Nothing like a little pre-inauguration controversy ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

December 16, 2020

Understand more. Argue less.

Good morning. The Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden’s Presidential victory on Monday. A coronavirus vaccine is here. Those are both massive stories this week but, for once, they’re also not overtly partisan. While this is fantastic, it means there are fewer narratives to dissect as well. Therefore, our team has decided to examine a fiercely polarized topic: the Hunter Biden investigation. After reading today’s edition, you’ll have a much better idea of what’s happening, what both sides are saying, and why.

Let's dive in.


The Hunter-Gatherer

Katherine Chuang

When Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma -- a Ukrainian oil company -- in 2014, claims of corruption flowed thick and fast. At the time, his father was helping to develop the Obama administration’s Ukrainian foreign policy. However, an investigation by the Republican-led Senate did not identify any foreign policy directly affected by Hunter’s role. Joe Biden’s first-born son also has a history of heavy drinking and drug usage, which has only furthered the controversy surrounding the now 50 year-old businessman. 

In October, Hunter became front-page news again. The New York Post published a story about a laptop hard drive obtained by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. It contained emails that alleged Hunter and Joe Biden’s involvement in Ukrainian and Chinese business dealings. The FBI had already subpoenaed the hard drive in 2019, and added it to an ongoing federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax history that quietly began in 2018 (AP). 

Last Tuesday, the Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney’s office subpoenaed additional documents about Hunter’s foreign business dealings in regards to a Department of Justice (DOJ) finance investigation. Hunter was the first to publicly confirm its existence the next day, which has created concerns of election interference from the Right (more on that soon). At the moment, it’s unclear if his work in Ukraine is a central part of the investigation or whether prosecutors are simply seeking information about all his sources of income in recent years (AP). 

Here’s what else you need to know.

The Facts

  • Joe’s pick. Biden has yet to name his nominee for Attorney General (AG) and head investigator of his son. Senator Doug Jones and Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland are leading contenders, both of whom have longtime ties to the President-elect. (AP)

  • $400k. One email from the laptop hard drive was from a former business partner in 2017, informing Hunter that he (Hunter) didn’t disclose $400,000 in income from Burisma. NBC could not independently verify whether the email was authentic and unaltered. (NBC News)

  • Interference Accusations. Trump has accused Bill Barr, his soon to be ex-Attorney General, of stalling the announcement of this investigation until after the election to help Biden, saying “Bill Barr should have stepped up.” According to the Department of Justice Manual, “DOJ generally will not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing investigations.”  (AP)


How It's Being Spun

Katherine Chuang

Here are the narratives from both sides, along with supporting headlines and article snippets. These are not necessarily factual, but instead illustrate the news coverage that solidifies each narrative. The bias ratings refer to news outlets as a whole, not a specific article.

If you're reading on mobile, the Right narrative will appear above the Left's. Next week, we'll switch it up.

Narrative from the Right

It’s convenient that this investigation went public right after the election, just like the vaccine announcement. It looks like Biden is already manipulating the federal government to his advantage. The American people have the right to know who they’ve elected and the shady activities they’re involved in.

Headlines & Snippets

Rasmussen Poll: Majority Says Media Buried Laptop to Help Biden

Fifty-two percent of respondents believed the story was buried so as to not damage Joe Biden's presidential aspirations, 32% say it was ignored because it was a "partisan hit job," and 17% were not sure. (Newsmaxx)

Kayleigh McEnany Rips William Barr For Silence On Hunter Biden Probe

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany defended President Trump on Monday over his criticism of [AG] William Barr for failing to inform Congress that Hunter Biden had been under investigation by the [DOJ] during the 2020 presidential campaign. (NYP)

Johnson: Hunter And James Biden Have Refused To Cooperate With Senate Requests

According to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, several requests dating back to September 23 for interviews and records have been ignored by President-elect Joe Biden’s son and other associates. (Daily Caller)

Narrative from the Left

Once again, Hunter Biden is being investigated for something that has little to do with Joe Biden’s presidency. If Trump can be impeached for obstructing justice and remain in office, the Bidens should be able to navigate this one without too much trouble. Lastly, do we even need to mention Trump’s rampant nepotism?

