This week, the New York Post found itself at the center of a controversy that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on US politics, public discourse, and media – though, it’s less sure to play a significant role in the 2020 presidential election.
It’s a story that involves
- allegations of dirty business dealings,
- selling access to the former Vice President in exchange for political favors,
- and the future of Big Tech – more specifically, social media’s monopoly over what topics are allowed to be included in the public conversation.
The timing of the Hunter Biden ordeal bears a striking resemblance to the Hillary Clinton server and email scandals in 2016.
Even if Hunter Biden’s emails and pictures don’t hurt his father’s election effort, this is a pivotal moment in US history.
The decisions made by Facebook and Twitter to censor and suppress the spread of the information will be the catalyst for crucial conversations concerning private-sector censorship and Big Tech’s monopolization over public discourse.
This week’s happenings should be a huge wake-up call for Americans witnessing in real-time what Matt Stoller calls “a radical centralization of power over the information,” which the expert on monopoly power warns will lead to “the collapse of journalism and democracy.”
Of course, as always in US politics, the lesson taken from this story is almost exclusively dependent upon party affiliation. That’s what makes predicting the Hunter Biden saga’s impact on the 2020 election (and possibly future political contests) so challenging.
The New York Post Article
The New York Post is the fourth most widely circulated newspaper in the country. It’s also one of the oldest continuously running daily papers founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801.
While the Post took on the conservative tabloid tone present in all Rupert Murdock publications after being purchased by the Australian billionaire in 1976, it still employs real journalists who adhere to the basic rules of the trade. It’s sensationalist and biased but is not known to fake sources and invent hoaxes for the sake of disinformation campaigns.
That’s important because we’re not talking about some dodgy conspiracy site or Alex Jones being censored this time; the New York Post is a legitimate, prominent newspaper – ridiculous conservative bent aside.
How the Post Obtained the Documents
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this controversy is how the Post claims to have obtained the hard drive in question.
- As the story goes, it begins with Hunter Biden allegedly bringing a water damaged laptop to a computer repair shop in Delaware in April 2019.
(Although the shop owner cannot positively identify the former Vice President’s son, he said the laptop was affixed with a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation, named after Joe’s late oldest son.)
- Despite repeated attempts by the owner to contact the customer, both to collect payment for services rendered and retrieve the computer, nobody ever responded or returned to claim the device.
- According to Rudy Giuliani, in an interview with Brighteon, in the computer repair shop’s contract, after 90 days of non-payment or non-collection, the laptop rightfully became the property of the owner.
- After this period expired, he examined the hard drive’s contents and believed it contained evidence of criminal behavior.
- He then contacted the FBI, but not before the shop owner made a second (or more) copy of the hard drive. The New York Post published a photograph of the federal subpoena showing FBI agents seized both the laptop and hard drive in December 2019.
- Eventually, the owner handed over the second copy to Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello.
- According to sources at the paper, Steve Bannon alerted the New York Post to the existence of the hard drive in September 2020. However, Giuliani didn’t provide a copy to The Post until last Sunday.
The first thing to keep in mind when calculating the impact this story may have on the election is that it’s still ongoing. The Post is releasing new documents every day. Giuliani told an interviewer that there will be new drops every day between now and just before Election Day.
The former New York Mayor also expressed his desire for the Biden campaign to falsely deny the contents of the hard drive so that GOP operatives can release damning contradictory evidence in response. They want to catch the Biden’s in public lies then expose them as dramatically as possible.
In the meantime, the scandal has already grown.
The Bidens and Burisma
It started with images of Hunter Biden in the throes of drug addiction and emails suggesting that Burisma executives procured preferential treatment from the Obama administration while the Vice President was overseeing US foreign policy with Ukraine.
Based on the emails published by The Post so far, the publicly available timeline of events, and quotes from Joe Biden himself, the circumstantial evidence suggests Hunter was selling access to his father. That part of the story has generally been accepted.
After all, Hunter Biden was handed a seat on the energy firm’s board that paid $50,000 per month, despite a total lack of experience with energy policy and Ukrainian affairs. What else could he have possibly been offering Burisma in the absence of expertise?
The New York Post’s revelations change what we know about Joe Biden’s knowledge of and role in the arrangement.
