In August of 2016, The New York Times did something rather unprecedented — the paper ran a front-page editorial by columnist Jim Rutenberg that stopped just short of openly saying the media should openly oppose Donald Trump, regardless of journalistic ethics.
According to Rutenberg, journalists who believed Trump was “racist and nationalist” would have to “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century. … You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional.”
Now, Rutenberg was greatly flattering himself and his journalistic peers by pretending that any vestigial attempts at objectivity in the American media were anything more than farce, and all but the most blinkered Americans knew it. Still, the shift in tone during the Trump years was palpable. Perhaps the most visible sign was the media’s eagerness to call Trump a liar and to specifically call out his supposed “lies,” even to his face in real-time if necessary. The resulting coverage was something to behold. A Washington Post media column from 2019 took a rhetorical victory lap and rounded up just a few of the then-recent headlines about Trump’s presidency:
● CNN: “The Mueller report: A catalog of 77 Trump team lies and falsehoods.”
● Minneapolis Star Tribune: “President Trump lies to troops about pay raise.”
● Financial Times: “The real reason Donald Trump lies.”
● Los Angeles Times: “Mueller report exposes all the president’s liars.”
● Chicago Tribune: “Why are Trump’s lies not ruinous to him? Because truth can be in the eye of the beholder.”
● The New Yorker: “It’s True: Trump Is Lying More, and He’s Doing It on Purpose.”
● Foreign Policy: “Does It Matter That Trump Is a Liar?”
Now, I don’t want to even go down the road of relitigating the veracity of various Trump statements. This has been debated and cataloged endlessly; Trump has lied. But I will say that there’s good reason why you don’t throw around the word liar with such abandon. That’s because ascertaining what constitutes a “lie” often depends on determining motive or circumstantial assessments that often reveal as much or more about the biases of the person making the accusation.
And the media was often so hysterical they didn’t just throw out the journalism rulebook when it came to fairly evaluating Trump — Pulitzer Prizes for completely discredited Russia collusion accusations are pretty solid evidence of their inability to do that — they threw out the logical one as well. The Washington Post would eventually claim that Trump had uttered 20,000 “false or misleading statements,” or nearly 14 a day for his entire presidency, an absurd claim that, whatever number of lies Trump did tell, was discrediting to the Post when subjected to the slightest scrutiny. There’s a strong case to be made that this approach to Trump ended up helping him. When everything’s a lie, nothing is.
Which brings us to Joe Biden. It’s hard to think of a more categorical denial than the one Biden issued in August 2019 about his role in his son’s business dealings. “First of all, I have never discussed with my son, or my brother, or anyone else, anything having to do with their businesses, period. What I will do is the same thing we did in our administration. There will be an absolute wall between the personal and private, and the government,” said Biden. “There wasn’t any hint of scandal at all when we were there. And I will impose the same kind of strict, strict rules. That is why I have never talked with my son or my brother, or anyone else in the distant family about their business interests, period.” The House Oversight Committee has compiled another 15 more explicit denials from Biden during his campaign, and as recently as last year, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was issuing more blanket denials on his behalf.
This was never remotely believable, but now the evidence is overwhelming. The National Archives recently released 5,400 emails from his time as vice president, where he was using pseudonyms to, among other things, communicate with his son, Hunter Biden, about his questionable foreign business dealings. Devon Archer, Hunter’s business partner, has talked extensively and publicly about Joe Biden being involved in his son’s lucrative dealings with corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs and business deals tied to China’s repressive communist government. (He’s the second business partner to go public and say this after Tony Bobulinski was largely ignored in the run-up to the 2020 election.) Victor Shokin, the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden got fired while Shokin was investigating the Ukrainian gas company that was paying Biden’s son a million dollars a year, has recently come forward with more damning details about what was going on.
Even the Democrat hacks in Congress, such as Dan Goldman whom corporate media called out for misrepresenting what Archer said about Biden, now concede that Joe was playing along with his son to only sell the “illusion of access” rather than a blatant quid pro quo. Which even if that self-serving justification were true, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act clearly singles out payments to an official’s family members as the basis for corruption, and lots of other bribery statutes on the books would cover this arrangement. Which, again, everyone now admits Joe Biden had full knowledge of and participated in to a large degree.
On the question of motives and “quid pro quo,” the media hypocrisy is absolutely astounding. In his recent interview with Fox News, Shokin asked a pretty salient question: “The fact that Joe Biden gave away $1 billion in U.S. money in exchange for my dismissal, my firing, isn’t that alone a case of corruption?”
“No, it’s not. U.S. foreign aid is often conditioned on countries taking official actions that the U.S. government regards as important. That’s especially the case, as it was in Ukraine, with rooting out corruption,” the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake retorted in a column earlier this week. “Indeed, this was precisely the defense that then-acting Trump White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney offered back in 2019 regarding Trump’s having sought to use foreign aid for leverage with Ukraine.”
How’d that defense work out for the Trump White House? I seem to recall that the Democrats didn’t buy that claim, proceeded to allege quid pro quo was occurring, and impeached Trump over it. All while much of the media establishment was cheerleading.
