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How Mainstream Media Failed to Explain the Hunter Biden "Scandal" is a Russian Intelligence Op

Updated: Feb 24

(Editor's note: This commentary first appeared on the media criticism site "Press Watch" and is reprinted with permission).

By Dan Froomkin

The Hunter Biden impeachment drama has been transformed by the revelation that the most essential witness for the GOP is a pathological liar and Russian intelligence asset.

The story is no longer whether Joe Biden committed high crimes and misdemeanors by maintaining relations with his ne’er-do-well son. In fact, there has never been any credible evidence to support that conclusion.

The real story is that the ludicrous Republican impeachment investigation has now been exposed as a Russian intelligence op. This, even as Republicans do Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding by blocking support for Ukraine and only a few short years after Trump aides welcomed Russian moves to help the Trump campaign in 2016.

But the political reporters at our most esteemed newsrooms who went to great lengths to portray the Biden impeachment investigation as a serious inquiry seem unable to change gears.

I’m not surprised. It  would require them to admit they were wrong. They don’t do that.

This is now a major scandal, worthy of the kind of multiple-day front-page pile-on involving legions of reporters and opinion writers that Biden’s age got recently.

But the response from the Washington Post and the New York Times has been tepid, with a grand total of one buried print story since the news about Alexander Smirnov’s Russian connections emerged in a Tuesday afternoon court filing by special counsel David Weiss.

Here’s the limp New York Times story, which appeared on page A16 on Wednesday. An online-only article later on Wednesday focused almost exclusively on Smirnov and how he “stepped over the line.”

That very same day, the Times front-paged a three-byline, 3,000-word story on the Hollywood lawyer who the authors apparently think helped Hunter Biden too much.

Here’s the lackluster Washington Post story on the Russian connection, which appeared on page A4 on Wednesday – right above a longer piece by Matt Viser about the “high stakes” involved in the impeachment investigation and how Republicans “are still struggling to uncover firm evidence” that Biden profited from his son’s shady business dealings. (“Struggling” not “failing”.)

Indeed, a Post story in today’s paper about the deposition of presidential brother James Biden continued to depict the impeachment investigation respectfully, rather than as a now-undermined and farcical act at attempted revenge. Author Matt Viser even speculated that the questioning of James Biden “could yield more information.”

Politico barely even mentioned the Russian connection at all. The Associated Press had two stories about the new developments. The second-day storywas stronger than the first, leading this way:

The explosive allegations at the center of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden were false, federal prosecutors said, and came from an ex-FBI informant who said he was in touch with Russian intelligence.

But none of the major news organizations have come even close to acknowledging just how much the story has changed.

By contrast, TPM editor Josh Marshall, writing on Wednesday afternoon, powerfully described the revelation as the latest example of “a continuing Russian information operation that has been ongoing for almost a decade.” He concluded:

"The real issue… is the reporters, editorialists and commentators, who vouched for and credited this whole edifice of lies and bullshit. Yes, they guffawed when James Comer came forward yet again with more revelations that never quite panned out. But they didn’t give up hope. They were always waiting for the next revelation. Comer and his Republican colleagues hadn’t provided “hard evidence” yet but there sure was a lot of smoke.

"This entire thing has been based on Russian plants and intelligence operations from the start. Every bit of it. It’s been obvious. And yet, well … they’re all dupes. Somehow almost a decade after this whole thing started we’re shocked to see, wow, Weiss’s office was being led around by another cat’s paw of the Russian intelligence services. We’re shocked. But why are we shocked?

"Every last person among the serious people of the nation’s capital and the sprawling thing called elite received opinion has egg on their face. And it’s not even clear they fully realize it yet.

People I follow on social media have been justifiably outraged.

Author Joseph O’Neill tweeted:

"The truly scandalous thing about the MSM’s failure to splash this across the front pages is that secret treacherous collaboration between the GOP and Russia is a huge, sensational story by any normal journalistic standard."

John Stoehr, the editor of the Editorial Board newsletter, tweeted:

"It’s not enough to say that the GOP’s impeachment inquiry is falling apart. It’s not enough to say that they keep peddling debunked conspiracy theories. We should say clearly that the root of the lies is the Kremlin, then ask why the GOP is trafficking in Russian disinfo."

Brian Beutler, author of the Off Message newsletter, tweeted:

"It isn’t just MSM either. Many Dems, even very good ones, see this mainly as the death knell for impeachment. They haven’t realized or are trying to avoid the fact that this is the opening of a new scandal (or reopening of an old one, if you prefer)."

Video journalist Brinda Adhikari tweeted:

"I’m having trouble understanding why every single story on my feed is not about the Russian disinformation campaign to influence our election by deliberately seeding bad info about H. Biden. Like why is this not a huge story-how else might the Russians be trying to influence us??"

Democratic commentator Kaivan Shroff tweeted:

"5 YEARS of Hunter Biden coverage and all of a sudden media has lost interest now that we learn it was a Russian op that Republicans were happy to engage in. Absolutely insane."

Condé Nast journalist Luke Zaleski warned:

"We’re going to be gaslit into a dictatorship. It’s time to recalibrate the presumption that the Republican Party hasn’t been seriously compromised."

I’ll leave the last words to David Roberts, author of the Volts newsletter, who tweeted:

"The entire Biden impeachment effort was built around a guy who was peddling Russian disinformation. This seems like significant news, unless … [finger to ear] … never mind, I’m being told Biden is still old."


(Dan Froomkin is a veteran national journalist and media critic. In 2019, he founded Press Watch as an independent non-profit organization devoted to encouraging political journalists to fulfill their essential mission of creating an informed electorate and holding the powerful accountable. It is funded by donations from readers and the philanthropic community).

Images: Hunter Biden (NBC News); Dan Froomkin (LinkedIn).

*Update: Since we posted, several readers have asked for an explanation of "MSM" This abbreviation refers collectively to large, mass, or "legacy" media outlets, such as those referenced in Dan's piece. MSM are distinct from "alternative media" outfits, like this one.




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