Anyone who thinks it’s weird that Hunter Biden got a $600,000 a year sinecure in a notoriously corrupt country when his father was the former president’s point man for that country is now said to be a “conspiracy theorist.”
That’s the story being told by the “fact-checkers” in the corporate leftist press. As they would have it, President Trump’s allegations of corruption against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son are absolutely baseless. Of course, it’s an altogether different story for Trump, against whom the slightest innuendo of irregularity is taken as evidence of wrongdoing and allegations must always be true.
It is, of course, passé to point out this double standard, but it really can’t be repeated enough, particularly as the media goes into overdrive to run interference on the Biden scandal.
A recent story in the New Yorker on the “conspiracy theory” positions itself as the last word on the matter. It’s an exemplar in a certain journalistic style of presumption—a style that has become very common in the era of Trump and breathless, self-righteous “fact-checking.” Author Jane Mayer traces the story from its origins in the fringes of the Breitbart-verse, through its infection of respected, totally conspiracy-free newspapers, such as the New York Times.
The story bears the headline, “The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine”—an extraordinarily definitive title for a piece in which the supporting evidence is slight.
Mayer doesn’t challenge the allegations against Biden so much as airily dismiss them by pointing to that nebulous cloud, so useful, so beloved by journalists, of “the facts.” The Biden-Ukraine story, writes Mayer, is a “baseless” and “repeatedly discredited” (by whom?) conspiracy theory. The reader is instantly alerted to the pernicious workings of “conservative operatives” who have “weaponized” the story for political purposes.
As Mayer goes on to trace the story’s emergence, we encounter the same style of presumption. The success of the Biden narrative is proof of the ability of “political partisans” to influence the mainstream media (the media isn’t partisan?) and a worrisome sign of just how hard it is to fight “disinformation” these days.
Much of the article focuses not on rebutting the Biden story, but on tracing it to right-wing journalists, like John Solomon, who had been a “respected” reporter for the Washington Post—that is, until he began working for “overtly conservative outlets” like the Washington Times and fell into disrepute—and Breitbart editor Peter Schweitzer. Schweitzer, Mayer observes, previously peddled “disinformation” about conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation in 2016 in the book Clinton Cash, particularly the Uranium One story, which “enabled Clinton’s opponents to frame her as greedy and corrupt.” The New York Times, apparently forgetting its mission to combat right-wing hate-facts, credulously printed Schweitzer’s allegations.
Now, Schweitzer has peddled fresh “baseless tales” about the Bidens. But what does the story’s genealogy have to do with the truth of the actual allegations? Is Joe Biden crooked or not? Thankfully, the question has been settled easily and without much need for reflection. The “fact-checkers” have made quick work of the whole thing:
Among those officials was Viktor Shokin, a former top Ukrainian prosecutor who was sacked in March 2016, after European and U.S. officials, including Joe Biden, complained that he was lax in curbing corruption. Shokin claimed that he had lost his powerful post not because of his poor performance but rather because Biden wanted to stop his investigation of Burisma, in order to protect his son. The facts didn’t back this up. The Burisma investigation had been dormant under Shokin. (Emphasis added.)
This is almost the entirety of the rebuttal given to the corruption allegations: it’s a conspiracy theory because “the facts” said so. But “the facts” invoked here, as is so often the case in the lapdog press, are a mere substitute for factual demonstration. After invoking “the facts,” we get a series of neat, settled talking points meant to dismiss any doubts about the incontrovertible truth of the narrative.
Troublesome Facts Just Aren’t Facts
The claim being referenced here, of course, is that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who had investigated a company, Burisma Holdings, on whose board Hunter sat. The former vice president famously bragged about getting the “son of a bitch” fired by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees.
That looks bad for Biden, and we can’t have that. Happily, the “fact checkers” have already put out the fire. Their rebuttal is a typically incurious one: Shokin was fired, not for going after Burisma, but for not pursuing corruption, and Burisma, enough. Yes, of course. The Burisma investigation was “dormant,” whatever that means, under Shokin, and there was international pressure for his firing anyway, so Biden really should be applauded for sacking him.
There is so much that has been left unsettled here. Perhaps it warrants some journalistic investigation? For one thing, the fact that Western governments and international institutions were not happy with Shokin does not exclude the possibility that Biden wanted him fired for his own reasons.
With the explosion of the Biden story into the mainstream, voters have been left in a “fog of suspicion and confusion” where it’s impossible to tell truth from fact. Suddenly it’s possible—perish the thought!—Biden may not be such an upright guy after all.
