June 21, 2023

How did the major news organizations cover the Hunter Biden news?

About what you would expect. They covered it like it was a big deal. But not like they covered Donald Trump’s indictment a week ago.

And that makes sense, of course. Because it wasn’t as big of a deal as that.

One is the son of a president who is pleading guilty to not paying his taxes on time. The other was the president and is a presidential candidate charged with taking classified documents and putting national security at risk.

Still, news outlets gave it the proper attention.

The son of President Joe Biden reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge.

It was the lead story on just about every major news outlet’s website for much of Tuesday, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press and the major TV networks. At times, sites such as CNN and USA Today led with the other big story of the day: the missing submarine near the wreckage of the Titanic. But even still, the Biden story was featured prominently on their sites.

The story led the top of the hour not just on Fox News, which ate it up, but CNN and MSNBC, as well.

As CNN’s Abby Phillip pointed out on air, this ended up exactly where we all thought it would end up: in the political arena. Republicans will argue about special treatment, while Democrats will argue that justice was served.

The New York Times’ Peter Baker wrote, “On the one hand, Hunter Biden’s agreement on Tuesday to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes  capped a five-year investigation without allegations of wrongdoing by the president or, presumably, prison time for his youngest son. But on the other hand, it put Hunter once again in the crosshairs of Mr. Biden’s adversaries who instantly complained that the wayward son got off too easy.”

Good read of the day

Here’s a whopper of a story from NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny: “The conspiracy candidate: What RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine crusade could look like in the White House.”

Few people cover misinformation, extremism, the internet and conspiracy theories better than Zadrozny, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has plenty of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to vaccines.

Kennedy, who is running for president as a Democrat, is trying to downplay his anti-vax views on the campaign trail. However, Zadrozny writes, “People who have followed Kennedy for years aren’t convinced by the spin, and privately, are blunt about the harm they fear could come from a Kennedy administration. A university researcher who studies anti-vaccine misinformation said over text, ‘#GAMA: Give America Measles Again.’ One advocate who leads a local vaccine education nonprofit asked me gravely, ‘How much damage could he actually, really do here?’”

How much damage could he do? The more you read Zadrozny’s piece and are reminded of Kennedy’s stances, you realize the answer is: quite a lot.

Check out this extended passage from Zadrozny’s reporting about what the country might look like under a President Kennedy:

President Kennedy would order childhood vaccines, which have already gone through clinical trials and constant safety studies, to undergo bigger, double-blind controlled trials. That sounds scientific, but those studies, health professionals say, would needlessly and unethically deny children vaccines, offering them a placebo instead, in a quest to find out what we already know: that vaccines are safe and prevent myriad illnesses

President Kennedy would gut the agencies that currently regulate, monitor and recommend schedules for childhood vaccines — the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the expert advisory panels of doctors, scientists and professors they rely on. The agencies have become “sock puppets” for the industries they regulate, he says, so he’ll impose more stringent conflict-of-interest qualifications and replace the bad guys with good ones. Kennedy won’t tell me who he’s got in mind (“not until they’re vetted”) but says he’s got many names.

President Kennedy would also order his Justice Department to investigate the editors and publishers of medical journals for “lying to the public.”

And when the next pandemic arrives — and it will — would President Kennedy pursue vaccines as Trump did? Kennedy won’t directly say. He says he’d prioritize treatments, like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine — which Kennedy says worked against Covid, despite numerous studies saying they didn’t (and the retraction of flawed or fraudulent studies that claimed they did).

When Zadrozny challenged Kennedy on his anti-vax views, Kennedy became annoyed. The piece shows how prepared a reporter was while interviewing her subject. This is all excellent work by Zadrozny.

She writes, “For someone who isn’t leading with vaccines, this is the topic that lights Kennedy up. Listening to Kennedy speak about vaccines is unsettling. It’s like being in a room with a man unspooling his red string, connecting various directors of government agencies with pharmaceutical company executives, philanthropists, prominent doctors and public health advocates, media and tech organizations.”

Speaking of RFK Jr.

Robert Kennedy Jr, shown here on the campaign trail last month. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File)

NewsNation announced it will host a live town hall in Chicago with Kennedy on June 28 from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern. NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas will moderate. According to a NewsNation release, “Kennedy Jr. will take questions in front of a live audience comprised of voters in partnership with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Additionally, voters in the key states of South Carolina and New Hampshire will have the opportunity to question the candidate.”

Let’s see if (and how much) Vargas and voters address Kennedy’s conspiracy theories.

That’s debatable

Fox News announced that it will host the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 election on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee. Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will co-moderate.

Baier’s good night was a bad night for Trump

Baier is coming off a decent performance in Monday night’s part one of his interview with former President Donald Trump. Trump continued with his barrage of unproven claims about the 2020 election, and Baier called him out on it.

At one point, Trump said, “I won the 2020 election by a lot.”

Baier pushed back by saying, “You lost the 2020 election” and pointed to all the failed lawsuits by the Trump campaign over the election.