Headlines & Snippets

Fox Destroys Its Credibility When It Leads With Hunter Biden News

"We watched every hour on Thursday and Friday," CNN's Chief Media Correspondent said on Sunday. And more than 50% of those hours started with Fox anchors talking about the Hunter Biden story. (CNN)

Barr Couldn't Pass Trump's Loyalty Test: Shredding The US Constitution

Trump was irked by delays into the release of a report on the origins of the Russia investigation. Then the Wall Street Journal reported that Barr had worked “for months” during the election campaign to keep secret a federal investigation of Biden’s son, Hunter. (The Guardian)

GOP Congressman: We Need The Senate To Investigate Hunter Biden’s Taxes

“If we lose the Senate, nobody is going to investigate [Hunter Biden],” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told a rally in this suburb of Atlanta. “If we keep the Senate, we may find the truth, and the truth may lead us to [President-elect Joe Biden.]” (HuffPost)

But, It's Not All Bias 

Sometimes, the news gets it right. Here are two instances of biased outlets that reported with civility by conceding a point to the other side's narrative.

Trump Administration ‘Was Very Fortunate’ To Have Bill Barr As Attorney General

By highlighting the good things that Bill Barr did for President Trump, the Daily Caller deviates from the Right's narrative that villifies Barr for not revealing the Hunter Biden investigation sooner.

Hunter Biden's Probe Compounds Joe Biden’s Attorney General Dilemmas

By highlighting the fact that Joe Biden faces a tough decision in choosing his AG, Politico devaites from the Left narrative that's less likely to cover the negative aspects of the investigation.


What Does It All Mean?

The Electoral College has cast their votes and Hunter Biden is officially the son of the president-elect. Those closest to the leader of the free world, justified or not, receive a lot of attention and scrutiny. Depending on where you get your news, it’ll probably sound something like this:

  • If your news outlets lean left, you’ll see this as a Hail-Mary attempt to smear Joe Biden as he begins his presidency.You might be thankful that Bill Barr played by the DOJ’s rules (for once) and didn’t bring this up until after the election. Joe Biden won the presidency, and if Republicans want to go muckraking that’s their choice.

  • If your news outlets lean right, you’ll see a blatant double standard.First, the media criticizes Trump for his COVID response, then praises a vaccine that’s released right after Biden wins. Those same outlets also pounced on Trump for his tax returns, but won’t do the same for Hunter. It’s frustrating, but it’s what you’ve probably come to expect.

A recent poll of Biden voters in swing states found that 9.4% would’ve changed their vote had they known the full scope of the Hunter Biden financial scandal. However, as with many polls, take those numbers with a grain of salt: the poll had a relatively small sample size and was conducted by the Media Research Center, which has a “Right” bias rating by AllSides.

The Presidential election aside, Barr is resigning on December 23rd, and it’s unlikely that the interim Attorney General, Jeffery Rosen, will wrap up the Hunter Biden investigation before Joe moves in on January 20th. Once that transition happens, Joe Biden will pick the next Attorney General to oversee the DOJ. This appointment could create a potential conflict of interest and obstruction of justice. Biden has tried to distance himself from the DOJ, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, “it's not my Justice Department, it's the people's Justice Department.” 

Team Biden may feel a little better knowing this isn’t the first time this has happened. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, cultivated a friendship and business dealings with the Libyan dictatorship. A Senate investigation found nothing incriminating and the ordeal didn’t leave a lasting mark on the President’s reputation.

Of course, this investigation certainly could result in an indictment and distract from Joe Biden’s agenda. If no charges are brought by the DOJ, there will likely be accusations of Biden sweeping the issue under the rug (AP). These things tend to move slowly, so don’t expect to hear any outcomes too soon. The Biden administration will either start off on the right foot, or be tripped up by the missteps of his son.

Let's Argue Less

Now that you understand more, you're ready to take the next step.

Weekly Civility Challenge

Tell us about a political conversation you had this past week, civil or otherwise. What was it like?

Reply to this email with your response and we’ll feature the winner next week!

Last Week's Winner

The prompt: Are you tired of politics? If so, do you think it will make you more civil?

Here's the best response we received last week. Thank you to Alissa from Atlanta, GA!

"After what seems like an election without an end, it looks like we're nearing the end. It's tempting to check-out completely. Would I be more civil if I did so? probably. But I can't. There are countless people (myself included) whose lives are impacted by what happens in politics. We need to engage with different viewpoints if we want them to see our side. Even if we don't change their views, we can show them that the other side isn't all bad. Maybe that will make a difference down the road. Maybe it won't. Either way, not trying just doesn't seem like an option to me.

Want to Learn More About Civil?

Until next Wednesday, that's all from us. Thank you!