While the official story for Biden’s trip to Ukraine was that he was there to offer them help in fighting corruption and reforming the country after its revolution, at that very time his son was making a killing at a company run by an “oligarch” and former minister of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after the revolution. But there was absolutely no conflict between Biden’s official mission and the personal interests of his son? Really? Even the New York Times acknowledged, in a December 2015 article, that Biden’s “credibility” in fighting corruption risked being “undermined” by Hunter’s position at Burisma. You don’t say?
Hunter Biden got the job in 2014, shortly after his father became Obama’s point man for Kiev. Must have been a coincidence. The State Department said at the time that young Biden was a “private citizen” and that there was no conflict. But didn’t Hunter’s position call into question the purity of his father’s motives in pursuing the whole anti-corruption thing in Ukraine, just a tiny bit?
But the fact-checkers seem satisfied with this explanation. The famously non-corrupt State Department and EU were behind Shokin’s firing, so there’s nothing to see here. But if there was an investigation into Burisma, then Biden had a conflict of interest, period, and any media worthy of respect would have more, not fewer, questions about what happened.
Incuriosity Is Killing Our Press
The “fact-checkers” seem satisfied that there was no investigation, that it was “dormant.” But what the hell does “dormant” mean? In other words, there was an investigation, but it was suspended? What does that prove? Did Biden know that the investigation was dormant, or sleeping, or hibernating, or whatever it was supposed to be doing? And how do we know he did not expect it someday to resume?
Nobody has shown that the investigation was officially closed, or even “dormant.” The Ukrainians have given conflicting accounts. The “dormant” claim appears to stem from a single Bloomberg story citing Shokin’s former deputy, Vitaliy Kasko. According to Kasko, the Burisma probe was “shelved” in 2014 and 2015. (Shokin was fired in 2016.) But Shokin has said in a sworn affidavit that he was actively investigating Burisma and that he was fired because Biden wanted him gone.
According to the “fact-checkers,” the sources pushing the Biden story can’t be trusted. Solomon, who helped promote the Biden story in a series of columns for The Hill, cited what Mayer calls “questionable” sources. Those sources included Shokin himself and his successor, Yuri Lutensko. Why are Shokin and Lutsenko untrustworthy, while Kasko has the last word?
Of course, we don’t know that Biden did anything wrong, but to call it a conspiracy theory? The media haven’t dedicated a fraction of the energy they poured into the Russia collusion coup into this story, but already, they seem to have the whole thing figured out.
What’s going on here? The media isn’t doing any “fact-checking” on the Biden-Ukraine story. Rather, they are doing narrative gatekeeping. Instead of investigating plain conflicts of interests, they have drawn up a list of talking points to control the story.
This isn’t new. The media has shown a similar lack of interest toward investigating, and hostility towards those who are investigating, the origins of the Trump-Russia hoax. As the Ukraine story unfolded, Bill Barr was slammed for chasing “conspiracy theories” abroad by enlisting foreign countries in his review of the Russia probe.
In all of these controversies, journalists have shown reliable laziness in alluding, hazily, to “the facts” to dismiss politically damaging or inconvenient narratives. When journalists refer to “the facts” in the abstract, they aren’t referring to concrete fact patterns so much as invoking their sole authority to decide what it is and is not respectable to believe.
They really are begging the question: X is a conspiracy theory because the facts said so, and we journalists, the gatekeepers of the narrative, have exclusive authority to decide which “facts” are actually facts and which ones are “Republican talking points.” QED. So whenever Trump makes some damaging claim about a rival, it’s “without evidence.” But when somebody makes a damaging claim about Trump without evidence, it’s just true.
The Presumption of Right-Wing Guilt
In the mainstream media, any stories that originate on the Right are by definition positioned as batty and suspect—not for any reason of logic, but because they don’t jibe with the political sensibilities of what is called the “mainstream” media but is really a corporate leftist media. When press says that something is a conspiracy theory because Fox News is interested in it, they aren’t exactly saying it’s false. They’re making a value judgment, saying it’s the kind of thing that it is not acceptable or fashionable to admit in public that you believe, even if it’s reasonable to do so.
Note the two-pronged approach: first, the journalist adverts to “the facts,” without actually providing proof, to dismiss the damaging narrative out of hand. Then the narrative is positioned morally as suspect and as a “right-wing conspiracy theory.” Both techniques are really just a way for the media to assert its authority, a way of saying, “we journalists have decided this never happened, and anyone who thinks it did is crazy, uninformed, or racist.”
