The top example of media malfeasance in 2020 is not about how a story was covered but about how it wasn't. And it's downright chilling.
In November – and only after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election – it was revealed by the Biden camp that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had been under grand jury investigation for "tax affairs" by the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware. For the nation's oldest newspaper and its fourth largest, the New York Post, this was total vindication for the way it was demeaned by traditional and social media for reporting on the story when it mattered: Before the Nov. 3 election in October.
To review, the Post appeared to have the goods: Emails from a laptop provided by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani allegedly belonging to Hunter showing, among other things, a meeting he had arranged between his father and a top executive at a Ukrainian energy company, where Hunter was making a cool $50,000 a month to sit on its board despite never having worked at any energy company. The emails were given to Giuliani off a copy of a hard drive by the owner of a computer repair shop in Delaware, who said the laptop was dropped off and never picked up months earlier.
"Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email from Vadym Pozharskyi reads in 2014 at a time when Joe Biden was vice president.
Hold the phone: Joe Biden swore he had "never spoken" to his son "about his overseas business dealings." Here's an email suggesting he did.
One year later, the VP pressured Ukrainian government officials to fire a prosecutor who was investigating the company at the time.
So, is that a story worth pursuing? Rhetorical question.
Except much of the U.S. media decided this wasn't worthy of coverage, and anyone who did pursue it was a right-wing conspiracy nut looking to land a Hail Mary in an attempt to damage Biden going into the election.
The headlines at the time were telling, with the fallback of "Russian Disinformation" being the common thread.
New York Times: "Trump Said to Be Warned That Giuliani Was Conveying Russian Disinformation"
CNN: “The anatomy of the New York Post's dubious Hunter Biden story"
Washington Post: “The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal”
Politico also first reported that more than 50 former senior intelligence officials had signed on to a letter all stating they believed the laptop allegedly being the property of Hunter Biden had "all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
Signatories included anti-Trump former intelligence officials John Brennan (former CIA director, current MSNBC analyst), James Clapper (former director of national intelligence, current CNN analyst) and Jeremy Bash (former CIA chief of staff, current MSNBC analyst).
But the gold medal for hubris goes to taxpayer-funded NPR, which issued this statement explaining why it wasn't even attempting to verify the story.
“We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions,” NPR managing editor Terence Samuel said in an October interview. “And quite frankly, that’s where we ended up, this was . . . a politically driven event and we decided to treat it that way.”
For his part, President Trump urged "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl to broach the story during an Oct. 23 interview with him.
“This is the most important issue in the country right now?” Stahl asked Trump when he brought up the topic.
“It’s a very important issue to find out whether a man’s corrupt who’s running for president, who’s accepted money from China, and Ukraine, and from Russia,” Trump replied. “Take a look at what’s going on, Lesley, and you say that shouldn’t be discussed? I think it’s one of the biggest scandals I’ve ever seen, and you don’t cover it.”
“Well, because it can’t be verified,” Stahl shot back. “I’m telling you —”
“Of course it can be verified,” Trump retorted. “Excuse me, Lesley, they found a laptop —”
“It can’t be verified,” Stahl repeated.
Pro-tip: It's difficult to verify anything when not bothering to verify it in the first place, right?
No matter: The New York Post was thrown in social media jail for having the audacity to report something potentially damaging on the Democratic nominee. The paper's Twitter account was locked for two weeks as a result, something downright Orwellian for any company to do in a country that's supposed to respect the rights of a free and fair press.
But it got worse: Anyone sharing the Post's Hunter Biden story was also locked out of their accounts, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the Trump campaign itself.
"They essentially have me at gunpoint and said unless you delete this story, a news story by the New York Post, I cannot regain access to my account," McEnany told Fox News on Oct. 15.
"This was a news story with emails, pictures of the emails," McEnany said before later adding, "Even the Biden campaign does not dispute the authenticity of the emails."
And the Biden camp still doesn't dispute their authenticity.
For his part, President-elect Biden stunningly is still claiming Russian disinformation is behind the smear campaign against his son. No follow-up questions are permitted by his communications staff on the rare occasion a yelled question by Fox's Peter Doocy is answered.
"Mr. President-elect, do you still think that the stories from the fall about your son Hunter were Russian disinformation and smear campaign, like you said?" Doocy asked.
"Yes, yes, yes. God love you, man. You’re a one-horse pony,” Biden responded. “I tell you. Thank you. Thank you."
For a media that allowed Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) to claim without any real pushback that Trump colluded with Russia as an agent of Vladimir Putin, that allowed Hillary Clinton to repeatedly declare President Trump was illegitimate because of the Russians, the collective dismissal and suppression of a story with actual teeth of a future president being potentially compromised is hypocrisy for the country to see in broad daylight.
The cotton candy questions for Biden can only last so long after Trump is gone. It will be interesting to see in 2021 if the coddling of the 46th president will continue. Or if those claiming to exist in this business to hold the powerful accountable actually do so.
If 2020 is any indication, don't hold your breath on that one.