael Smerconish in working through these “issues” with the former executives. It all had that Daily Affirmation feel as Zucker and Griffin seemed to assure each other “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you.”
This column also appeared on Fox.com