The New York Post is one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers. Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, only three US newspapers are more widely circulated. Ever since it was purchased in 1976 by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, it has been known for right-wing tabloid sensationalism, but even its liberal critics agree that it has some very talented reporters and editors and is fully capable of generating legitimate journalistic “scoops.”
Last week, the paper published what it proclaimed to be “smoking gun” evidence, in the form of emails found on a laptop owned by Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, that he had traded on his father’s position as then-vice president of the United States to benefit the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, which was paying unqualified Hunter at least $50,000 each month to sit on its Board of Directors.
According to the Post, the MacBook Pro had been damaged and was taken to a Delaware computer shop in April 2019 for repair, and then abandoned there. When John Paul Mac Isaac, the store’s owner, inspected the laptop’s hard drive, he was alarmed by the evidence of corruption he found in some of the emails it held, and notified authorities. Mr. Isaac could not positively identify Hunter Biden as the laptop’s owner, but it did contain emails directly addressed to him, and other indications of his ownership, including a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation, named after Hunter’s deceased older brother.
In December 2019, Mr. Isaac was subpoenaed by the Delaware US attorney’s office to produce the laptop for a federal grand jury. But before he turned the hard drive over to the FBI, he copied its data, and later gave it to an agent of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who, along with former Trump political advisor Steve Bannon, were the sources for the Post story.
Then-vice president Joe Biden had served as the point man for Obama administration policy towards Ukraine during the period when its government in Kiev was the victim of overt Russian military aggression, beginning with the 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea. Burisma appointed Hunter Biden to its board one month after Crimea’s annexation.
In January 2018, one year after he left office, Joe Biden publicly boasted at an event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations that in December 2015, during a visit to Kiev, he had threatened top Ukrainian government officials that he would withhold a promised $1 billion in US loan guarantees unless they immediately agreed to fire state prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
On its face, Biden’s ultimatum appeared to be a conflict of interest, because Shokin had been conducting a corruption investigation into Burisma, the same company paying Biden’s son. During Trump’s impeachment hearings, we also learned that George Kent, a top US diplomat in Ukraine at the time, had complained to the State Department that the “presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was very awkward for all US officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine.”
Hunter Biden has since admitted that serving on Burisma’s board while his father was in charge of US policy towards Ukraine showed “poor judgement,” but former vice president Biden continues to insist that he was totally unaware at the time of his son’s questionable relationship with Burisma and Hunter’s other foreign dealings for which his sole qualification was the fact that he was the son of the Joe Biden.
JOE BIDEN MET WITH A BURISMA EXECUTIVE
Now Joe Biden’s denial is further in doubt. In an email dated April 17, 2015, discovered on the hard drive of Hunter Biden’s laptop, a Burisma executive named Vadym Pozharskyi thanked Biden’s son for inviting him to Washington to meet with his father, the vice president, in April 2015.
In an earlier email, Pozharskyi asked for help from Biden’s son and his business partner, Divon Archer, who was also appointed to the Burisma board, in resisting an attempt by Ukrainian officials to blackmail Burisma’s owner, oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.
The Biden campaign denies that any meeting between Pozharsky and the vice president occurred. There is no mention of the meeting on Biden’s official calendar of appointments, but neither the Biden campaign nor Hunter Biden have denied the authenticity of the emails on the laptop, and there is no direct evidence to discredit their authenticity.
A documented charge from a credible newspaper like the New York Post, appearing just three weeks before an election and alleging influence peddling by the son of the Democrat nominee for president, is certainly a relevant and newsworthy story. Yet the immediate reaction by the rest of the mainstream media to the story was a coordinated attempt at its suppression from wider distribution while seeking to discredit its sources.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA PROTECTING BIDEN
The mainstream media has been determined to protect Joe Biden, at all costs, from President Trump’s accusations that he was guilty of a conflict of interest in his vice presidential dealings with Ukraine. The hostile media coverage of Trump’s 2019 phone call in which he requested that Ukraine’s president launch a corruption investigation into the Biden relationship with Burisma was a primary driver behind the failed Democrat-led impeachment proceedings against him.
