STUDY: Kinder, Gentler Coverage for Hunter Biden’s Criminal Trial

June 11th, 2024 9:50 AM

A week after it began, the first of two criminal trials of President Biden’s son Hunter is now in the hands of the jury. A Media Research Center (MRC) analysis of ABC, CBS and NBC’s evening news coverage shows the broadcast networks have been far less interested in the felony trial of the Democratic President’s son than they were about the convoluted “hush money” case of Joe Biden’s GOP rival, Donald Trump, in New York City last month.

Trump is a former President, so some gap in coverage should be expected, as is the fact that there was no way for the broadcast networks to hide the criminal trial of any President’s son, nor for them to avoid the cringeworthy details of drug use at the center of the charges. But our analysis shows the networks have done their best to keep the coverage to a minimum, and to avoid any discussion of the more serious legal allegations surrounding Hunter’s business dealings.

And while TV coverage of Trump’s New York case often went out of its way to highlight the lurid and humiliating details, these networks have shown consistent sympathy towards an obviously dysfunctional First Family:

♦ While the networks deluged viewers with repeated references to Trump’s “criminal,” “felony” trial, nearly half of all references to Hunter’s case (47%) omitted those charged terms.

♦ ABC never mentioned, while CBS and NBC spent mere seconds, on the host of other legal issues surrounding the President’s son.

♦ The evening newscasts spent a grand total of just 40 seconds talking about Hunter’s laptop, and never acknowledged that they had falsely suggested the laptop was part of a “Russian disinformation campaign” four years ago.

♦ Viewers heard just 71 seconds of coverage of Joe Biden’s pledge not to pardon his son, and no suggestion from the networks that the President might change his mind after the election.

♦ While the coverage included a lot of negative information about Hunter’s drug use, reporters also exhibited sympathy for the President’s “only surviving son” and the “excruciatingly painful” testimony he was forced to hear.


■ Far less airtime than the Trump trial: In the nine days from June 2 (the night before jury selection began) through June 10 (when closing arguments in the case were delivered), ABC’s World News Tonight offered the least coverage: just 11 minutes, 44 seconds — barely half of what they devoted to the equivalent days of Trump’s trial in April (22 minutes, 42 seconds), when much of the coverage focused on the mundane bureaucracy of jury selection.

Over the same time period, the NBC Nightly News spent 15 minutes, 20 seconds on Hunter’s trial while the CBS Evening News delivered 14 minutes, 59 seconds of coverage. All told, that’s still significantly less airtime (42 minutes, 1 second) than these same broadcasts spent on the first nine days of Trump’s trial: 67 minutes, 15 seconds.

■ Downplaying Hunter’s felony charges: Unlike in Trump’s trial, when the reporters deluged viewers with repeated references to Trump’s “criminal,” “felony” trial, the evening newscasts often employed gentler terms when describing the serious charges facing the President’s son.

Out of 34 references to the case against Hunter Biden, only 18 of those (53%) included the actual words “felony” or “criminal.” The remaining 47% used deliberately softer phrases, such as “Hunter Biden’s federal gun trial” (ABC’s David Muir, June 4), his trial on “federal gun charges” (NBC’s Lester Holt, June 4), Biden’s “federal gun case” (CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, June 6), and simply “Hunter Biden’s gun trial” (NBC’s Holt, June 6).

■ Hiding Hunter’s other legal troubles: For years, Hunter Biden has been the focus of scrutiny because he’s inexplicably made millions in foreign business dealings. That’s why the U.S. Attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, has been investigating the President’s son for years (although he was only named as special counsel last August). And suspicions that these foreign paydays were part of an influence peddling scheme have been a main area of focus for the House impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden.

The networks have steadfastly avoided digging into this story, but with Hunter actually facing a criminal trial, a reasonable observer might expect the networks to spend at least a few minutes on the background that led to this moment.

Yet even during the trial, the liberal media’s censorship continues: Since June 2, ABC has said nothing about any of the other legal cases facing Hunter, as if the gun case was his only problem. CBS and NBC offered a few seconds (17 seconds and 7 seconds, respectively) acknowledging that Hunter faces a second criminal trial for tax evasion this fall, but said nothing about the dubious methods Hunter employed to make the millions of dollars he’s charged with failing to pay taxes on.

