Letter to the Editor: On the Supposed “Biden Laptop Story”

October 28, 2020
(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

I admire what the Jewish Journal does in creating a forum for intelligent dialogue among Jews in Los Angeles. At the same time, I feel that the op-ed titled “At What Point Should the Mainstream Media Report On the Biden Family Story?” made an error in its assertion that the mainstream media failed to adequately cover the dubious story of Hunter Biden’s laptop. The “mainstream” media (which I consider a categorization worthy of admiration) investigated the story and made the right choice in providing only limited coverage of this questionable story.

The article was exactly right that the press exercises great latitude and power in how they report on stories and in the stories they elect to cover. But the example the article gives hardly supports the proposition. The laptop’s provenance is unclear, it is unclear if the FBI’s investigation is complete or even ongoing, the story was disseminated by President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the story was curated and spun by the Trump campaign.

In this instance, the press did its job. Giuliani did his best to find the “weakest link” in the media, stating he took the story to the New York Post because, in his words, they wouldn’t “spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.” That’s shorthand for a desire to evade scrutiny. Yet, even though the Post is known for its tabloid journalism, some staffers were not convinced of the credibility of the story. The New York Times did its investigation and could not independently verify the data in the Post article.”

Some may argue that the New York Times’s dismissal of the story after its own investigation is just another liberal outlet burying a story for political purposes. But the respected and generally conservative Wall Street Journal, which discussed the story with the Trump campaign, declined to support the narrative, stating, “Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.” The Jewish Journal’s article excoriates the media for doing their job.

Let’s remember that, whatever Hunter Biden’s indiscretions and business relationships may be,  The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal have not found one shred of evidence to corroborate these emails or their alleged ties to former vice president Biden. Were the media to continue to report the Trump campaign’s allegations of Biden’s corruption — without any corroboration — it would be placing its thumb on the scale of the election in Mr. Trump’s favor with a half-baked story.

Remember the devastating effect the accusations regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails had on the 2016 election (now, of course, these are almost quaint in light of the indiscretions of this administration)? To suggest that the press should publish stories that further this conspiratorial narrative, when it is insufficiently corroborated, is irresponsible. The press did not take the bait in this instance because there wasn’t much there, and they were unwilling to be led to questionable journalistic decisions by the Trump campaign.

What the press covers matters. And a story that is far more important for our society is the President’s recent Executive Order, which allows federal agencies to fire “poor performers” in the civil service, bypassing normal processes that protect civil servants. Critics fear that this order will politicize civil servants (such as scientists, doctors, economists, and lawyers who advise political policymakers) by allowing the president to remove employees that don’t agree with administration policies. This Executive Order is one of many actions — small and large — that this president takes to eat away at our democracy and move us to a system of spoils and authoritarianism. Yet the story about the Executive Order — confusing on its face but devastating in how it would bring our government further under the thumb of a president who seeks fealty from non-partisan positions — has received remarkably little coverage.

This President, who already interfered with the Justice Department and used the Secretary of State for heretofore unprecedented politicking, now wants to further control layers of civil servants holding positions that are essential to our safety, health, security, and defense. That’s a story worth reporting. It has the benefit of being true, well documented, and frightening.

Glenn Sonnenberg

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