This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on October 19, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up. Photo Credit: Rudy Giuliani & Joe Biden, Gage Skidmore. Hunter Biden, Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Last Wednesday the New York Post published a story about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, titled: “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad.” In the exclusive, Emma-Jo Morris and Gabrielle Fonrouge claim that “Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.” These allegations are supported by “a massive trove of data recovered from a laptop computer,” which was “dropped off at a repair shop in Biden’s home state of Delaware in April 2019.” Morris and Fonrouge say, “Other material extracted from the computer includes a raunchy, 12-minute video that appears to show Hunter, who’s admitted [to] struggling with addiction problems, smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with an unidentified woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images.” The story took on added significance when Facebook and Twitter started blocking it from being shared on their platforms. Both companies said the decision was aimed at “slowing the spread of potentially false information,” according to NPR. Here’s what both sides are saying about the story and the way it was handled by social media companies:
On the Right: New York Post’s Miranda Devine says her paper’s reporting, “raises questions about why Hunter, with zero experience in energy policy or Ukrainian affairs, but with a history of serious and chronic drug abuse, would have been paid so handsomely by an energy firm for the five years he served on its board.” She adds: “It is a joke for Joe Biden to dismiss reasonable concerns about the perception of a conflict of interest. It damages America’s international reputation and calls into question his own judgment. American voters deserve to know.” Monica Showalter of American Thinker adds: with the release of this data, “the Russians or any number of bad actors might have copies of the same, known in their world as Kompromat. That would allow them to squeeze Hunter, and quite possibly old Joe for whatever they wanted, just to keep the scuzzy reality from getting out.” In regards to the actions of Facebook and Twitter, Ben Domenech and Sean Davis of the Federalist write that “Big Tech has openly declared a partisan war against American news consumers. As the only party defending the First Amendment, the GOP needs to declare war right back.” They continue: “There’s no need to speculate on why they did this… They want Joe Biden to win.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board notes that “Republicans are voting to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee [this] Friday to explain the company’s unprecedented speech blackout against a New York Post story.” The WSJ Ed Board says, “Such stories ought to be read with a skeptical eye. But Twitter would never think of canceling the account of a news outlet reporting on the 2017 leaked emails from the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. The site allowed feverish falsehoods about Brett Kavanaugh to circulate as Democrats sought to sink his Supreme Court nomination.” In conclusion, the WSJ Ed Board says: “Silicon Valley’s partisan interference flies in the face of American instincts about democracy, fair play, and the spirit of the First Amendment.”
On the Left: Many left-leaning articles focused on how the data and documents ended up at the New York Post. Andrew Prokop of Vox wrote: “The leaker, in this case, is President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who provided a copy of a hard drive that contains photos and purported emails.” Prokop says: “It’s not clear whether the supposed emails, which involve Hunter and the Ukrainian gas company he worked for, Burisma, are authentic. What’s even less clear is how they ended up making their way to Giuliani — and whether illegality or foreign interference might have been involved.” Prokop then compares this to the last election saying, “During the 2016 campaign, Russian intelligence officers hacked Democrats’ emails and provided them to WikiLeaks, and the release of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails occurred in the final weeks before Election Day.” David Corn of Mother Jones more pointedly says, “the New York Post is pushing Russian disinformation,” and “With its new Biden story, Murdoch’s tabloid is a useful idiot for Vladimir Putin.” Corn says, “Russian intelligence, too, has been trying to disseminate disinformation related to Ukraine to tar Biden. That was a finding of the recent Republican-endorsed Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian intervention in US elections. The Russian operation has overlapped with Giuliani’s endeavor. But the Post left this inconvenient fact out of its story.” As for Big Tech censorship, this is concerning to the left as well. Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept pointed out his astonishment at the fact that “Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning.” Greenwald points to a comment from Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce who said, “Facebook limiting distribution is a bit like if a company that owned newspaper delivery trucks decided not to drive because it didn’t like a story. Does a truck company edit the newspaper? It does now, apparently.”
Flag This: How you feel about the contents of the New York Post story is up for you to decide. One thing to watch, however, is how this string of events impacts Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Section 230 is “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet.” Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230). “In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do.” Companies such as Facebook and Twitter (and many others) say they could not exist in their current form without its protections. These tech giants claim that they do not have any “editorial control” over what is written or shared on their platforms therefore they aren’t “subject to publisher liability.” Except, in this case, the argument being made by both sides is that they did exercise “editorial control” by picking and choosing what people were allowed to see. In conclusion, both parties have their issues with Section 230 and the recent events could accelerate the speed at which it is revised. On the left, “Democrats including presidential nominee Joe Biden have urged Congress to revise Section 230 to make tech companies more accountable for hate speech and extremism, election interference, misinformation, and disinformation,” Jessica Guynn points out for USA Today. And on the right, “Republican critics accuse tech companies of censoring conservatives and limiting their reach on social media.” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee later this month.