The Democratic presidential nominee has repeatedly denied having discussions with his son concerning the younger Biden’s overseas business affairs.
“I’ve never discussed my business or their business, my sons’ or daughter’s. And I’ve never discussed them because they know where I have to do my job and that’s it, and they have to make their own judgments,” Joe Biden told a “CBS Evening News” interviewer last October.
In 2015, a spokeswoman for the former Vice President claimed that “Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer. The former vice president does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company,” in a statement to the New York Times.
Assuming the emails are authentic (and if they weren’t, the Biden campaign would have denied their legitimacy and forced the NY Post to print a retraction by now), both of the above quotes have been proven false.
Timeline of Events
- Hunter Biden is believed to have quietly joined Burisma’s board of directors in April 2014.
- On May 12, 2014, the same day Hunter’s addition to the board was formally announced, Vadym Pozharskyi — Burisma’s number-three executive – sent him an email titled “urgent issue” in the subject line. In the correspondence, Pozharskyi explains a problem the company is having with “the representatives of new authorities in power.”
He then asks for the type of assistance only the Vice President, not his son, could provide. “We urgently need your advice on how you could use your influence to convey a message/signal, etc. to stop what we consider to be politically motivated actions” against Burisma.
- This is likely a reference to Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was investigating the Ukrainian energy company and had plans that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
- On April 17, 2015, Pozharskyi sent an email to Hunter thanking him for arranging an introduction between the Ukrainian executive and the then-Vice President. “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,” wrote the top Burisma executive.
- In December 2015, Joe Biden made an official visit to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. During this trip, Biden openly admits he forced Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to fire Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold a $1 billion US loan guarantee.
- In a 2018 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden boasted, “I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”
Reason for Shokin Firing
Joe Biden claims that Viktor Shokin was corrupt, and that’s why the White House wanted him gone. Officials from the European Union and International Monetary Fund have echoed those accusations.
However, one must ask: since when does the United States care if a foreign ally employs a corrupt prosecutor? We deal with Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and a host of other countries with disreputable officials in power.
It’s also worth noting that since Viktor Shokin was fired, Burisma has been embroiled in corruption scandals. Mykola Zlochevsky, the Burisma founder, supposedly being shaken down by “new authorities in power” in Pozharskyi’s message to Hunter, is currently in exile after a state probe was launched into an embezzlement scheme in which he was allegedly involved.
In June, Ukrainian officials seized $6 million and detained three close associates Zlochevsky, who were planning to use the cash – all in US $100 bills – to bribe two top anti-corruption officials leading the ongoing investigating into the embezzlement plot.
In addition to Joe Biden being caught in several lies regarding his awareness of Hunter selling access to the Vice Presidency, if these documents are authenticated, they also shine a much different light on Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
The President was impeached for asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens’ dealings with Burisma during a July 25 phone call. Democrats in Congress accused Trump of withholding $400 million in military aid, despite never making Zelensky aware of that possibility on the call.
Here we have the previous administration’s Vice President openly flaunting the fact that he threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan if a prosecutor in the process of investigating the company at which his son is on the board of trustees is not fired.
And now, there’s a paper trail showing executives from that company asking for Hunter to leverage his influence, gaining access to the administration via an in-person meeting with the VP, and successfully seeing the prosecutor and investigation terminated soon after that.
Furthermore, the computer repair shop owner’s subpoena proves the FBI possessed the hard drive and emails in December before the impeachment hearings began. Why wasn’t an investigation ever launched into Biden or any information from the laptop mentioned before/during the trial, if it exonerated the President of wrongdoing?
The Bidens and China
While most of the attention is on Ukraine, another set of emails were uncovered allegedly detailing how Hunter Biden arranged off-the-books meetings with the former Vice President for a delegation of Chinese investors and CCP officials.
The emails were released voluntarily by Bevan Cooney, an ex-business associate of Hunter Biden and his partner Devon Archer to Breitbart writer Peter Schweizer through investigative journalist Matthew Tyrmand. Cooney is currently serving time in prison for his role in a 2016 bond fraud investment scheme. He believes he was the “fall guy” for the scheme, while Biden and Archer went free.
