How to Treat the Hunter Biden Story
Whether it's real is an important question. What comes next if it is is another.
Much of the mainstream media refuses to cover the substance of the Hunter Biden laptop story. I think this is more defensible than Trumpworld claims. President Trump says journalists who don’t cover it are “criminals,” which is criminally stupid. Still, I think the press shouldn’t be so scared to deal with the story on its merits.
Here’s what happened. Less-than-scrupulous Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon claimed to have obtained a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive from a repair shop and gave it to the New York Post. The Post ran with the story without, in my opinion, doing the due diligence to confirm the material provided. Indeed, the provenance of the laptop is so sketchy, replete with changing or conflicting stories from the shop and Giuliani, that the lead author of the story refused to put his byline on it. Fox News initially declined to run it because of the very real possibility it’s part of a disinformation campaign.
As of now, it appears that at least some of the contents of the hard drive copy are genuine. It’s impossible to know yet whether they’ve been “salted” with disinformation—a common practice in Russian hacking operations used by the sorts of people Giuliani has associated with. If the copy doesn’t match the actual laptop in the FBI’s possession, or if the FBI uncovers skullduggery, Giuliani, Bannon and the Post will have much to answer for.
But now the story is out there. And between those on one side echoing Trump’s claim that it proves the Bidens are an “organized crime family” and those on the other side—the Biden campaign, much of the media—pretending the story doesn’t exist, it’s worth cutting through the hyperbole to ask, “What if it’s all real?”
The emails on the hard drive—and other evidence—appear to support what we’ve long known: Hunter Biden traded on his last name to make money. We already knew that Hunter had obtained a lucrative gig on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings when his father was vice president. The emails seem to show he tried to do the same in China. This stuff is sleazy, even if you look at Hunter’s qualifications in the most positive light possible and credit Joe’s unlikely claims that he knew nothing about it.
But there’s no evidence yet that Joe Biden himself steered government policy in exchange for his son’s compensation, never mind took money himself. The Obama administration “pivoted to China” well before Hunter pursued these opportunities.
This week, the Trump campaign claimed to have found a smoking gun. An email seems to show that Hunter was working to land a big stake in a Chinese firm and that a chunk of equity would be reserved for “the big guy,” which Tony Bobulinski, a former Hunter Biden associate, says is a reference to Joe Biden. A subsequent Bobulinski text message obtained by Fox News seems to support this.
That sounds bad. But even if true, it’s not nearly the massive “influence peddling” scandal the president and his supporters constantly claim. Why not? Because the email and text in question are from 2017, when the vice president was Mike Pence, not Joe Biden.
It’s bad that so many former government officials trade their names and experience to get rich taking money from foreign businesses, particularly ones linked to oppressive governments. That’s a common tale. But there’s no evidence yet that Joe Biden actually did that. Even if he had, what influence would he be peddling? Do we think Biden had major pull inside the Trump administration?
Moreover, Trump and his family are taking money from businesses in foreign countries right now. Trump has even admitted he has a conflict of interest in Turkey because of his business dealings there.
When Trump leaves office, I will be delighted if he and his children follow a higher standard than the Bidens did—or even a higher standard than the Trump family is following right now.
If the press, not to mention Facebook and Twitter, wasn’t so scared of changing the trajectory of the race or doing the bidding of the Trump campaign, the laptop scandal probably would have fizzled by now. Conversely, if the Post showed more skepticism, there might not be any scandal at all.
Either way, we’d all be better off if the media worried less about how revelations might affect politics and concentrated on the truth and relevance of the revelations themselves.
Photograph by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images.