And only NBC’s Ryan Nobles noted, in an 8 second aside in his June 5 report, that “House Republicans say they’ll file a criminal referral to the Department of Justice against Hunter and James Biden for lying to Congress,” referring to their depositions before the House committee investigating the Bidens.

■ Laptop? What laptop? Back in October 2020, the networks — along with the rest of the liberal media establishment — suppressed the damning information found on Hunter Biden’s personal laptop, wrongly suggesting it was a “foreign intelligence operation” or a “Russian disinformation campaign.”

But last week, contents from that laptop were introduced into evidence against Hunter Biden without the slightest suggestion from reporters that they had been (at best) partisan dupes when four years earlier they obligingly echoed the Biden campaign’s spin claiming the genuine laptop was merely a last-minute dirty trick.

In their coverage of the trial, ABC’s World News Tonight (10 seconds) and NBC Nightly News (30 seconds) spent less than a minute identifying evidence as coming from “Hunter Biden’s laptop” without the slightest acknowledgment of the media’s sketchy history on the subject. “The prosecution entering Hunter Biden’s laptop as evidence,” ABC’s Muir blandly remarked on June 4.

The CBS Evening News was even cagier, never once mentioning that the laptop was a source for key photos and archived messages. “Prosecutors showed the jury a series of photos of drugs allegedly used by Hunter Biden, and an image from a video of a shirtless Biden allegedly with drug paraphernalia,” CBS’s Scott MacFarlane relayed on June 5.

Were those images from Hunter’s laptop? CBS never explained that to viewers.

■ No doubting Joe Biden’s pardon pledge: Interviewing the President in Europe for the anniversary of D-Day ABC’s David Muir asked Biden if he had “ruled out a pardon” for Hunter. “Yes,” Joe Biden replied, without any follow-up from Muir. Biden’s pardon pledge drew 31 seconds on ABC’s World News Tonight, 30 seconds on NBC’s Nightly News, and a quick 10 seconds on the CBS Evening News.

But legal experts such as National Review’s Andrew McCarthy suspect that pledge would be subject to change after the November election, especially if Hunter Biden receives a prison sentence. “If Biden loses the election, he could pardon Hunter before leaving office on January 20, 2025,” McCarthy wrote last week. “If he wins the election, he could wait on a pardon until a sentence of imprisonment is imposed, probably in the tax case sometime in February or March 2025.”

That’s hardly unreasonable, especially given the frequent statements of support from Joe Biden towards his son. Yet none of the evening newscasts suggested that, once he’s faced voters for the last time, President Biden could short-circuit the jury and give his son the ultimate get-out-of-jail free card.

■ Feeling Hunter’s pain: Viewers certainly heard a lot of negative information about Hunter Biden’s drug use, including how one girlfriend testified he was “smoking crack every 20 minutes or so” (NBC, June 5), while his sister-in-law/girlfriend Hallie Biden said “she saw him with crack rocks the size of ping pong balls.” (NBC, June 6)

But there was also an undercurrent of sympathy for Hunter and the rest of the Biden family that was utterly absent in the networks coverage of the Trump trial. All three networks emotionally referred to Hunter as Joe Biden’s “only surviving son,” as when CBS’s Norah O’Donnell on June 3 explained: “The President’s only surviving son is charged with three felony counts...”

That same night on ABC, correspondent Terry Moran relayed: “Earlier today, President Biden released a statement standing by his only surviving son, saying in part ‘I have boundless love for my son.’”

“Right now a jury deliberating the fate of Hunter Biden, the sole surviving son of the President,” fill-in anchor Tom Llamas announced June 10.

And even as the testimony painted a damning portrait of Hunter as out of control, reporters found ways to empathize with the First Family. After NBC viewers heard a snippet from Hunter’s audio book on June 4, NBC’s Ryan Nobles noted the reaction: “First Lady Jill Biden, his wife Melissa and sister Ashley were in court, sitting together while the excerpts played, visibly shaken and embracing one another.”

“It was a hard day for the Bidens in court,” Moran agreed on World News Tonight.

“I can only imagine that this is probably excruciatingly painful for Hunter Biden,” CBS’s legal expert Tom Dupree worried on June 5.

Then on June 7, ABC’s Moran mourned: “For Hunter Biden, it was a day of deeply personal, anguishing testimony.”

Viewers heard no such concern for the feelings of President Trump or his family during his recent trial. The media’s kinder, gentler coverage of Hunter’s trial amounts to another election-year favor for Democrats, and it probably won’t be the last.