In an interview with Fox Business Channel’s Stuart Varney the day after the Post story on the Hunter Biden emails was published, President Trump complained that, “Joe Biden is a corrupt politician. I’ve been saying it for a long time and everybody in Washington knows it. And the mainstream media doesn’t want to cover it. They put this story on page A17 of the New York Times and they took a lot of the teeth out of it.”
On Sunday, the New York Times published a lengthy follow-up piece on page 1 of its second section. Based upon unnamed sources on the New York Post’s editorial staff, the Times story claimed that there had been considerable internal opposition to publishing the email story without further verification of its claims and the reliability of its pro-Trump sources. But spokesmen for the tabloid insisted that “the senior editors at The Post made the decision to publish the Biden files after several days’ hard work established its merit. . . [and that] the story was vetted and The Post stands by its reporting.”
JOURNALISTS WARNED TO IGNORE THE POST STORY
An unofficial mainstream media-wide blackout was then imposed on the Post’s story. According to an editorial in the National Review, a number of well-known journalists were quietly warned that they would be ostracized and condemned by their colleagues, and their careers ruined through the use of the well-known techniques of the “cancel culture,” if they dared to do anything other than debunk the Post’s reporting.
The journalists who submitted to the blatant self-censorship betrayed their professional responsibilities to the public by failing to investigate the evidence that the Post presented to support its story, or to insist that Biden and his campaign respond to its allegations. Instead, they succumbed to the pressure from their peers to label the story as “fake news” and move on. Those journalists also seem to have no interest in what the federal grand jury in Delaware that subpoenaed Hunter Biden’s laptop decided to do about the compromising emails that were on it, whose accuracy and ultimate source the FBI is apparently still investigating.
The open hostility of the mainstream print and electronic media to President Trump since he first took office, and the overwhelmingly negative slant of its reporting against the president, has been well-documented. But the campaign to deny the public any information which would support President Trump by supporting his accusations against Joe Biden and his son reached a new level of intensity last week when the popular social media outlets, Facebook and Twitter, both blocked access to the New York Post story and any references to it. Two hours after the story was first published, Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook and former longtime Democrat Party official, announced that the social media giant was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform” to suppress the ability of its users to discuss or share the New York Post article.
Twitter quickly followed Facebook’s example, prohibiting its users from posting a link to the article on their Twitter feeds because the company judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.” Twitter went so far as to lock the New York Post’s own Twitter account entirely, prohibiting the newspaper from posting any new messages until the next day. In order to further suppress any discussion of the Hunter Biden email story, Twitter also blocked the accounts of the Trump campaign and the personal account of Trump’s White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany.
The National Review editorial points out that Facebook and Twitter showed no concern over the past five years about the accuracy of equally damaging stories that it freely shared about Donald Trump which were published “by major media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN that were based on faulty information provided by unknown sources that turned out to be incorrect.”
National Review’s editors concluded, somewhat hopefully, that the effort by Twitter and Facebook to suppress the New York Post story “will backfire. For one thing, it further damages the reputation of Big Tech. For another, it renders the industry more susceptible to a new regulatory regime already being championed by some in Congress. Mostly, however, it just makes the story they’re trying to suppress a far bigger deal.”
POST PUBLISHED A SECOND EMAIL STORY
To its credit, the New York Post was not intimidated by the efforts of the social media giants to suppress its story.
The very next day, it published a follow-up article based on other material found on Hunter Biden’s laptop describing similar efforts to pursue lucrative deals with Shanghai-based CEFC China Energy Company by using his father’s name. While emails describing the details of those deals were worded in a way to make them more obscure, one of them sent on August 2, 2017 suggested that the chairman of CEFC would give Hunter Biden half-ownership of a holding company that would provide him with more than $10 million a year. Twitter reacted to the second Post story by extending its ban on sharing or posting links to that article as well.
However, elements of the second story are consistent with a report on Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings released last month by Republican Senators Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley. It talked about a company called West III, which opened a line of credit in September 2017, that was then used to purchase more than $100,000 worth of items by Hunter Biden, his uncle, James Biden, and James’ wife.
Johnson, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has written to FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking him to confirm or deny the details reported by the Post on the emails found on the laptop that Hunter Biden left with Mr. Isaac, the owner of computer repair shop, whom Johnson described as the “whistleblower.”
