Burying the Hunter Biden Laptop Story Was Journalistic Malpractice

It was buried in the 24th paragraph of a story that was itself buried on page 20 of a newspaper published when the public’s attention was focused on Ukraine. But for those whose memories extend back to 17 months ago, the admission published in The New York Times on March 17 was political dynamite—the information on the laptop that veterans of the national security establishment claimed was Russian disinformation was, in fact, exactly what reports published in the New York Post in October 2020 said they were: evidence of the Biden family’s influence peddling abroad, that the senior Biden was aware of his son’s activities and might well have profited from them.

The discovery of the laptop came just weeks before the 2020 presidential election. But the reaction from most of the media—including the Times—was to ignore it.

Even worse, the Big Tech companies that control the information superhighway and social media platforms sought to prevent the dissemination of any information about the laptop and what Hunter Biden had been up to in Ukraine and China while his father was vice president. The Post‘s Twitter account was, for a time, shut down. Those who attempted to retweet the story were prevented from doing so. Anyone who raised the issue or complained about the refusal to cover the story were accused of spreading “disinformation.”

Many of the same media outlets had spent years spreading accounts about Donald Trump colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election, which turned out to be false. But journalists and Silicon Valley oligarchs were united in their determination to prevent Trump from winning again and openly boasted of their willingness to put their finger on the electoral scale to defeat him.

Now that the Times has admitted that the laptop was real, the question of whether Hunter will ultimately face prosecution is of secondary importance. The real question Americans should be asking is who is to be held accountable for one of the worst scandals in the recent history of American journalism.

Biden apologists may claim that the story about Hunter’s trading on the Biden name to score big bucks in Ukraine and China would not have altered the outcome of the election. They may be right about that, since the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic downturn may have already doomed Trump’s hopes. But even if you don’t accept Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud or think Biden’s eight-million popular vote advantage wouldn’t have been dented by anything reported about his family, the willingness of all but conservative outlets to silence such a story on the eve of an election is unprecedented.

On the other hand, full and open coverage of the laptop story may well have swung the election. A shift of only 43,000 votes toward Trump in three states Biden won by a whisker—Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona—would have resulted in a 269-269 Electoral College tie that would have sent the election to the House of Representatives, where GOP majorities in state delegations would have flipped the election to the incumbent.

Biden family
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: U.S. President Joe Biden embraces First Lady Dr. Jill Biden as son Hunter Biden, daughter Ashley Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris look on after Biden was sworn in during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Last week’s Times story vindicating the Post‘s reporting was about a federal investigation of possible wrongdoing by the younger Biden. It noted that Hunter had paid off a significant back federal income tax liability and that, in spite of his efforts to settle with the government, a grand jury convened by federal prosecutors was continuing to sift through evidence related to his business dealings.

The article described Biden as someone whose “professional life has intersected with his father’s public service.” While Joe Biden was a U.S. senator, his son was a registered lobbyist for domestic interests. When Joe was vice president, Hunter successfully pursued deals and clients in Asia and Europe. Emails on the controversial laptop helped fuel the investigation into whether he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act and avoided paying taxes on the money he made abroad. As the Times put it, the emails “were authenticated by those familiar with them and with the investigation.”

Whether or not Hunter is prosecuted, the point of the original reporting was that the Biden family’s attempts to cash in on the vice president’s influence was, by definition, corrupt. And in the 2020 election, while he was representing himself as the honest alternative to Trump, Biden was himself guilty of either being part of or acquiescing to sleazy schemes from which his son profited.

Yet even now, no one involved in this vast scheme to suppress the news is prepared to apologize—even if it is too late to make amends for what can only be described as journalistic corruption.

Not one of the intelligence experts who claimed—based on no information whatsoever—that the laptop story was a Russian plant has made a public mea culpa. The same is true of the media outlets, including the Times, which did everything in their power to cast doubt on the story and accuse those who reported it of spreading lies.

The Hunter Biden story isn’t the only reason many Americans no longer trust the media or the intelligence establishment. But it is glaring proof that their skepticism is justified, and its result is a society even more bifurcated along political and cultural lines than it already was.

But even if apologies were forthcoming, the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the Hunter Biden saga is that the institutions which sought to tilt the election to his father are now so committed to political bias in their reporting and their management of internet platforms that there may well be no path to reforming them. Rather than wait in vain for them to change, the only reasonable response to this scandal may be to avoid them altogether in the future.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org and a senior contributor to the Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.