The thing about “fake news” is that it suddenly looks authentic when it’s on your side.
For all of President Trump’s attacks on the “enemy of the people” – and some criticism from Bernie Sanders’ wing, which mocks the corporate-controlled media – non-partisan journalists can still be useful as arbiters. That is why the president and politicians from all walks of life are trying to organize favorable coverage, especially on controversial issues.
This allows them to point to news as confirmation of the political charge they are currently throwing. Such stories give their rhetoric a certain gravity, a patina of authenticity.
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Once upon a time, they were the gatekeepers, the big newspapers, the networks, and the magazines that controlled mostly what you read, saw, and heard. But the rise of the network and social media has destroyed their retention in the news. And that, despite the vitality and misinformation that are part of the culture of Twitter and Facebook, was a healthy thing.
The disadvantage of their forced abdication is the lack of neutral judges, the inability to reach agreement on a common set of facts, which is a hallmark of the Trump era, as the major news agencies turned sharply to the left. Who in the past could have imagined a president going out for 60 Minutes?
And that brings us to Hunter Biden.
In his column in the New York Times, Ben Smith describes how Trump campaign operatives tried to tell the story – the batch of emails and Hunter’s former business partner, accusing Joe Biden of involvement – to a Wall Street Journal reporter. “Trump’s team left, believing that The Journal would inflate things, and their excitement was passed on to the president, who told a crowd that the Journal was working on an exciting story.
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But when the Journal’s reporters, who operated separately from their conservative editorial page, took too long to dig, Trump’s people, who wanted the story to come out before the last debate, became furious. Rudy Giuliani provided some of the same documents to the New York Post, which, like Journal and Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch but operates independently. The Post’s story, which claims the former vice president was involved in Hunter’s foreign deals, drew much criticism (and was censored by Twitter and Facebook, which essentially became the new virtual goalkeepers).
A former business partner, Tony Bobulinsky, issued a statement hinting at Biden the night before the debate, and Trump’s campaign brought him to Nashville to appear the next day. Breitbart, previously run by Steve Bannon, a former White House aide who worked with Giuliani, issued the full statement.
The result is that Hunter’s latest stories were born in a super-party storm, not with the imprint of the magazine’s news pages.
What’s worse from Trump’s campaign is that the paper published a short piece of news saying that “the corporate records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.” Fox’s news, reviewing the same recordings, came to the same conclusion. In both cases, people with a conservative opinion do not agree.
There was a torrent of online denunciations from Trump supporters after I set out these facts in Media Buzz.
On the one hand, you have Bobulinsky’s account and an email saying that “H” (probably Hunter) will keep 10 percent of China’s millions of dollars for the “big man” (probably Joe).
On the other hand, another former partner says Joe Biden was not involved until two news organizations found evidence to contradict it. And in any case, this happened in 2017, when Biden was out of the office and the Chinese project never went anywhere.
Conservative guerrillas do not want to hear this; they are convinced that the former vice president is damn guilty. Liberal guerrillas do not want to hear this; they believe that the media should not even touch on the subject. This includes NPR, whose managing editor said last week that “we don’t want to waste time on stories that aren’t really stories.”
Of course, this is a story with many unanswered questions. Overall, the spread of Hunter Biden’s foreign influence seems awful and embarrassing to his father. But we already knew that.
Smith writes that the last two weeks have proven “that old goalkeepers, like the Journal, can still control the agenda.”
I would not use the word control. A newspaper with blue chips like the Journal carries more weight than an extremely addictive website, but it has a huge echo camera and no news organization is able to confirm or rule out a claim that is “there.” There are too many ways for an unstable accusation, video clip, or conspiracy theory to go viral, too many audiences to believe that the US press is lying to them.
That is why the goalkeepers are a shadow of their former self, only some voices with a brand in the national cacophony.