It’s no secret President Donald Trump wants an “October surprise” in his fight against former Vice President Joe Biden. Afterall, it was the hail Mary of 2016’s Comey letter pertaining to the Hillary Clinton email scandal which halved her polling lead across crucial swing states, edging the unpopular Republican candidate across the electoral finish line by mere decimals. On Wednesday, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, attempted to answer these prayers by providing alleged emails and photos from Hunter Biden’s personal laptop to The New York Post. The only catch is social media isn’t playing along in spreading their questionable narrative.
For starters, the original story is quite ludicrious. To put it simply, a hard drive was obtained by an unidentified man who worked for a Delaware computer repair shop. This anonymous source alleges that a water-damaged laptop marked with a “Beau Biden Foundation” sticker was never reclaimed from the store. In violation of customer privacy, this cyber-creep owner began searching through their personal data only to discover it belonged to the Vice President’s son. The Post claim this was their “smoking gun” report confirming the claim the Vice President’s son attempted to schedule a meeting to leverage favours between his father and his executive bosses for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
This is all based on two emails from April 17, 2015 and May 13, 2017, suggesting that Hunter arranged for both a meeting between the Ukranian executives and the former vice president during his time in the White House, as well as organizing the family share in a seperate deal with a Chinese energy firm. “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” reads the email, supposedly written by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma. In the seperate email exchange, it suggested a proposed equity split which details “20 for “H” and “10 held by H for the big guy?” According to an anonymous source who spoke to Fox News, “the big guy” is supposed to refer to Joe Biden.
Upon calling the federal government back in December 2019, the laptop was reportedly seized from the shop keeper, however, he reportedly maintained personal copies which were somehow given to Robert Costello, Giuliani’s personal lawyer based in New York. This information was then held under wraps by Giuliani for over 10 months until it’d become a convienet political tool in… October! Surprise! The whole thing just smelled fishy, forcing the media to begin questioning whether this “smoking gun” bombshell was actually just smoke and mirrors linked to a disinformation campaign lead by either the White House or even the Kremlin, as claimed by the FBI who are currently preparing their own investigation.
Keep in mind, a report from January 13, 2020 found that Burisma was hacked by a military unit known as the G.R.U. and private researchers known by the alias of “Fancy Bear,” the exact same Russian institutions which were involved in the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Comittee. Silicon Valley already had months to prepare for such information becoming a public interest, and decided that once the shit hit the fan to limit the story before it was even verified as false information. Facebook opted to reduce the post’s reach while saying it was still eligible for fact-checking by the platform’s own third-party partners, whereas Twitter outright banned users from providing links based on their policy against transfering hacked information.
This “censorship” has been widely criticised on multiple grounds regarding freedom of speech, the public interest, undue punishment for sharing a mainstream article, monopolistic abuse of power by privatised “ministry of truth,” the ability for propaganda to freely spread across the internet, you name it. The decisions cast a worrying precedent over how these platforms can function in a time of freedom of the press and tyranny of propaganda ops. Should we rely on the good faith of Facebook and Twitter to decide all this based on such unilateral corporate powers? Especially when most of their TOS standards are about as legally binding as crayon on paper? Given these platforms continue to grow in size and do function as necessary tools for communication, these scary questions need to be resolved, especially as journalists need these freedoms to debunk baseless smear campaigns.
Remember, just because these platforms censor a story doesn’t make it go away, or discredit the liars behind them. In fact, it’s been through these foolish decisions that have overtaken the article’s original substance (or should I say lack therof), indirectly causing a Streisand effect that actually doubled the story’s reach towards the leaping accusations and further legitimising the overall Trump narrative of supposed “liberal bias” protecting Biden and Democratic party. Nevermind the numerous reporting on Big Tech’s bipartisan censorship of human rights activists and even factual “left-wing” articles, but I digress. If there was solid evidence, even the most pervasive of tech censorship wouldn’t be enough to keep it from sticking. On face value, it plays perfectly into the 2016 strategy of the President and his conspiracy crowds, merely adding to the false claims that it was the Bidens who pressured the Ukrainian government in firing its corrupt prosecuter general, Viktor Shokin, for investigating Burisma.
The only problem is that unlike the corprate libertarian landscape of 2016, Republican operators dont have the consistent backing of the establishment to craft their narrative, be it the complicit institutions in tech, media or even their own political party. It should be routinely noted that were already two Republican-led Senate committee investigations into the Burisma matter and even they found there was no evidence of wrongdoing committed by the former vice president and his son. As months past, nothing came of this story until the story’s creation late last week, which journalists found was crafted through either unreptuable reporting based on little to no verified evidence or outright disinformation with potential forgeries. The question is to what extent is the story false?