The emails offer a unique window into just how the Biden universe conducted business during the Obama-Biden Administration. These associates sought to trade on Hunter Biden’s relationship with, and access to, his father and the Obama-Biden White House in order to generate business.
For instance, on November 5, 2011, one of Archer’s business contacts forwarded him an email teasing an opportunity to gain “potentially outstanding new clients” by helping to arrange White House meetings for a group of Chinese executives and government officials. The group was the China Entrepreneur Club (CEC) and the delegation included Chinese billionaires, Chinese Communist Party loyalists, and at least one “respected diplomat” from Beijing.
Two years after facilitating the meeting between the then-Vice President and the Chinese delegation, Hunter Biden accompanied his father on a trip to Beijing aboard Air Force Two. There Hunter struck a deal between his company, Rosemont Seneca, and the state-owned Bank of China to become partners in a new investment firm called Bohai Harvest RST (BHR).
The younger Biden flew back home on Air Force Two, having secured $1.5 billion in investments for the new fund. Investors include China Development Bank and China’s social security fund.
Representatives for the Bidens claim the father and son’s visits to the country were utterly unrelated besides timing. But again, Joe Biden claimed never to discuss his children’s business dealings.
Do you really believe Hunter secured $1.5 billion in investments for a new fund – half a billion more than the BHR partners’ initial goal – and never mentioned it to his father on the flight back?
Do you sincerely believe state-owned banks in China are entering such partnerships with Hunter Biden for his investment expertise? Or are they buying Joe Biden’s cooperation and loyalty?
Democrats Deny Significance, Authenticity of Documents
It could be argued that the response to the publication of documents retrieved from Hunter Biden’s hard drive has been far worse than the information contained within. Everyone already knew Joe’s youngest son had a history of substance abuse problems and profited from his father’s position.
Rather than entertain the documents’ substance, most are questioning their validity, either by attacking Rudy Giuliani’s reliability as a source or claiming – per usual – that the entire ordeal is a disinformation campaign perpetrated by the ever-useful Russians.
What’s fascinating is the ability of liberal media pundits to apply a level of scrutiny to this story that hasn’t been present when reporting on Donald Trump for years. There’s far more evidence that the emails published by The Post are legitimate than anything in the Steele Dossier.
The same people who routinely accepted tales of the President doing things like calling World War 1 veterans “stupid losers” and promised that Trump’s tax returns would expose close financial ties to Russia suddenly want lots of concrete proof.
It’s not enough for the emails to match up with confirmed events or for Hunter’s lawyers to have called around trying to collect the hard drive (the only legal right they’d have to do so is if he owned the device), or that the Biden family has not said the documents are forgeries and demanded a retraction.
The Biden campaign has been meticulous in their refusal to outright deny the authenticity of the emails.
When they’re not dismissing the entire thing as Russian disinformation without ever so much as addressing the contents of the emails, they’ve chosen a line of defense revolving around attacking the messengers‘ integrity or giving deliberately and strategically specific denials. For example, the campaign said that Joe Biden doesn’t have a meeting with Vadym Pozharsky recorded on his calendar.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t obtained by sketchy means or that the Biden’s were doing anything especially unusual or illegal, just that the emails and pictures aren’t an elaborate hoax. They’re real, and Biden doesn’t want to get caught in a lie if the Republicans have additional proof.
Big Tech Censorship
Even worse than the immediate and vitriolic dismissal of the hard drive’s contents as both a hoax and a Russian campaign to again interfere in our election was how social media platforms responded to the NY Post article.
Mere hours after the story broke, Facebook and Twitter rushed to the Biden campaign’s aid. Without a single valid reason to assume the documents published by The Post were fake, the monopolistic Big Tech giants began aggressively suppressing the story.
Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other DC Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”
While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook's third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 14, 2020
Twitter took its censorship even further. They adjusted their algorithm to prevent any sharing of the Post article anywhere on their platform. It wasn’t only impossible to post the link on one’s public timeline; it couldn’t even be shared through Direct Messaging.
Any attempt to post the article triggered an error message that accused the contents of the piece of being “potentially harmful.”
— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) October 14, 2020
The rationale offered by both Twitter and Facebook to justify this censorship makes it more alarming, not less. Twitter claimed that the Post article violates its so-called “Hacked Materials Policy,” which it says permits “commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves”; in other words, Twitter allows links to articles about hacked materials but bans “links to or images of hacked material themselves.”