Mayer’s article is filled with signal words that are supposed to alert the reader of right-wing “disinformation.” The so-called mainstream media is imagined to be nonpartisan and “susceptible” to attack by shadowy right-wing actors. People who heard damaging stories about Clinton’s corruption in 2016 had been “misinformed.” The conservative media is an “echo chamber”—completely unlike the leftist of our media, of course—where calumny thrives. The once reputable Solomon discredited himself by working for mainstream right-of-center outlets like the Washington Times.
With the explosion of the Biden story into the mainstream, voters have been left in a “fog of suspicion and confusion” where it’s impossible to tell truth from fact, and—perish the thought—they have been presented with the possibility that Biden may not be such an upright guy after all; maybe he’s even as bad as Trump!
Disruption of the mainstream media narrative is imagined to be some kind of epistemological catastrophe, leaving voters with terminal political vertigo. The masses who are credulous enough to think that elite corruption (at least by a Clinton or a Biden) is a real thing have been victimized by “partisan” sources, and it’s the job of the Brave Journalists ™ at places like the New York Times to keep the story straight. Yet just by printing articles on the “conspiracy theory,” a newspaper with the “credibility” of the New York Times is validating tall tales.
The New York Times has shown plenty of editorial “responsibility,” if you take the term to mean a commitment to the narrative, facts be damned. The paper’s recent Kavanaugh debacle, coming as it did only weeks after launching the revisionist 1619 project, showed just how far the paper has devolved into a workshop for churning out pop-academic left-wing agitprop.
“Credibility” in blue-check-ese, is a signifier of political respectability, not factual correctness. Credible newspapers are so-called because they are “woke” and committed to the cause, no matter how divorced from reality they might actually be. By the same token, a conspiracy theory appears to be any story that might validate the grievances of the Right, if it were to be investigated with due diligence.
It’s absolutely crazy to ask people to think that Hunter Biden got a job with a Ukrainian oil company without his father pulling any strings. No reasonable person would dismiss the possibility. He got the job despite having no experience in the industry or in the region, to say nothing of his tabloid-worthy lifestyle, which got him kicked out of the Navy for cocaine use months beforehand? Despite all this baggage, he got an extremely lucrative do-nothing job in a notoriously corrupt country, and his dad didn’t help?
Protecting Their Own
To call anyone who sees signs of impropriety here a “conspiracy theorist” is simply obtuse. Or is the assumption that this kind of behavior is normal and expected from our elites—that it’s just something that everyone should casually accept as part of the business of politics, or at least banal when compared with the unique, metaphysical evils of Donald Drumpf? Many in the corporate leftist media seem to agree that Hunter’s business was untoward, even if it didn’t technically rise to the level of illegality. Then again, do we even know that’s true?
Did Biden have Shokin fired for corrupt reasons? Well, is Biden capable of corruption? The media seems to think not, as evinced by their shrugs at this obvious conflict of interest. But the answer is self-evident from the fact that his son was working for Burisma Holdings in the first place. If Biden’s story is a “worrisome” example of “legal corruption,” as even some liberal newspapers will concede, why the complete conviction that nothing more nefarious occurred below the obviously seedy surface?
The former vice president hasn’t gotten his story straight. He has said that he “never” spoke with his son about his business dealings, something that has been contested by Hunter himself. Again, would any reasonable person believe that Biden never talked to Hunter about it? A photograph exists of the vice president and his son with a board member from Burisma Holdings, the company Biden never talked about with his son. Yet they were, golfing in the Hamptons the year Hunter Biden joined the company.
Common sense would suggest that it’s at least plausible to question whether Joe Biden engaged in political maneuvering on his son’s behalf. It’s not like it would be the first time, anyway. But the establishment press—a profession that used to operate on the adage, “if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out”—has decided that there’s nothing more to discover.
That’s the complete opposite of what “journalists” are supposed to pride themselves on doing. Here is clear evidence of pay-to-play dealing by one of our political elites, but the media is more interested in narrative gatekeeping—because Biden can’t possibly be as bad as Trump, right? Even if it’s possible, best to do whatever we can to dispense with the thought.
Ultimately, the media’s cynicism amounts to a defense of elite corruption itself. But given that the press is now part of that corrupted order, why shouldn’t the media be expected to protect it?