First there’s the matter of Giuliani, the president’s number one comrade in corruption, who has started to change important details on the matter. At first, he claimed the store owner didn’t receieve the laptop from Hunter Biden. Days later, he changed it to Hunter Biden personally delivering the laptop to the store. When questioned on this inconsistency, Giuliani then claimed the store owner was actually blind and couldn’t remember whether it was Hunter Biden or not. Which is it? Nobody knows, including Giuliani who most recently admitted there’s a “50/50 shot” these documents and photos were obtained through a “Russian spy.” Given the fact the former New York mayor is also known associate of suspected KGB agent Andrii Derkach from the Ukrainian parliament, who the US Treasury Department sanctioned as “an active Russian agent for over a decade,” the Trump administration “isn’t sending their best” when it comes to their propaganda apparatus.
But it gets even worse. Enter the most recent follow-up report published by The New York Times which found that even the tabloid journalists for The Post are running away from the story, discovering that one of their own authors, Bruce Golding, refused to allow his name be attached to the story in fear over the article’s credibility, according to two employees speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. At first, we believed the story was written by Emma-Jo Morris, a former Fox News producer for Sean Hannity with no print journalism experience before Wednesday, as well as Gabrielle Fonrouge, a Post reporter since 2014. As it turns out, three sources confirmed that Fonrouge actually had no imput on the article and didn’t even know her name was attached to the piece until it was published. Her name remains on the article to this today.
So, how do we know the emails are authentic too? Well, WE DON’T!
After indepedent analyses were conducted by The Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, nobody could verify the emails as being authentic. Firstly, the tabloid published PDF printouts of several emails, however, the key “smoking-gun” emails were photos made a day before the story was posted, citing to the findings of Thomas Rid, a political scientist and the author of “Active Measures,” a book on disinformation. “There is no header information, no metadata. That makes it harder to analyze and verify the files.” he wrote on Twitter. “It is also an old Cold War disinformation tactic to pass information, especially but not exclusively when forged, to low-brow newspapers that have high circulation and low standards of investigation. Ideal for surfacing and amplification.”
In addition, there’s no confirmation the meeting with then-Vice President Biden actually happened or, if it did, that the two men discussed Shokin, the Chinese firm, anything of the kind. When asked, the Biden campaign spokesperson released a statement that the campaign reviewed the former vice president’s official schedules and that “no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.” Andrew Bates, a campaign official for Biden, also told the Times that it’s “technically possible” the two met during any one of the Vice President’s events over the course of his political career, but that it “very unlikely” occurred. “I was with the vice president in all of his meetings on Ukraine,” added Michael Carpenter, Biden’s foreign policy adviser in 2015. “He never met with this guy. In fact, I had never heard of this guy until the New York Post story broke.”
Even based on the article’s own merits, it’s a sinking ship without much to prove. The language of the emails is also so vague, it could indicate the executive only hoped a meeting would take place rather than confirming a meeting did, in fact, take place. If this was the case, Hunter Biden gave no reply. Moreover, another alleged email sent on sent April 13, 2014 contradicts the notion Hunter Biden could even influence his father if such affairs happened. “What he will do and say is out of our hands,” Hunter Biden wrote in the email. The article also cites Amos Hochstein, who served with Biden as a special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, as having met Pozharskyi. “I know for a fact he never contacted me or my office,” Hochstein told The Washington Post. “I provided every record to the Senate investigation, and no mention of this guy was ever made, no emails, no correspondence. I know almost every player in the energy sector in Ukraine. I never met this guy.”
Given all the misleading information, the internal discord within the New York Post, the contradictory claims, the potential foreign influence, the inherent biases within the original sources and the fact none of these can be verified by anybody, this supposed bombshell report is nothing more than just another October distriction being pushed days before the election. It doesn’t justify the intervention of social media as the right tool for the job, but to say the story should be considered with a great deal of skepticism is an understatement. In fact, it doesn’t even serve the intended purpose of the president. In a desperate follow-up report by the Murdoch-owned tabloid, we’re given “raw, intimate exchanges” between Joe and Hunter. When his son described himself as a “fuckked up addict who can’t be trusted,” the elder Biden replied “Good morning my beautiful son. I miss you and love you. Dad.”
If this is supposed to be the damaging oppositon research to assure a Trump victory, the administration has merely shot themselves in the foot with Giuliani being caught red handed. “In trying to con the public and media into making ‘Bidengate’ a thing, Giuliani has let himself get played time after time,” wrote MSNBC reporter Hayes Brown on why Trump’s October surprises continue to fail. “It was Giuliani who Trump first sent to Ukraine to find evidence for the alleged corrupt dealings between Ukrainians and Democrats as a way to debunk the “Russia hoax” that Trump still swears was a con job to deny him the presidency. It was Giuliani who first pushed Shokin’s false claim that he was fired to prevent an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma. And it’s Giuliani who’s found himself conned time and time again by people who tell him what he wants to hear.”