NYT Cheers ‘Return of the Media Gatekeepers’ to Squash Hunter Biden Stories

October 26th, 2020 6:05 PM

Published online Sunday night for Monday’s print edition, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith penned a toast to the Wall Street Journal’s news division for having sunk its long-rumored story about Hunter Biden’s business dealings as “the return of the media gatekeepers.” 

And thus, legacy media types have regained control to keep we, the uncivilized and uneducated peons outside the media and political elite, from what they don’t want us to know. As we’ve seen from numerous NewsBusters studies by our Geoff Dickens, the broadcast networks have been more than happy to oblige in this mission.

Smith’s condescending and self-aggrandizing take reveled in the media as the one and only rightful “control” of what not only determining whether something’s true or not, but whether we should be given the privilege of knowing it at all. 

Of course, this came from the same person who published the Steele dossier and its golden showers claim, prompting years of giggles and outrage against President Trump days before he took office.

The first part of Smith’s column laid out what the Washington Examiner’s Joe Simonson had called an “open secret,” followed by the subsequent and sudden move by Rudy Giuliani to take the hard drive of Hunter’s laptop to the New York Post

While the opinion side did its due diligence (and pointed out the consequences of coddling Hunter and Joe Biden), The Journal's news side seemed to have gotten cold feet and chickened out upon witnessing the authoritarian, censorship-possessed mob (click “expand”):

By early October, even people inside the White House believed President Trump’s re-election campaign needed a desperate rescue mission. So three men allied with the president gathered at a house in McLean, Va., to launch one.

The host was Arthur Schwartz, a New York public relations man close to President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. The guests were a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, and a former deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, according to two people familiar with the meeting.


The three had pinned their hopes for re-electing the president on a fourth guest, a straight-shooting Wall Street Journal White House reporter named Michael Bender. They delivered the goods to him there: a cache of emails detailing Hunter Biden’s business activities, and, on speaker phone, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s named Tony Bobulinski. Mr. Bobulinski was willing to go on the record in The Journal with an explosive claim: that Joe Biden, the former vice president, had been aware of, and profited from, his son’s activities. The Trump team left believing that The Journal would blow the thing open and their excitement was conveyed to the president.


As the Trump team waited with excited anticipation for a Journal exposé, the newspaper did its due diligence: Mr. Bender and Mr. Beckett handed the story off to a well-regarded China correspondent, James Areddy, and a Capitol Hill reporter who had followed the Hunter Biden story, Andrew Duehren. Mr. Areddy interviewed Mr. Bobulinski. They began drafting an article.

Then things got messy. Without warning his notional allies, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now a lawyer for President Trump, burst onto the scene with the tabloid version of the McLean crew’s carefully laid plot. Mr. Giuliani delivered a cache of documents of questionable provenance — but containing some of the same emails — to The New York Post, a sister publication to The Journal in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Mr. Giuliani had been working with the former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who also began leaking some of the emails to favored right-wing outlets. Mr. Giuliani’s complicated claim that the emails came from a laptop Hunter Biden had abandoned, and his refusal to let some reporters examine the laptop, cast a pall over the story — as did The Post’s reporting, which alleged but could not prove that Joe Biden had been involved in his son’s activities.

While the Trump team was clearly jumpy, editors in The Journal’s Washington bureau were wrestling with a central question: Could the documents, or Mr. Bobulinski, prove that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s lobbying? Or was this yet another story of the younger Mr. Biden trading on his family’s name — a perfectly good theme, but not a new one or one that needed urgently to be revealed before the election.

Smith then explained Tony Bobulinski “got tired of waiting” on October 21 and decided to appear publicly the next day, hours before the presidential debate.

According to Smith, The Journal took an exit ramp, “publish[ing] a brief item” that was “just the stub” of what The Journal had been working on and insisted, despite the reporting of the opinion side, there was nothing to see.

Smith then pivoted to his celebration of how, in the Trump era, “the gatekeepers appear to have returned after a long absence” and “a disorienting couple of decades” to again surmount a dominance over what the public knows (and thus what they’re supposed to think).

In fact, Smith lamented that their iron fist should be even stronger (click “expand”):

[T]he old gatekeepers, like The Journal, can still control the agenda. It turns out there is a big difference between WikiLeaks and establishment media coverage of WikiLeaks, a difference between a Trump tweet and an article about it, even between an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal suggesting Joe Biden had done bad things, and a news article that didn’t reach that conclusion.

Perhaps the most influential media document of the last four years is a chart by a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, Yochai Benkler. The study showed that a dense new right-wing media sphere had emerged — and that the mainstream news “revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set.”


The media’s control over information, of course, is not as total as it used to be. The people who own printing presses and broadcast towers can’t actually stop you from reading leaked emails or unproven theories about Joe Biden’s knowledge of his son’s business. But what Mr. Benkler’s research showed was that the elite outlets’ ability to set the agenda endured in spite of social media.

We should have known it, of course. Many of our readers, screaming about headlines on Twitter, did. And Mr. Trump knew it all along — one way to read his endless attacks on the establishment media is as an expression of obsession, a form of love. This week, you can hear howls of betrayal from people who have for years said the legacy media was both utterly biased and totally irrelevant.

There’s something amusing — even a bit flattering — in such earnest protestations from a right-wing movement rooted in efforts to discredit the independent media. And this reassertion of control over information is what you’ve seen many journalists call for in recent years. 

It was only in paragraph 34 that Smith reminded readers of his previous job as BuzzFeed editor in chief and publishing the Steele dossier (including its golden showers tale) “in part on the grounds that gatekeepers were looking at it and influenced by it, but keeping it from their audience.”

But what was true? They didn’t know, but they shared it anyway. But when it comes to Hunter Biden, we’ve already been told by Smith’s comrades that we should assume it’s a foreign disinformation campaign, regardless of whether that’s true or not.

Smith concluded:

I’d prefer to put my faith in [Wall Street Journal editor in chief Matt] Murray and careful, professional journalists like him than in the social platforms’ product managers and executives. And I hope Americans relieved that the gatekeepers are reasserting themselves will also pay attention to who gets that power, and how centralized it is, and root for new voices to correct and challenge them.

Throw in years of furthering any and all claims against Brett Kavanaugh and the Russian collusion crusade and you have the press that wraps themselves as the institution that makes America what she’s been for 244 years instead of her people (or the Constitution). 

And for those that dare to even criticize the press from the outside, we’re somehow putting their lives in danger and/or want to destroy the notion of a free press all together.

So much for embracing First Amendment in all its clauses.