In an interview with Fox News, Johnson said, “The FBI has a duty to inform us. If they believe this was maybe Russian disinformation, they should give us a defensive briefing. If, for example, they also believe that what information this whistleblower gave us is fraudulent, that would also be a crime, and FBI should tell us that.”
US INTELLIGENCE CHIEF CONFIRMS HUNTER BIDEN EMAILS
The day after Johnson’s interview on Fox News, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo that the evidence on Hunter Biden’s laptop, which is currently “in the jurisdiction of the FBI. . . is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”
Ratcliffe refuted the suggestion by Democrat House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff that the Hunter Biden email story was part of a smear coming “from the Kremlin.” Ratcliffe accused Schiff, who still claims that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, of attempting politicize national intelligence. Ratcliffe insisted that, “whether its Republicans or Democrats, if they try to leverage the intelligence community for political gain, I won’t allow it.”
Another unnamed senior US intelligence confirmed to Fox News that, “There is no intelligence at this time to support Chairman Schiff’s statement that recent stories on Biden’s foreign business dealings are part of a smart campaign that ‘comes from the Kremlin.’ Numerous foreign adversaries are seeking to influence American politics, policies, and media narratives. They don’t need any help from politicians who spread false information under the guise of intelligence.”
BIDEN CAMP DENIALS
In reaction to the allegations in the second New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s dealings with a Chinese energy company, the lawyer for Biden’s son insists that any allegation of wrongdoing by Joe Biden or any member of the Biden family originating from Rudy Giuliani has no credibility. With regard to the Burisma story, the former vice president has repeatedly denied that he was guilty of any conflict of interest or that there was any wrongdoing by his son. A spokesman for the Biden campaign also said that “the New York Post never asked [it] about the critical elements of this story.” The Biden camp insists that Giuliani has been acting as a conduit for Russian disinformation being spread in an effort to disrupt the November election.
Even before Twitter moved to suppress the first of the two New York Post articles, anyone who dared to even mention it on that medium was immediately subjected to vicious attacks by other users. That included veteran New York Times reporter and outspoken Trump critic Maggie Haberman. When she posted a comment on Twitter which sought to criticize the contest of the Post story, she was instantly vilified with the Twitter hashtag “MAGA Haberman.”
SOCIAL MEDIA’S LEGAL PROTECTION NOW AT RISK
In his interview on Fox Business, Trump threatened to lift the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protect Facebook, Twitter and other social media company from liability in lawsuits brought against including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications that users may publish on their platforms. Trump said that the anti-conservative censorship by the social media companies is “out of control,” and that lifting their protection against lawsuits could mean their end.
Facebook and Twitter were already under harsh criticism by members of Congress for their selective silencing of conservative advocates. Google has also been criticized for its consistent failure to include links to articles from respected conservative sources in its popular news feed. Even before the controversy erupted over the suppression of the New York Post article last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on October 28 in response to proposed reform of Section 230 liability protections due to the evidence of their consistently anti-conservative partisan bias.
Zuckerberg and Pichai also testified, alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, before the House Antitrust Subcommittee in July, in response to suggestions by leading Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, that their giant companies exert too much control over free speech and the dissemination of news over social media and the internet.
Their critics across the political spectrum, both in Europe and the United States, argue that companies that wield such monopolistic power have an obligation to act in the public interest. If they fail to do so, then they must be regulated as a public utility, the same way that electricity and water companies are, or be broken up, like the original AT&T telephone company.
A STRANGLEHOLD ON FREE SPEECH
Liberal advocate Glenn Greenwald notes that in 2018, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of US adults (68%) get news on social media sites. One-in-five get news there often. . . About four in ten Americans (43%) get news on Facebook. The next most commonly used site for news is YouTube [owned by Google], with 21% getting news there, followed by Twitter at 12%.”
While the ban imposed by Twitter and Facebook could not prevent individuals from reading the New York Post article directly off the newspaper’s own website, as a practical matter, their stranglehold over social media clearly violates the spirit if not the letter of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The effective suppression of the article vividly demonstrates the danger to American democracy from the concentration of such power in the hands of a few Silicon Valley executives, all of whom are major contributors to Democrat candidates. As Greenwald points out, “These tech giants are using their unprecedented power over political and election-related information to prevent the dissemination of negative reporting about the presidential candidate [Joe Biden] they favor.”
Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley writes that the only justification for granting social media companies legal protection from lawsuits over the content on their platforms is the presumption that they are politically neutral, and designed as an unrestricted “means for people to sign up and read the views or thoughts of other people.” By abandoning neutrality and revealing their bias, Turley concludes that, “Facebook and Twitter have now made the case against themselves for stripping social media companies of immunity.”
Turley contends that the thousands of articles of “fake news” about electoral collusion between Trump and the Russians generated by the Steele dossier make it clear that there is a much greater need today for serious investigation of any such provocative allegations originating from foreign sources. Instead, we are getting just the opposite.
During a two-hour long town hall with Joe Biden broadcast the day after the New York Post published its first story about the emails found on Hunter Biden’s laptop, ABC News reporter George Stephanopoulos didn’t bring up the topic once. Instead, Biden was treated to softball questions designed to give him an opportunity to repeat his well-rehearsed campaign talking points.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s town hall broadcast held the same night turned into an extended ambush interview. NBC reporter Savannah Guthrie filibustered Trump for the first half hour of program with an endless series of accusations while argumentatively rejecting all his answers. Members of the audience who were supposed to supply the questions for the president had to wait until Guthrie was finished. Despite the unfair circumstances, Trump held his temper and conducted himself well, but neither ABC nor NBC made any serious attempt to pretend that their approach was politically unbiased.
FALSE EXCUSES FOR CENSORSHIP
Glenn Greenwald, who was personally responsible for the publication of many secret documents stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, condemns, “the rationale offered by both Twitter and Facebook to justify this censorship [which] makes it more alarming, not less.” He points out that if the publication of all “unauthorized” information had been prohibited at the time, we would never have seen “many of the most celebrated and significant stories of the last several decades.” These include the Pentagon Papers, Snowden’s documents, and the hacked DNC and John Podesta emails published on WikiLeaks “that exposed corruption and forced the 2016 resignation of the top five officials of the Democrat National Committee.”
Greenwald asks Biden supporters who accept the justification offered by Twitter for suppressing New York Post article, because it was based on “content obtained without authorization,” why the New York Times agreed to “disclose the contents of President Trump’s tax returns, the unauthorized disclosure of which is a crime? . . . Or what about the virtually daily articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News and others that explicitly state they are publishing information that the source is unauthorized to disclose: how does that not fall squarely within the banning policy as Twitter defined it?”
As an outspoken advocate of freedom of the press, Greenwald is equally dismissive of “Facebook’s rationale for suppression—that it needs to have its ‘fact checking’ partners verify the story before allowing it to be spread. . .What makes Mark Zuckerberg’s social media company competent to ‘fact check’ the work of other journalists? Why did Facebook block none of the endless orgy of Russiagate conspiracy theories from major media outlets [based on the Steele dossier] that were completely unproven if not outright false?”
SOCIAL MEDIA GIANTS ARE PROTECTING THEMSELVES
Similarly, Greenwald rejects the contention by Facebook and Twitter that their censorship policies are politically neutral and motivated by the best interests of their subscribers. He believes they are using their powers to protect their own corporate best interests. They suppressed the New York Post story because it angers a powerful faction that is in a position to hurt them, the ultra-liberal Democrats whom they expect to win full control of the federal government in next month’s election.
Prominent Democrats ranging from Hillary Clinton to Adam Schiff have long demanded that the social media giants exercise their power to selectively censor conservative opinion on their platforms, and Joe Biden himself has demanded that they remove President Trump’s expressed concerns about voting fraud as “fake news.”
Greenwald argues that liberals who today support the suppression of opinions from the right “are being short-sighted and myopic. . . The only people who should want to live in a world where Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai and Jeff Bezos have a stranglehold on what can be said and heard are those whose actions are devoted to the perpetuation of their power and who benefit from their hegemony.
“Everyone else will eventually be faced with the choice of conformity or censorship, of refraining from expressing prohibited views as the cost for maintaining access to crucial social media platforms.”
Turley shares Greenwald’s concern that our “traditional notions of journalism and a free press are outdated.”
