Here’s something I never dreamt of doing: defending The New York Times.
The Times is well known for its innate, eternal hostility toward Republicans and all things conservative - which was exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump.
Nonetheless, much like a stopped clock is right twice a day, the Times will infrequently surprise with a bone for the right - and liberals don’t really appreciate it, as evidenced by a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review this week.
Back in May Times reporters Ken Vogel and Iuliia Mendel wrote a story providing much of the backdrop for the House Democrats’ current push to impeach President Trump over that controversial call to Ukraine’s president.
Much of the story discusses Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and his business dealings in Ukraine. It recounts the former vice president’s now famous March 2016 boast of withholding $1 billion in U.S. aid until Ukraine dumped its top prosecutor - who was looking into the owner of a Ukrainian energy company for possible tax evasion and money laundering, yet whom some also considered corrupt.
Joe Biden’s “pressure campaign worked,” the Times noted, and “among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden.” Biden the Younger sat on the board of that energy company, Burisma.
The Times’ hook for the story was that the prosecutor’s successor, who initially cleared Burisma of the accusations, had reopened the investigation in March. And, as the Times reported, part of that involved “new details” about Hunter Biden and his U.S. business partners being part of “a broad effort by Burisma to bring in well-connected Democrats during a period when the company was facing investigations backed not just by domestic Ukrainian forces but by officials in the Obama administration.”
Yet, the Times noted, Team Trump was “eager to publicize and even encourage the investigation.” That included Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Giuliani told the Times that as Robert Mueller investigated Russian intervention in the 2016 election the Ukrainians needed to be probed as well. “The Biden piece is collateral to the bigger story, but must still be investigated,” Giuliani told the Times.
To understand that, one must go back a bit further.
In January 2017, just before Trump took office, Vogel, then with Politico, and another writer reported that during the election “Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office.” Additionally, the Ukrainian government “helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers.”
In other words, Ukraine interfered in our election - and foreign interference, we were told endlessly by Trump’s critics, was the reason Mueller spent 22 months and $30 million looking into Trump and Russia. Yet other than Politico, our national media have been oddly incurious about this.
So it is true that Trump may have wanted the new Ukrainian president to jump-start the investigation into the Bidens and Burisma. But he also, as Guiliani told the Times, wanted Ukraine to fill in “the bigger story.”
But this week Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Gabriel Snyder accused the Times of peddling a “smear of Biden,” and he quoted other observers who underscored that point.
This is when your palm goes to your forehead.
The Times’ story was accurate and legit - I can’t believe I typed those words - and any skeptics should do a thought exercise: read the piece and wherever you see Hunter Biden substitute the name Jared Kushner or Don Trump Jr. If that were the case, the Times and their political and media allies would never have let up.
Blinded by their own bias, however, Snyder and others will never see this. Instead when stories favor the conservative view, well, journalists are then smear merchants, conspiracy theorists and promoters of a “disinformation campaign.” Which is intriguing.
Whenever Trump hollers “fake news,” the media claim that’s just news he doesn’t like. But when the Times, in a rare moment that actually reports something cutting against the anti-Trump grain, all of a sudden people like Snyder maintain it is... dare I say... fake news.
Snyder wrote the Times and other media should show “more self-awareness” to realize when a “political operation” is looking to push a “narrative even if it’s unfounded in fact.”
He adds, “The Ukraine matter exploded into an impeachment inquiry because of the way politics now works: reverse engineer a scandal against a political opponent by relentlessly trying to force a conspiracy theory into existence with the full power of the U.S. government to create the facts to support it.”
Yet that also perfectly describes the hyperventilating reports, all fed by wretched anonymous government sources, of Trump’s supposed collusion with Russia - which, as Mueller reported, was a big, fat zero.
Physician, heal thyself.
Bill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.