Facts, like fairness, appear overrated to some in the media today

NBC News anchor Lester Holt recently declared, “It has become clearer that fairness is overrated,” adding, “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 glaring inconsistencies, including possible new evidence of a federal crime. Facts, like fairness, appear overrated to some in the media today.

Hunter 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 blackout before the election 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 senior editor 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, the outlet 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 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 the initial attack by an 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation. During that time, the story presumably was researched by the Biden campaign and Hunter’s own lawyers. U.S. intelligence concluded it was not Russian disinformation, even though Joe Biden claimed it was and his campaign brought forward 50 former national security officials to endorse this unsupported claim. Yet Hunter claims no knowledge.

One might expect some effort to explore that issue with a follow up 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 problem is that Hunter has confirmed facts which may implicate him not just in a new crime but in the very crime his father’s administration is making a priority as a policy matter. In his book and in interviews, Hunter says he continued to use drugs during the 2020 campaign’s lead-up, writing that, in early 2019, 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 interviewing him seemingly did not think that basic journalism required asking about the obvious implications of such statements for Hunter’s most recent scandal, including his possible commission of a federal gun offense. Many of these are the same reporters or news organizations which ran a myriad breathless speculations about crimes allegedly committed by the Trump family.

His new scandal involves a missing gun and raises questions about drug use and a possible felony. The Secret Service reportedly intervened in the 2018 incident — although it denies doing so — after Biden’s gun was thrown into a Wilmington trash bin by Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter’s deceased brother. At the time, she was in an intimate relationship with Hunter and reportedly feared what he might do with the gun.

To get the revolver returned, Biden answered “no” to a question on the firearms transaction record, asking whether he was an “unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” Lying on that federal form can trigger prosecution under several criminal provisions, including under Title 18 of the United States code, which makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison “to make any false or fictitious oral or written statement” to acquire a firearm. While prosecutions are rare, the commission of a possible felony by a president’s son presumably is news — particularly when that president is emphasizing the need to tighten and enforce 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 at Stanford University has declared that journalism needs to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” Once freed from quaint notions of fairness or objectivity, reporters are at liberty to ignore news in favor of a narrative. Things can be true but “misleading” —such as whether the president’s son committed a felony that the president wants to enforce against others.

As Holt said in receiving the Edward 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.

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