As he typically does when he is challenged by a reporter, Trump turned on the interviewer or, in this case, the interview’s employer. Trump said at one point, “I’m no great fan of Fox.”

Baier also didn’t ease up when questioning Trump about the charges he’s facing for mishandling classified documents. Baier’s questions were obvious, and yet good enough that Trump probably should’ve kept his mouth shut.

MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote that criminal defendants are told that they have the right to remain silent and that anything they say can be used against them. Benen added, “As a rule, defense attorneys want their clients to take these rights seriously — and shut up accordingly. The more defendants remain silent, the less likely they are to say things that prosecutors will (a) hear, and (b) use. But to know anything about Trump is to know he’s never been a ‘remain silent’ kind of guy.”

During the interview, Baier asked Trump why he didn’t just turn over the documents when he was asked to. Trump said, “Because I had boxes. I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don’t want to hand that over to NARA yet, and I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen. I’ve been very, very busy.”

When Baier asked Trump why he had aides move the boxes and had lawyers deceive law enforcement as part of an apparent cover-up, Trump said, “Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things: Golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things.”

Benen wrote, “So, let’s take stock. Trump stands accused of taking classified documents, refusing to give them back, and obstructing the retrieval process. His latest defense, articulated to a national television audience yesterday, basically comes down to two points: 1. He was busy. 2. He was worried about losing some golf attire.”

Fox News analyst Brit Hume said on air, “His answers on the matter of the law seem to verge on incoherent. He seemed to be saying the documents were really his and he didn’t give them back when he was requested to do so, and when they were subpoenaed because he wasn’t ready to because he hadn’t sorted them or whatever from his golf shirts. It was not altogether clear what he was saying, but he seemed to believe that the documents were his, that he had declassified them and therefore he could do whatever he wanted with them.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC, Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner, the House Intelligence chairman, said about Trump’s interview on Fox News, “My first thought was, he should stop talking.”

Turner did add, “… the other aspect is of this — and we all know the documents should not have been there — but our committee interviewed the archivists, and they said that, up until the point that the first tranche of documents were surrendered, that they didn’t even know he had classified documents. … So, clearly, we have a problem in the disposition of administrations. We’re looking at the laws there and what needs to be done, because these types of documents should not be being removed. They should be in secure places.”

One of his Republican opponents, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, told “CBS Mornings,” “Last night he said the reason he didn’t give the documents back was because he’s just so very busy and he didn’t have time to respond to a grand jury subpoena because he needed to get his golf shirts and pants out of the box. I mean, does anybody in America believe this? … Look, I think the problem is going to be for him over time is that people are just not going to buy it. And when you think about how many days of golf he’s played since he left office, maybe he could have skipped a couple of rounds of golf and gone through the boxes to respond to a subpoena from a grand jury.”

Going back to Baier for a moment, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher has “Bret Baier Doesn’t Want To ‘Belabor’ Trump Criminal Charges: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Fox Trump Interview.”

Gannett sues Google

Gannett, the largest news publisher in the U.S., filed a federal lawsuit against Google on Tuesday for monopolization of advertising technology markets and deceptive commercial practices. In a statement, Gannett chairman and CEO Mike Reed said, “Google has monopolized market trading to their advantage and at the expense of publishers, readers and everyone else. Digital advertising is the lifeblood of the online economy. Without free and fair competition for digital ad space, publishers cannot invest in their newsrooms.”

Reed also wrote a piece for USA Today, Gannett’s leading publication. He wrote, “Our lawsuit seeks to restore fair competition in a digital advertising marketplace that Google has demolished.”

Reed added, “The move online should have created enormous opportunities for publishers. Digital advertising is now a $200 billion business — nearly an eightfold increase since 2009. Yet, news publishers’ advertising revenue has significantly declined. Google’s practices have real world implications that depress not only revenue, but also force the reduction and footprint of local news at a time when it’s needed most.”

In a statement, Dan Taylor, Google’s vice president of global ads, called Gannett’s claims “simply wrong.” He added, “Publishers have many options to choose from when it comes to using advertising technology to monetize — in fact, Gannett uses dozens of competing ad services, including Google Ad Manager. And when publishers choose to use Google tools, they keep the vast majority of revenue. We’ll show the court how our advertising products benefit publishers and help them fund their content online.”

Media tidbits

Hot type

  • Former Washington Post writer Stephanie McCrummen makes her debut in The Atlantic with this outstanding piece about the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement inside the far-right segment of Christianity that has helped fuel Donald Trump: “The Woman Who Bought a Mountain for God.”
  • Entertaining video from the Los Angeles Times: “Drama Roundtable” with actors Diego Luna, Helen Mirren, Bella Ramsey, Christina Ricci, Patrick Stewart and Jeremy Strong.
  • For Sports Business Daily, Tom Friend writes about the legendary baseball writer in “Peter Gammons: Diamond Vision.”

More resources for journalists

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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