In 2021, the New York Post reported on the many private email addresses then–Vice President Joe Biden had used to correspond with his son Hunter Biden, possibly to evade government transparency laws. The story quickly died. In 2023, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which had previously filed a FOIA request for documents related to the pseudonymous emails and was told that more than 5,000 existed in the federal records, sued the National Archives and Record Administration because that government agency has delayed their release.
The Post and other right-leaning outlets reported the news and noted its importance to the ongoing investigation by the U.S. House Oversight Committee into Hunter Biden’s foreign business activities. But few mainstream outlets picked up the story. Those that did, such as Time, downplayed the news by uncritically repeating the administration’s claim that efforts by senior government officials to dodge public-transparency laws are commonplace: “Biden was following a common practice among senior government officials hoping to thwart hackers, as well as prevent spammers from guessing their address and clogging their inbox, according to a White House official.”
You’d think the possible effort by the former vice president and current president to evade transparency laws and conduct business behind the shield of pseudonymous email addresses would be a story worth reporting out—rather than simply regurgitating an official’s questionable claim that Biden was engaging in healthy spam-prevention techniques. But at least Time covered the story; the New York Times and the Washington Post did not. Most mainstream outlets thus far have gone along with the administration’s inconsistent narrative about Joe Biden’s involvement in his son’s business interests.
The response to the pseudonymous emails is part of a pattern of mainstream media behavior regarding President Biden. The press corps under Biden has demonstrated an astonishing unwillingness to follow up on stories, ask hard-hitting questions, or hold the administration to the same standards it has applied to previous presidents of either party.
For example, none of the perennial complaints that dogged previous presidents about their availability for press conferences and interviews have been aimed at Biden, even though Biden has granted the fewest interviews of any president since Ronald Reagan.
In June 2022, Politico acknowledged, “Joe Biden doesn’t do many off-the-record chats with reporters,” but described the traveling White House press corps as “surprised and intrigued,” like guests at their own birthday party, when Biden deigned to stop by the Air Force One press section during a trip. Alas, he “wasn’t just there to field questions.” Rather, “he used much of his time with reporters to criticize the quality and tenor of press coverage about his administration,” since Biden and his family feel that “he is not receiving the kind of generally more positive coverage they believe he deserves.”
When Biden does sit down for interviews, it is often with softball celebrity hosts or social-media influencers like YouTube boy-beauty blogger Manny MUA or actress Drew Barrymore, who ask hard-hitting questions about what gifts Biden likes to give to his wife. The New York Times’ coverage of Biden’s unavailability has been sparse and remarkably sanguine. One such story made sure to mention that “Mr. Biden has not accused the news media of being ‘the enemy of the people,’ as his predecessor did during four years in which news organizations documented thousands of lies by Mr. Trump.”
Indeed, President Biden’s questionable interpretations of the truth are not called lies at all, despite the conscious decision of news outlets to start using the word “lie” to describe untruths spoken by Donald Trump during his presidency. A recent article by Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler put it thus: “Biden loves to retell certain stories. Some aren’t credible.” Nor were his lies noted by New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, who endorsed Kessler’s piece on social media: “As president, Biden has continued a tradition of embellishing his personal tales in ways that cannot be verified or are directly refuted by contemporaneous accounts.”
Part of the challenge of verifying Biden’s accounts is the White House’s practice of pre-screening reporters and refusing admission to many, often for weeks at a time and even during large White House press events. The practice became so blatant that in June 2022, 73 reporters signed a letter to the White House demanding it end. Although the administration briefly relented, it went back to the practice of pre-screening, and the press corps has been predictably docile in accepting its fate.
Nor has the press corps produced a journalist interested in exploring what Biden does when he spends time at the beach in Delaware or on other personal trips or vacations away from the White House. These trips, according to recent calculations, represent approximately 40 percent of his presidency. Even if one accepts the administration’s claim that he is “working” while at the beach, no journalist has demanded Biden be transparent about what that work is or who he is seeing. There are no visitor logs kept for either of Biden’s Delaware homes, so the public has no way of knowing what Biden is doing or whom he is seeing when he is supposedly working.
Why aren’t journalists more curious and skeptical about the most powerful man on the planet?
An early clue to the answer came in a December 2021 Washington Post column by Dana Milbank. In it, Milbank claimed, preposterously, “The media treats Biden as badly—or worse—than Trump.” Some of Milbank’s examples of this “unrelentingly negative” coverage of Biden included headlines from Politico such as “White House Braces for a Bad CBO Score” and “Biden Dithers.”
Finally, Milbank signaled his real intention: Justifying anyone (in this case, Biden) who will serve as a dam against the rising tide of Trumpism. “We need a skeptical, independent press,” Milbank conceded. “But how about being partisans for democracy? The country is in an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative. And we in the news media, collectively, have given equal, if not slightly more favorable, treatment to the authoritarians.”
In an existential crisis, you see, normal rules don’t apply, and journalists can feel not merely competent but courageous in serving up watered-down versions of administration spin. It’s also why, when journalists are confronted with evidence of their own stubborn incuriosity, they react defensively.
During a recent interview on Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman’s podcast, Washington Post reporter Philip Bump was reduced to spluttering outrage when he was asked to respond to the possibility that some of the evidence gathered thus far in the Hunter case pointed to the possibility of corruption linked to Joe’s time as vice president.
“I’m just, I’m gonna lose my mind. I’m gonna lose my mind,” Bump said. Bump repeatedly demanded that Dworman present his evidence, and when Dworman did just that, Bump was dismissive: “You’ve offered no evidence beyond your parsing. . . . This conversation is silly!” When Dworman asked whether any reporter had asked Hunter’s adult daughter what Hunter had meant when he texted her that he had had to give half of his income to Joe Biden, Bump replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know!” Dworman politely followed up: “Don’t you think somebody should ask her?” Bump replied: “Like I just said that I don’t know and that I don’t [know] what to make of it so I have nothing to say about it. What do you want me to say?” Then he stormed out of Dworman’s club.
“President Biden has brought honesty and integrity back to the Oval Office,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates told Glenn Kessler. “Like he promised, he gives the American people the truth right from the shoulder.” You can quote him on that. Kessler did, just as he and others seem to do the administration’s bidding every day.
Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
We want to hear your thoughts about this article. Click here to send a letter to the editor.