Twitter management knew immediately they had bombed big time when the tech giant censored the Hunter Biden laptop story, internal communications published on Friday by independent journalist Matt Taibbi reveal. Little else surprising emerged from the first installment of “The Twitter Files,” but the concrete proof provided by new owner Elon Musk of Twitter’s entanglement with the government and Democrat interests nonetheless vindicated conservatives who have been screaming for years of Big Tech’s squelching of their speech.
The Twitter Files should raise the ire of all Americans, however, and not because of what they expose about tech companies — but because they illustrate the corporate media’s complicity in the censorship of stories that prove harmful to powerful people and preferred politicians.
A little over a week ago, Musk tweeted a promise to release evidence of the company’s “free speech suppression” in what he branded The Twitter Files. “The public deserves to know what really happened,” the new Twitter owner stressed. Late Friday, Musk kept his promise when Taibbi published a detailed Twitter thread highlighting, with screen grabs, high-level internal Twitter discussions concerning the company’s censorship of posts and specifically the blocking of the New York Post’s story about the Hunter Biden laptop.
The Post published its exclusive bombshell report on emails culled from a laptop Hunter Biden abandoned at a Delaware computer repair store a mere three weeks before the U.S. presidential election. “How Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad,” the Post titled its Oct. 14, 2020 story that then opened by detailing that an email confirmed Hunter had introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma “less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.” The email to Hunter, dated April 17, 2015, came from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma — a board on which Hunter served “at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month,” according to the Post’s article.
Soon after the Post broke the story, Twitter and Facebook “deprecated” the story, meaning the social media giants prevented the algorithm code from allowing the story to be amplified. By mid-afternoon, however, Twitter moved to banning the sharing of the story both in tweets and in direct messages. At the time, “Twitter representatives pointed press to the company’s hacked material policy, which prohibits sharing links to or images of hacked content. Twitter’s guidelines for blocking URLs, which were updated this July, also include provisions for hacked material and content that ‘interferes with civic and election integrity.’”
Twitter’s staff went further, though, locking out the Post’s primary Twitter account (@nypost), claiming in a letter to the outlet that “the Hunter Biden stories violate its rules against the ‘distribution of hacked material.’” Twitter also locked Trump spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany out of her account merely for tweeting about the story.
Twitter reinstated McEnany’s account the following day and later reversed itself, allowing the Post’s article to be shared. However, the Post remained locked out of Twitter for another two weeks, preventing the outlet from directly sharing its many follow-up articles, such as its Oct. 15, 2020, piece that revealed additional emails obtained from Hunter’s abandoned laptop.
That article discussed email exchanges concerning a business venture Hunter was negotiating with CEFC China Energy — an investment Hunter said would be “interesting for me and my family.” Another email featured in the Post’s follow-up article was sent to Hunter and included the subject line “Expectations.” The email detailed the “remuneration packages” planned for six individuals “involved in an unspecified business venture” and floated as a suggested share, “10 held by H for the big guy?” A former Biden business associate, Tony Bobulinski, would later claim in a late-October 2022, Tucker Carlson interview that the referenced “big guy” was Joe Biden.
In Friday’s Twitter Files, Taibbi revealed that while still blocking the story, Twitter insiders were questioning the legitimacy of the censorship decision. “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” the then-Vice President of Global Communications Brandon Borrman asked in response to the Twitter team framing the ban as based on Twitter’s hacked policy.
In response, Twitter’s then-Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker framed the censorship decision as based on “caution.” “There are some facts that indicate that the materials may have been hacked, while there are others indicating that the computer was either abandoned and/or the owner consented to allow the repair shop to access it for a least some purposes,” Baker wrote in an internal email.
Taibbi highlighted these emails and others; he also revealed details from interviews he had with Twitter sources. And noting he had obtained thousands of internal documents, Taibbi promised more revelations in the days to come.
But even as Taibbi’s reporting confirmed Twitter’s unprincipled censorship of the Post’s story, because there was no single smoking gun among the details dropped, the same news media that buried the Biden-family scandal mere weeks before the 2020 presidential election — or falsely reported it was misinformation — mocked Taibbi, claiming he had fallen from a respected journalist to running “PR for the world’s richest man.”
The projection from these supposed reporters couldn’t have been any more ironic because had there been a widespread outbreak of journalism following the Post’s bombshell coverage of the Biden family scandal, Twitter’s censorship would not have happened — or, if it did, it would not have mattered.
Had journalists from legacy outlets and especially the supposed standard-bearers of journalism, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, approached the story with the seriousness it deserved, it seems unlikely Twitter would have dared censor the story. Or such censorship, had it occurred, would have been futile because journalists would be falling over themselves to report the latest details in a political scandal that suggested the Democrat candidate for president had participated in a pay-to-play enterprise with his son while vice president.
Real journalists would have tracked down and authenticated the laptop materials, as they did a belated two years later. Real journalists would have questioned Bobulinski and reported his collaborating statements. Real journalists would have demanded answers from Joe, Hunter, and James Biden, the president’s brother who also profited from the many deals; they would have sought answers on every detail suggesting corruption discussed in the emails and other materials recovered from the laptop. And real journalists would have pushed intelligence agencies, and the former members of them who signed on to a letter casting the laptop as Russian disinformation, on the basis for that claim.
Nothing Twitter did or could have done would have buried the Biden family scandal story had journalists just done their jobs. But they didn’t, and a retrospective review of their contemporaneous “reporting” shows they took pride in their non-coverage, as best illustrated by an Oct. 18, 2020, CNN story titled “The Anatomy of the New York Post’s Dubious Hunter Biden Story.”
In reference to the bombshell story, Brian Stelter called it “a classic example of the right-wing media machine.” The story is a “manufactured scandal,” the former host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” said. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor, agreed with Stelter, telling him approvingly, “The media world has largely ignored the Post’s Hunter Biden story.” Trump’s team is “so confident that the story’s just going to be too much fun for serious journalists not to pick up,” Benkler added. “They’re trying to produce it now, but the media at the moment — major professional media — doesn’t seem to be falling for it.”
PolitiFact likewise celebrated the media’s refusal to cover the Biden family scandal story, writing that “no credible news outlets have reported any wrongdoing or role held by Joe Biden…” And NPR announced it was not covering the story because it didn’t “want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories,” and didn’t “want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.”
For all the outrage and anger directed at old Twitter for its censorship of the Biden family scandal, the lack of a vibrant journalistic class proved more problematic to free speech. And for all the kudos and back-patting bestowed on Musk for his efforts to remake Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech, reforming Big Tech will do nothing to right the news media — and the condescension dripped on Musk and Taibbi since Friday show the corrupt journalists have no intention of curing themselves.