But consider for a moment the irony that, whether or not the issue of foreign aid to Ukraine was being used as leverage, Trump was asking about an investigation into Biden family corruption in Ukraine that now appears wholly merited. How do we reconcile that? It’s all a matter of disingenuous relativism.
“Mulvaney was right,” says Blake. “But the issue with Trump was whether he was leveraging Ukraine for personal gain — and there was more evidence that this was true of him than of Biden. Trump wanted Ukraine to announce it was investigating Hunter Biden at a time when Joe Biden was Trump’s likeliest 2020 election opponent.”
First off, this isn’t a contest here — if Trump was seeking to exploit a corruption investigation to help him politically, that was enabled by the fact that Joe Biden and his son were indeed corrupt. They were able to paint Trump’s suggestive words on the call as outrageous in large part because everyone was still committed to this notion that Biden was kept apart from his son’s shady business dealings. While that was always dubious, the charade is quite definitively over.
Regardless, what on earth does Blake mean when he says there was “more evidence that this was true of him than of Biden”? Since nothing ever came to fruition, whatever nefarious things it is assumed Trump was trying to put in motion on that phone call are premised on a heavy amount of assumption and interpretation. With Biden, we now have emails, bank transfers, photos of the vice president apparently dining with Hunter’s foreign partners, and credible testimony from those in the know, all pointing to the fact he was enabling and an active participant in his son’s corrupt deals.
Time and again, the default assumption for Trump is corrupt motives, where Biden gets the benefit of the doubt to an absurd degree. The idea that it was necessary to call Trump a liar in no way precludes doing the same to Biden who is a world-class liar in his own right. However, if the press were to take the most obvious reading of Biden’s motives, they would have to conclude that the man is a corrupt and brazen liar. They would have to, according to the new rulebook, “move closer to being oppositional.” But that’s not going to happen because political reporters are not a particularly consistent or principled bunch.
Of course, the problem with Biden’s lying goes well beyond the issues of foreign corruption; the issue of character and personal flaws was one that was frequently hung around Trump’s neck. Again, I fail to see how Biden faces a different standard. His issues with lying might be the worst of any politician of the modern era. He was caught extensively plagiarizing in law school, and he probably never should have been given a degree, but if you ask Biden, he “went to law school on a full academic scholarship,” he “ended up in the top half” of his law school class, and “graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school.” None of that is true. His first presidential campaign was derailed when he plagiarized a speech from a British politician, and it made him a national laughingstock.
He’s blatantly lied about so many things it’s difficult to keep track, but it’s not just the quantity — it’s the abhorrent specifics of some of these lies. After he lost his wife and young daughter in a tragic car wreck, he went around saying that the guy driving the truck that hit them “drank his lunch.” Not only was the guy sober, but he did everything he could to administer aid at the scene and was haunted by the accident for the rest of his life. And according to those familiar with the 50-year-old crash, Biden’s wife was at fault. And those aren’t the only family deaths he’s exploiting; he also keeps saying his son Beau died in Iraq as if it were some sort of combat death when he died in Maryland from a brain tumor.
He’s repeatedly claiming he was involved in the civil rights movement when he was not — and earlier this week, he made the absurd claim he “literally, not figuratively” talked former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond into voting for the Civil Rights Act. Biden didn’t get elected to the Senate until eight years after the Civil Rights Act passed, and in any event, Thurmond voted against it. But it’s one thing to want to claim to be part of something as noble as the civil rights movement — it’s quite another to lie about getting an award from George Wallace and travel to Alabama and say, “We (Delawareans) were on the South’s side in the Civil War.”
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the lies here. So how exactly do the media cover an inveterate pathological liar who will say anything to anyone — including exploiting the tragic deaths of his wife, 13-month-old child, and son, as well as pandering to perceived racists — that he thinks will further his political career?
“Biden, Storyteller in Chief, Spins Yarns That Often Unravel” was the headline in The New York Times last fall. While one might be tempted to offer a crumb of credit for broaching the topic at all, the whole article belongs in some kind of pantheon for euphemisms and damage control: “President Biden has embraced storytelling as a way of connecting with his audience, but his folksiness can veer into a personal folklore.”
The selective experts quoted in the article don’t much help matters. “He obviously has this tendency, where he’s a good and decent man who in politics has felt like he could stretch the truth up to a point just like virtually every president has done,” Eric Alterman, author of Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie — and Why Trump Is Worse and a professor at CUNY, told the Times. “With Biden, people have decided these are not the kind of lies that matter. … These are the kinds of lies that people’s grandfathers tell.” It would have been nice if the Times clarified that Alterman was a longtime columnist for lefty magazines such as Mother Jones and The Nation and not some dispassionate academic. Regardless, Biden’s damnable lies are far worse than grampy whiling away time on the porch spinning the yarns that make up the colorful tapestry of his personal folklore. And they date back decades, long before age and senility were ever excuses.
Ultimately, it’s hard to tell whether voters have decided Biden’s lies don’t matter when so many people are working to obscure them. But heading into 2024, it does provide a simple litmus test for who to take seriously. Shouting “What about Trump?” is not an acceptable way to avoid acknowledging the obvious extent of Biden’s corruption and his rank dishonesty about it. And anyone who is unwilling to plainly state that Biden’s a particularly troubling liar is someone who is putting politics over facts, and they cannot be trusted.