THE END OF UNBIASED JOURNALISM
Conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson recalls that the most popular liberal journalists of the previous generation, including “Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Jim Lehrer, or Abe Rosenthal, at least went through the motions of reporting news that was awkward or even embarrassing to the Left.” Hanson added that even during the Obama administration, which always received friendly treatment from members of the mainstream media, reporters still felt an obligation to report on “the various scandals embroiling the Veterans Administration, General Service Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Secret Service. But even that thin pretense is over now, too.”
The formal abandonment of unbiased journalism was announced to the world by New York Times public mediator Jim Rutenberg. In an August 7, 2016, column, Rutenberg wrote that in the face of a “demagogue” like Donald Trump, who is “playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies,” reporters had no choice but to “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century,” including their conscious abandonment of the previous journalistic “definition of fairness.”
Similarly, a few weeks after the 2016 election, veteran CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour said she felt released from the old chains of professed “objectivity,” and Univision’s Jorge Ramos said he felt journalistically liberated after abandoning the old bourgeois idea of “neutrality.”
That was why, when a study by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of the media’s reporting on Trump’s first 100 days in office found that 80 of all news coverage was anti-Trump—and 93 percent negative in the case of CNN and NBC—nobody in the mainstream news media seemed to be embarrassed. Reporters soon learned that they did not face any consequences for repeatedly reporting false stories claiming that “Trump is finished” when his collusion with the Russians was about to be exposed by the Mueller investigation. To this day, none of the journalists responsible for those false reports has publicly admitted that they were wrong, even if their accusations had been proven to be untrue, because of their all-consuming hatred for Trump.
Given the broad acceptance of such openly biased coverage by once respected mainstream news outlets, Hanson says that it should not be surprising that Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter have also abandoned the traditional journalistic standards of fairness and objectivity when it comes to giving their users access to news stories and comments about President Trump and Joe Biden.
MEDIA BIAS AFFECTING POLL PREDICTIONS
Hanson notes that the open media and cultural bias against Trump and for Biden has become so dominant that it even has affected the results of purportedly “scientific” public opinion polling of the voters.
Ignoring the bitter lessons of their embarrassing failure to foresee the outcome of the 2016 election, polls conducted by mainstream media organizations such as YouGov, Reuters, and Politico are reporting that in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Biden’s lead in the popular vote over Trump has remained steady at 10-15 points, strongly suggesting a Democrat landslide. But polls by more neutral or pro-right-wing organizations, such as Zogby, Trafalgar, Democracy Institute, or Rasmussen, show the race tightening, with Trump still having a decent chance of pulling out a narrow, come-from-behind victory in the Electoral College, as he did four years ago.
The newly emboldened supporters of the radical left are so confident of victory in November that they risked alienating mainstream voters by attacking Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s extraordinarily well-qualified replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The mainstream media agreed with the claim by Democrat senators during Barrett’s confirmation hearings that she had been selected by Trump for the sole purpose of mindlessly attacking the liberal rulings of the high court over the past 50 years. Judge Barrett responded by declaring her determination to uphold her political independence and the plain meaning of the Constitution and the laws as Congress and the Founding Fathers had written them.
LESSONS FROM THE BARRETT CONFIRMATION
Reporters providing the commentary for the mainstream media coverage of Judge Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings did their best to follow the Democrat anti-Trump story line, claiming that her confirmation would pose a dire threat to Obamacare and its protections for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. But members of the nationwide television audience who watched her marathon testimony, without notes, during three long days of questioning, could not help but be impressed by her calm temperament, her thorough knowledge of the law and her strong character.
Barrett was a dramatic example of one of the greatest successes of Trump’s presidency, his appointment of three of the most highly qualified conservative judges to the highest court in the land. Her selection also proves that Trump remains serious in his determination to fulfill the promises he made to the voters four years ago, and his current promise to rapidly restore the economic prosperity lost due to the coronavirus shutdowns over the past seven months.
The mainstream media, and now social media, have done their best to demonize the president and distract the attention of the voters away from his very real accomplishments, while propping up and covering up for Joe Biden, and disguising the radical liberal policies that Democrats hope to put in place following Trump’s defeat. We will find out, in less than two weeks, whether their strategy will succeed.