One of the main reasons that the mainstream press is so utterly lost these days is that the mainstream press does not know that it is utterly lost these days. See, for a good example, this preposterous post-rationalization of the reaction to the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story that has been put together by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump.
Introducing his piece — which is titled, “The forgotten — and ignored — context for the emergence of the Hunter Biden laptop story” — Bump writes:
When the New York Post reported on Oct. 14, 2020, that it was in possession of emails between a Ukrainian businessman and Hunter Biden, son of the then-Democratic presidential nominee, it would have been hard to predict what followed. This was less than three weeks before the election itself, and the content of the report was soon subsumed to the odd way in which the paper obtained the information. Mainstream outlets and social media companies balked at elevating the story’s claims, triggering frustrations on the right that remain to this day.
Before we go on, let me stop Bump right there. “Social media companies” did not “balk at elevating the story’s claims.” They worked overtime to stop anybody reading the story at all. Twitter prevented users from sharing links to the piece by showing those who tried a message that read, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful,” and it went so far as to suspend the New York Post’s account completely, until the paper agreed to delete its tweets on the matter. Facebook, meanwhile, altered its algorithms so that it did not “place posts linking to the story as highly in people’s news feeds, reducing the number of users who [saw] it.”
As for Bump’s “mainstream outlets”? They were actively dismissive. NPR explained that it did “not 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.” This was typical. At one of the presidential debates, Joe Biden said (well, lied) that the story was “a bunch of garbage” and a “Russian plant,” and, as he knew that it would, the press followed suit with these characterizations. “Balked at elevating the story’s claims”? Give me a break.
New reporting has re-elevated questions about how the story emerged and was handled. In light of that resurrection, it seems useful to articulate exactly why there was suspicion about the story’s origins — suspicion that itself has not entirely been resolved.
In a vacuum, the case that Bump goes on to make is arguable. Indeed, if the mainstream press were a habitually skeptical institution, it might even be correct. But the mainstream press is not a habitually skeptical institution. Rather, it is a gullible, ill-informed, hysterical, lazy, dumb, and duplicitous institution, and its aims are utterly transparent.
You will presumably recall that the Hunter Biden story about which Bump is writing came hot on the heels of one of the most absurd freakouts in recent American history — a freakout, I need not remind anyone, during which the press exhibited precisely none of the traits that Bump is ascribing to it now. Utterly convinced that Donald Trump was a Russian agent, Bump’s “suspicious” press spent four years repeating, sharing, “elevating” (and believing) the most preposterous thing about Donald Trump — and doing so without the slightest hint of skepticism “about the story’s origins.” Buzzfeed happily published an obviously fake “dossier,” with the justification that it was out there, and that “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect.” In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. New York magazine published a ridiculous fantasy about Donald Trump having been a Russian asset since 1987. In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. Cable news guests speculated wildly, punctuating their ramblings with self-congratulatory “boom!”s and assurances that the “walls” were “closing in.” In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. But when the New York Post published a story that Hunter Biden himself declined to deny . . . well, suddenly, all hands were on deck.
“Context”? There’s your context.