Charles Lipson, If a bombshell goes off in the forest and no one is allowed to talk about it, does it make a sound?
Hunter Biden is now the subject of multiple stories involving serious corruption. Whether he committed any crimes is a question for prosecutors and the courts. Whether he was paid handsomely for his family’s political clout is a question for voters.
You wouldn’t know that from ABC’s pathetic town hall with his father Joe Biden on Thursday night. They spoke with him for 90 minutes and didn’t ask a single question about the shocking emails published by the New York Post. That’s either journalistic malpractice or public-relations work. After all, the emails raise profound questions that the candidate needs to answer. They appear to show his son, Hunter, repeatedly using his last name to fill his pockets.
Hunter’s family is his only asset. How else did someone with no special skills manage to collect such huge payments from foreign companies with deep interests in US policy? He has no knowledge of Ukraine or China, no experience in energy or banking, and a crack pipe full of personal problems. So, how exactly did he get rich?
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the answer. Joe Biden himself could figure it out. The money was meant to open doors in the Obama administration and potentially a future Biden one. It was meant to inform mid-level US bureaucrats and diplomats that these companies had very powerful connections. The message: your bosses will be happy if you meet with these fine folks and even happier if you can help them.
Most of Hunter’s payments came from a corrupt Ukrainian energy producer, Burisma, and from multiple Chinese firms, all closely connected with the ruling Communist party. These payments were made when Hunter’s father was vice president, assigned primary responsibility for US foreign policy toward Ukraine and China, or after he left office and was considered a frontrunner to retake the White House.
These damning facts were well known before the New York Post published its latest cache of documents, supposedly to and from Hunter Biden. (The word ‘supposedly’ is used here since the documents must be verified.) What’s new about these documents is their avalanche of details, their list of additional companies and specific executives, and the scale of payments, some which were simply for Hunter making ‘introductions’. Some of these documents mention Vice President Biden, but he did not send or receive any of the emails disclosed so far.
This logic here is simple: outsiders purchase access and influence from insiders who sell it. That has long been the story of Washington lobbying and revolving-door politics, which grows in tandem with the size and scope of the federal government. Economists call it ‘rent-seeking behavior’.
The Clinton Foundation set a new standard for this rent-seeking. Its scale was unprecedented, and so was the cleverness of making it a tax-deductible charity. It worked smoothly when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and the favorite to succeed Barack Obama. How do we know the money funneled to the Foundation and the Clintons personally was designed to buy access and influence? Because it all dried up after Hillary lost. As politicians in the old Chicago Machine used to say, ‘don’t back no losers.’
It is easy enough to see this as corruption, pure and simple. That’s because it is. The recipients are grifters, even though they wear Hermès scarves and ties. They are paid by companies seeking influence in government and the profits associated with it. This is Washington’s Circle of Life. Trump calls it ‘the Swamp’. Retired politicians and generals call it a living.
The malign influence of this circle is why we should keep saying, ‘the Bidens are corrupt. The Clintons are corrupt. They are reaping private profits from their public power.’ But we shouldn’t stop there because the problem goes beyond one or two bad actors, powerful as they are. The problem is a broader, self-perpetuating system of entrenched, corrupt power of which the Biden and Clinton families are poster children.
Seeing the Biden family’s corruption as part of this entrenched system is why the social-media censorship of that story should not be seen as a separate, stand-alone scandal. It is integral to understanding how the Swamp’s ecosystem operations, how it defines our politics.
The operation is visible in the New York Post exposé of Biden family corruption. The FBI has had those documents for months, so they should be either verified or discredited by now. Those findings, if they exist, have not leaked. If the emails are legitimate, they are bombshells. If they are false, they are worse than duds. They are a major disinformation campaign — an assault on our election — and we need to know who is behind it so we can hold them accountable.
Twitter and Facebook have prevented dissemination of the Post story on their platforms. The reason, they say, is that they have not substantiated it themselves. They decided to block all users, including members of Congress and the President’s press secretary, from sharing links to these published stories. Big Tech Knows Best.
Remember, this story was published by a major newspaper, a reputable one with a large circulation, subject to libel and defamation laws. Notice that the Biden presidential campaign has not denied the documents are authentic. They did deny, sort of, one item in one email, namely that VP Biden met with a Burisma executive, despite years of denying any involvement with Hunter’s business dealings. The campaign issued a carefully worded statement, saying only that the vice president had not listed on his official schedule any meeting with a senior Burisma official for the day in question. Later, they acknowledged that there were long gaps in the schedule and that a meeting could have taken place. Maybe it did; maybe it didn’t. We just don’t know as yet. We do know, quite apart from these emails, that VP Biden met with his son’s Chinese business contacts without listing them on his ‘official schedule’.
The New York Post has disclosed a great deal about its sourcing for these Biden stories, far more than other newspapers did when they published anonymously-sourced attacks on Trump. The social media giants didn’t block those. It didn’t even block discredited stories, like one from BuzzFeed that was demolished with an unprecedented public statement from Robert Mueller’s Office of Special Counsel. Today, you can post links to that discredited story on Facebook or Twitter. If you are an Iranian or Chinese propaganda ministry, you can post your stories, too.
To put it bluntly: the ‘verification standard’ isn’t standard and doesn’t require verification unless the social-media czars say it does. It should be called the Alice in Wonderland Standard. ‘“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”’ And so it is with Facebook and Twitter’s ‘verification standard’.
Why did Twitter and Facebook blackout news about Hunter Biden? The obvious answer is that those companies have a dog in the fight, and they are walking behind him with a giant pooper-scooper. It’s impossible to say if they picked that dog for ideological or financial reasons. Perhaps both. Most employees favor Biden, while higher-level executives want to preserve their networks of political power and influence. Both motives point in the same direction.
Trump has framed this New York Post story and its suppression on social media by saying ‘Biden is corrupt’ and ‘Big Tech is biased’. He’s right, of course, but he should go further. Oddly, he is overlooking the very idea he has campaigned on since 2015. Biden, Burisma, Chinese banks, Twitter and Facebook are all faces of the Washington Swamp. Next week, the faces may be different, but the Swamp itself will be the same. The buyers and sellers who populate this fetid ecosystem have powerful reasons to sustain it. For some, that means taking payments from foreign oligarchs and then opening doors for them. For others, that means suppressing news about who opened the doors and why. That is exactly what Big Tech is doing now. They, like the politicians they are protecting, want to retain their power and line their pockets. In Washington, that’s the Circle of Life.