Twice so far this election, conservative media outlets – chiefly Fox News and the New York Post – have tried to jolt the struggling Trump campaign with an October Surprise. The first happened when the Department of Justice released heavily redacted handwritten notes that showed that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign wanted to use Trump’s potential Russia connection against him; the Post pitched the notes as proof, somehow, that Clinton’s team fabricated the scandal, even though it was already at least somewhat publicly known by the time the notes were written. The second, this week, saw the Post release alleged emails by Hunter Biden that outline corrupt dealings in Ukraine during his father’s vice presidency, but the emails are just screenshots with no metadata and the story of how the Post obtained them is laughably bogus.
In both cases, the oft-lamented “liberal media” didn’t take the bait, with most focusing on the president’s erratic, possibly COVID-19 influenced behavior, and the flurry of questions around his recently partially-released income tax information. These are the very stories that the Trump campaign and its allies want shoved off the front pages, and the fact that outlets are running them over these new email pseudoscandals is surely proof of a liberal bias.
But The Washington Post says it wanted to verify the authenticity of the Hunter Biden emails before it ran a story about them and they were denied. The Daily Beast couldn’t verify the story of how the emails came into the Trump campaign’s hands when it interviewed the owner of the repair shop personally. When the Los Angeles Times tried to confirm its authenticity with Rudy Guiliani, Guiliani said he would only talk if the paper printed a headline with the phrase “Lyin’ Joe” in it.
In each of these cases, an effort to do genuine journalism, to determine whether a source was legitimate and how trustworthy it was, was derailed by a conservative effort to conceal the truth. Why? If everything is above board, why not going along with the process?
In fact, even if it isn’t, why not go along with the process? Here’s why.
Option A: The Notes Don’t Really Say That
In the Brennan note release, a heavy amount of inferring and line-drawing was required to get the emails to read the way the Post and Fox News wanted them interpreted.
The claim alleged by conservative outlet The Federalist at the time was that “the Russians were aware of and potentially manipulating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plans to smear Donald Trump as a Russian agent” which paints both Trump and Russia as a hero against the fraudulent collusion conspirator Hillary Clinton. But the notes don’t say that. Anywhere. By this point, the U.S. intelligence community knew that Russian intelligence was involved in a plot to try to support the Trump campaign. The DNC email dump has already occurred and Russia is already in the crosshairs.
Option B: The Emails Aren’t Genuine
In a post on Medium, journalists Brian & Eddie Krassenstein say that graphics errors in the images released by the Post suggest that the emails are manipulated images, not pure screenshots.
The Pyramid team has also checked into this and raised questions about discrepancies in how the emails are formatted versus the standard formatting used by Gmail and Outlook.
The Biden campaign says the emails are not genuine and that the events they describe are imagined.
This leaves it to the Post or to the Trump campaign to prove that the messages are real. But they’re refusing to do that.
In both the Brennan notes and the Hunter Biden emails, conservative media is playing the role of diligent propagandist instead of doing journalism.
Conservative media – Reason, the sole bastion of, well, reason in conservative media, notwithstanding – have run the Hunter Biden story uncritically. This widens the gulf between conservative media and the rest of the media world and that gulf isn’t the cause of one side being right and the other side being the “mainstream media.” The gulf is the cause of one side being dogmatic, so determined to print anything and everything that aids its political cause, and that side is not coincidentally the side that wants you to believe the other side is the one that’s biased.
This is a problem, though. For liberals. In particular. The wider the gap between conservative media and the rest of the media world, the wider the gap between what conservative media consumers believe versus the rest of the world. Fox News viewers don’t take COVID-19 precautions. Republicans are far more likely to believe parts of the thoroughly garbage QAnon conspiracy theory (which does have some detractors in conservative media). There are increasingly two worldviews, one shaped by events and one shaped by political dogma. How long can this division last?
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