The company added that their policy “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization” because, they said, they “don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.”
Based on these criteria, none of the most crucial pieces of journalism in the history of the fourth estate would be allowed.
Plus, there’s no evidence at all that Hunter Biden’s files were hacked. He abandoned his computer at a shop, whose owner examined and circulated the documents only after taking legal ownership of the hard drive per the terms in the contract Biden allegedly signed.
Again, I ask:
- Where was this discernment when the media was pushing Russiagate hearsay for four years, despite one investigation after another failing to unearth the connections they’ve been promising since Hillary lost?
- What about the stories about Donald Trump’s tax returns? Those disclosures were unauthorized; why weren’t they blocked and “harmful?”
- How did Facebook’s in-house “fact-checkers” determine their legitimacy without “limiting distribution” until they received verification from the President?
The reality is that none of Facebook or Twitter’s excuses for suppressing The Post story are congruent with how they’ve moderated content on their platforms in the past.
It’s an example of extraordinarily powerful monopolies putting their finger on the scale in a US election to a degree Russian dis-info agents could only dream of.
Unfortunately, most Democrats are too short-sighted to see the danger this represents.
As long as the bias is weaponized against Donald Trump, censorship is a righteous and necessary move. Their intense hatred for the President blinds them of the precedent being set, which will inevitably be used to silence any journalism that exposes powerful entities or defies the status quo.
Are the Hunter Biden Drops a Liability for Joe’s Election Odds?
The corruption evident in the emails published by the NY Post highlight a pattern that’s followed Joe Biden throughout his political career, of the people around the former Delaware Senator and Vice President capitalizing on his power and influence.
Before the media was so hyper-partisan, concerns over Joe’s family members’ peddling access and getting rich off the Democratic candidate were covered openly. Even outlets like the New York Times addressed these issues back when Obama chose Biden as his Vice President.
The ongoing controversy does, however, supply Donald Trump with a strong line of attack from now until Election Day. He’ll focus on Biden’s corruption and membership in “the swamp” in much the same way he approached Clinton in 2016.
However, there are some key differences this time around:
- A significant portion of the electorate has already voted since covid increased the necessity and accessibility of mail-in ballots and early voting. Even if the Post story is fully authenticated, many will have already placed their vote.
- Big Tech won’t be caught off guard again. In the last election, they still allowed users to share fringe opinions and theories. Since 2016, they’ve gradually banned more and more speech under the guise of protecting users from disinformation. Now, legitimate, sourced stories are blocked for reflecting poorly on the Democratic candidate. Biden has a powerful tool on his side that wasn’t fully co-opted when Hillary needed them.
- There are far fewer undecided voters in this election cycle. There’s no reason to believe that proof of Hunter Biden selling access to his father will win Trump enough this election cycle.
Barring any genuinely game-breaking revelations in the remaining releases, Hunter Biden’s email scandal won’t be remembered for sparking the last-minute boost that carried Donald Trump to a second term. Between social pressures to dismiss the story as a hoax, social media suppression, and a lack of undecided voters, it probably won’t make a significant dent in the polls.
It will, however, be seen as a pivotal moment in American society.
When Big Tech decided to flex their monopoly powers to dictate what qualifies as acceptable discourse and journalism in order to shape the public narrative to their liking.
Their decision could be the catalyst that inspires Congress to enforce anti-trust laws and break up the social media giants. Maybe they’ll become regulated as public utilities like electricity and AT&T.
Or maybe they’ll just continue expanding the breadth of their reach with partisan hacks applauding one case of censorship after another, as long as the target was a dreaded “other,” until only a narrow range of establishment-friendly, centrist opinions are deemed acceptable.
Either way, if you’re betting on the 2020 presidential election, I’d argue this whole to-do increases Joe Biden’s odds of winning if anything. Voters don’t have the attention spans or desire to examine and appreciate how much corruption it exposes.
At the same time, we have a better idea of how invested Big Tech is in removing Donald Trump from office.
This time they got caught, and the story became news, but who knows what creative and covert techniques they’ve utilized with our algorithms and our data to create their desired outcome.