Hunter, Hillary, and the media—what changed since 2016

Lessons learned

A quick pre-election pitch.

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Trump and his allies are seething at the press as the campaign enters its final stretch. Furious that the news media aren't gorging on Hunter Biden coverage, conservatives are railing against a 'liberal media' conspiracy of "suppression," insisting the press has gone all in to protect Biden. Spoiled by the bounties of 2016, when the same Trump campaign was able to spoon-feed Hillary Clinton gotcha coverage to a pliant press corps, conservatives are furious the same playbook isn't working this time.

The good news with the Hunter story, cooked up by Steve Bannon, who's now facing federal fraud charges, and Rudy Guiliani, is that the press is not allowing crooked GOP actors to persuade them to chase a bogus scandal.  

The bad news is, if the press had used the same common sense guidelines in 2016, Hillary Clinton would be president today.  

Even after Trump pushed the hollow Hunter saga during last week's debate to an audience of 60 million viewers, the story has sputtered out, attracting very little serious news attention. When Reuters’ Jeff Mason asked Trump what crime Biden had supposedly committed, Trump called Mason “a criminal for not reporting it.”

At this point, only Fox News viewers pretend to understand what the wild allegations of wrongdoing are. Or why the presidential campaign, against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic, should revolve around the business dealings of a candidate's son. Fox News has devoted endless hours to peddling the Hunter saga. And a lot of that coverage consists of Fox News talkers complaining about the press' lack of interest.



Why is the mainstream media showing restraint regarding Hunter today? Lots of reasons:

• Hunter Biden isn't running for office.

• There's no there, there. Even the newsroom at Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal concluded that the hysterical claims being made about the Bidens’ business dealings in the Ukraine don't add up to anything. (The WSJ's editorial page is pushing the story nonstop, though.)

• The allegations are built around a laptop that reportedly once belonged to Hunter. But the only people who have access to the laptop are Giuliani, Bannon, and the unreliable New York Post. Reporters have no way to look at the material to judge its veracity.

• Even some staffers at the Post refused to put their names on the dubious gotcha story.

Lastly, and this is the one the press is allergic to and does not want to address, the lack of coverage this time is tied to a sexist double standard the press created four years ago for Clinton.  It was sexist coverage that drove big, damaging Clinton stories throughout the campaign, including her use of a private email server (which lots of men do), giving paid speeches (which lots of men do), and running a charitable foundation (which lots of men do). 

During the final months of the 2016 campaign, it was the hacked emails saga. At the time, journalists irresponsibly hyped a Russia dark ops campaign. Despite revisionist excuses that they had no idea Russia was behind the email scheme, journalists knew in the summer of 2016 the Kremlin was connected to the hack — that June, a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee posted a public notice that concluded that the hack had been carried out by two groups associated with Russian intelligence. Reporters and editors eagerly published and aired the stolen documents anyway, because the target was Clinton, whom so many of them held in contempt. 

Putin's team successfully hijacked the 2016 campaign because the press served as willing conduits. Journalists remained enthralled with the larger Clinton email storyline and treated it as a defining issue of the campaign, while she ran against an openly corrupt opponent who lied nonstop. What unfolded in 2016 was comically breathless coverage of the emails, even though journalists pushing the hacked material often conceded that none of the emails revealed damning information.

The simple truth is that most everyone in the D.C. press thought Clinton was going to win, and because there was a strange personal animus toward her, the press seemed to see its job as making sure Clinton limped across the finish line and that her historic win be as unpleasant as possible. The hacked emails provided a perfect vehicle for that harassment campaign.

The press willingly let itself be played by the right-wing ecosystem. The "pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton," Harvard University and MIT researchers concluded in 2017. "Traditional media needs to reorient…by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment."

Thankfully in 2020 with the Hunter story, the press did just that.

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I appeared on MSNBC's "AM Joy" yesterday and discussed the right-wing media's futility in pushing the Hunter story:

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Iris DeMent, "I'm Going Down to Sing in Texas"

"…..where anybody can carry a gun."

That's the opening line to DeMent's new sublime and epic, 9-minute Texas shuffle that takes dead aim at the NRA gun culture, the GOP, and sexism. It comes complete with a shout out to the Dixie Chicks and the high price they paid for criticizing George W. Bush during the Iraq War.

A much-needed Prairie troubadour in these days of discontent,  DeMint's a tuneful truth teller.

It’s been way too long comin’
But I want to thank the chicks
They found out what it’s like to be a woman
And defy the establishment
Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson any guy in a cowboy hat
Would have walked away unscathed
Takin’ a stand like that
Well it’s been way too long coming