Throughout the Trump era, a civil war has been brewing at various right-leaning outlets: the opinion side vs. the news side, in which stances taken by the former have been debunked, refuted, or otherwise undermined by reporting from the latter. This week’s variation on the theme can be found in the pages of Friday’s Wall Street Journal, where the Hunter Biden controversy as the latest point of contention.
Kimberley Strassel, a conservative columnist at the News Corp–owned Journal, drew first blood in a Thursday op-ed designed to hype up Joe Biden’s Hunter “problem,” a problem, she claimed, that “could soon become America’s.” Strassel’s evidence for her claims came via allegations made by Tony Bobulinski, a businessman who worked on a 2017 deal with a Chinese energy company alongside Hunter Biden. On the night of the final presidential debate, Bobulinski also served as Donald Trump’s shock-factor guest, tagging along amid allegations that the former vice president used his status to set up a pay-to-play scheme on his son’s behalf—allegations Bobulinski made in a press conference before the two candidates faced off in Nashville. (It was a stunt similar to—albeit far less impactful than—Trump’s surprise decision to invite women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to a pre-debate presser in 2016).
Citing alleged communications from Hunter Biden, which were released by Bobulinski, Strassel not only argued that he “was cashing in on the Biden name” but accused his father of being personally “involved” in setting up a cash grab for his son. “The former vice president is running on trust and good judgment. The Hunter tale is at best the story of a wayward son and indulgent father,” she wrote. “At worst, it is an example of the entire Biden clan cashing in on its name with a U.S. rival.”
Less than four hours after the publication of Strassel’s op-ed, two reporters from the Journal’s news side swept the legs out from under their Opinion colleague’s argument. “Corporate records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden” in his son’s business relationship, stated the report, a double byline featuring Andrew Duehren and James T. Areddy. While the story’s headline—“Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture”—reads like it might be aligned with Strassel’s argument, the subhead and the rest of the report backs up the comments made by Biden during the debate denying any connection to his son’s dealings in Ukraine and China. Duehren and Areddy reviewed the same evidence from Bobulinski that their colleague did but found a contradictory conclusion: “Text messages and emails related to the venture that were provided to the Journal by Mr. Bobulinski, mainly from the spring and summer of 2017, don’t show either Hunter Biden or [Joe’s brother] James Biden discussing a role for Joe Biden in the venture.”
Over the summer, a similar instance of Journal-on-Journal violence flared up: More than 280 newsroom staffers signed a letter sent to the paper’s publisher, Almar Latour, criticizing the editorial board’s “lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources.” In a joint letter of their own, the Opinion writers fired back by refusing to surrender any ground to their dissenting colleagues and framing the newsroom’s concerns as nothing more than the “progressive cancel culture” that has “[arrived] at the Journal.”
The Hunter Biden story has caused rifts throughout Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Despite Hunter Biden’s emails being obsessively discussed this past week on Fox News, the network’s news division reportedly passed on the initial story, which broke in another Murdoch family-owned outlet: the New York Post. Some Post journalists wanted nothing to do with the story splashed across the tabloid’s cover. “Reporters at the WSJ, Fox News, and NYP have all come to the same conclusion about these documents but they are being drowned out by bad faith activists on the opinion side at these Murdoch companies who favor Trump’s re-election,” noted Politico’s Ryan Lizza. “That is the story.”
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