The right-wing Murdoch media empire is spinning the newest attempt to nail a scandal on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, even after news reporters at both of its main outlets — Fox News and The Wall Street Journal — have debunked it.
Journal opinion columnist Kimberley Strassel published a piece attempting to depict the Democratic presidential nominee as corrupt, based on emails and text messages provided by former Hunter Biden business associate Tony Bobulinski. The Wall Street Journal’s news section, however, rolled out a piece of its own that stated: “Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden” in Hunter Biden’s venture — apparently deflating the opinion section’s much-hyped column.
So, with the Murdoch empire’s news and opinion sections telling two different stories, which did Fox News choose? The answer: the opinion section, of course.
On the Friday morning edition of America’s Newsroom — supposedly one of the “straight news” programs on the network — Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer said a “huge miss” in the debate was that Biden was not asked enough about the provenance of the emails from a laptop allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden, which was first reported by another corporate cousin, the tabloid New York Post.
Hemmer then proceeded to read a section from Strassel’s column — but not anything from the news page. And while Hemmer verbally cited the piece as an op-ed, the on-screen graphics for the excerpt did not give any visual indication that it was an opinion column rather than a news report.
In Strassel’s column, the closest she got to demonstrating any direct involvement by Joe Biden was a purported text message in which Hunter Biden said, “my Chairman gave an emphatic NO” to a proposed version of a deal, with Strassel relying on another text in which another business partner told Bobulinski that Hunter Biden used the term “chairman” to refer to his father.
While this seems to show Joe Biden turning down an unseemly business proposition, Fox News national correspondent Jacqui Heinrich, bucking the rest of her network’s trend, gave an even more remarkable explanation: The “chairman” in this context wasn’t Joe Biden at all, and the documents show no involvement on his part.
Heinrich’s take on Bobulinski’s messages also does not appear to be getting much promotion, either. For example, Heinrich’s research and her conclusion got no mention in a Fox News online write-up of the latest developments, instead citing Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) saying the FBI will be interviewing Bobulinski. (Johnson has headed up investigations that he openly said would damage Biden and help Trump in the election.)
None of this should be surprising, as it was clear in 2019, amid the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment, that the news and opinion sections at the Journal seemed to exist in two separate realities. The opinion section continued to print claims accusing Biden of corruption — which had been Trump’s entire aim in the scandal — while the newsroom steadilyy debunked those accusations.
Tensions then emerged at the Journal earlier this year, when an internal letter from news reporters leaked that illustrated a number of grievances, among them that the opinion section’s continued repetition of falsehoods damaged the credibility of the news reporters. The letter also said reporters shouldn’t be reprimanded for “writing about errors published in Opinion, whether we make those observations in our articles, on social media or elsewhere.”
The fundamental problem here, as we observed when the letter emerged, is that in the right-wing media environment — especially under the ownership of the Murdochs — the newsroom exists only in order to help confer a patina of credibility on the falsehood-spreading opinion section. Thus, any factual work by reporters will be ignored if it proves to be inconvenient to the pro-Trump editorial direction.
Update (10/23/20, 4:30 p.m.): This discrepancy in the reporting was acknowledged — and then spun away — on the Friday edition of The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino. At the end of an initial news segment on Bobulinski’s allegations, Fox News senior political correspondent Mike Emanuel gave the somewhat lawyer-like disclaimer that “Fox and The Wall Street Journal have reviewed Bobulinski's business documents, and they do not show a role for Joe Biden — in the paperwork.”
This was immediately followed up with an appearance by Strassel herself, in which Fox anchor Dana Perino suggested that the Journal’s news and opinion sides were actually saying the same thing all along.
Perino and Strassel still did not acknowledge, however, the review of materials by Perino’s “news side” colleague Jacqui Heinrich, who concluded not only that Joe Biden had no participation in the business ventures, but also that he might not even be the “chairman” mentioned in the discussion.