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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Mainstream media gets black eye over Hunter Biden’s laptop

PUBLISHED: June 7, 2024 | www.baltimoresun.com

Hunter Biden arrives at federal court, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Journalists are taught to be skeptical of sources with transparent ulterior motives.

That lesson was forgotten by the mainstream media when the New York Post reported on incriminating emails allegedly found on Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive that could have subverted Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential aspirations. The emails reportedly showed corruption in the Biden family.


On Tuesday, the laptop was introduced as evidence in Hunter Biden’s ongoing criminal trial on federal gun charges, which hinges on an apparently false claim he made, that he was not using drugs, in order to purchase a gun. The authenticity of the laptop and its contents was established in excruciating technical detail by FBI Agent Erika Jensen. Yet many in the mainstream media fiercely resisted acknowledging the laptop’s authenticity for years after the New York Post revelations. The social media platform Twitter, now known as X, even censored the story.


Thereby hangs a tale of journalist gullibility mixed with confirmation bias that begets false stories and a credibility gap with readers.


On the heels of the Post’s laptop disclosure in October 2020, as recounted by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, a Hillary Clinton cheerleader, before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Tony Blinken, then senior advisor to the Biden presidential campaign and current secretary of state, orchestrated a letter by 51 former intelligence veterans (including Morell), to insinuate that the laptop emails were a Russian intelligence operation.


The 51 released a letter on Oct. 19, 2020, declaring “[W]e write to say that the arrival on the US political scene of emails purportedly belonging to Vice President Biden’s son Hunter…has all the classic earmarks of an information operation.” The usual anti-Trump suspects headed the list of signatories: Jim Clapper, former director of National Intelligence; Mike Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, and Leon Panetta, former CIA director and secretary of defense.


Mr. Morell testified, “There were two intents [behind the letter]. One intent was to share our concern with the American people that the Russians were playing on this issue; and, two it was to help Vice President Biden.” Implicit was a third intent: to curry favor with Mr. Biden in hopes of landing a plumb job in his administration if he captured the White House.

Confirmation bias explains the mainstream media’s acceptance of the Oct. 19, 2020, letter as gospel rather than disinformation.  Most journalists appear to prefer Joe Biden over Donald Trump, and conclusively presumed anything with Rudi Guiliani’s fingerprints on it was false. (Guiliani provided the laptop emails to the Post).


Journalism at its best, however, is not advocacy but neutral reporting of facts for the public to evaluate with a critical eye. It is the opposite of William Randolph Hearst’s message to Frederic Remington hoping to provoke the Spanish-American War: “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”


The Hunter Biden laptop journalistic black eye is not an aberration. Both before and after President George W. Bush’s 2003 gratuitous invasion of Iraq, Judith Miller of The New York Times became an echo chamber of CIA Director George Tenet’s infamous “slam dunk” certainty that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Ms. Miller relied on fabricated intelligence.


At least since Watergate and the fame, celebrity and riches earned by The Washington Post’s reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, journalists are tempted to peddle stories to curry favor in the corridors of power.  A revolving door has developed between journalists and service as government spokespersons — for example, President Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki parachuting to eye-catching wealth at MSNBC or President Bill Clinton’s de facto Press Secretary George Stephanopoulos’ gold-plated transition to ABC.


To boost media credibility, a voluntary “cooling off” period should be accepted before moving from the private sector into government and vice versa. The temptation to skew reporting for professional advancement is already pronounced. Famed journalist Robert Novak elaborated in his memoir, “Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington”:

“What you did not find in my columns was criticism of Karl Rove [Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush]. I don’t believe I would have found much to criticize him about even if he had not been a source, but reporters — much less columnists — do not attack their sources.”

To prevent a reprise of the mal-reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop, journalists should follow the facts and leave speculation or advocacy to others. That will narrow the media’s worrisome credibility gap.


Armstrong Williams (www.armstrongwilliams.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun.

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