Fox News responded to the Jared Kushner bombshell with nonstop Hunter Biden talk
Also: Trump's latest scathing anti-endorsement shows that even embracing the big lie isn't enough.
Hunter Biden is a private citizen who cashed in big on his family name and is currently under federal investigation over his taxes. There’s no evidence any of his alleged misdeeds involve his father. He doesn’t work in the administration, like several of the former guy’s kids did, officially or otherwise. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans and their right-wing media foot soldiers from desperately trying to make a connection.
Former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, by contrast, was a top adviser in the Trump White House. In his public role, he worked to advance Saudi interests even after the Saudi regime brutally murdered dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia and wrote for the Washington Post. On Sunday, the New York Times broke news that last year Kushner — who for now at least is a private citizen — secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, despite well-founded concerns that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
“Ethics experts say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Mr. Kushner’s actions in the White House — or of a bid for future favor if Mr. Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024,” the Times wrote.
Given his status as a former and perhaps future public official (not to mention the repressive nature of the Saudi regime), the Kushner story is a bigger scandal than anything involving Hunter. But even if one thinks the two are of a comparable scale (again: it isn’t), the way Fox News/Business fixates on one while totally ignoring the other is a bit over the top.
From Monday morning through Tuesday morning, when other stories were pushed aside for coverage of the Brooklyn subway shooting, Fox News/Business mentioned Hunter Biden a whopping 68 times, according to TVEyes transcripts. (The true number is even higher — I counted conservatively by not including reruns of the primetime shows that run early in the morning.)
Often, Fox and Republican elected officials were talking about the Hunter story so they could make baseless insinuations that President Biden is crooked. Sen. Chuck Grassley, for instance, told host Jesse Watters that due to Hunter’s business dealings in China, it’s “legitimate” to ask if the president is compromised.
Kushner, by contrast, wasn’t mentioned a single time on any Fox News/Business show. Devoted Fox News viewers could be excused for not even knowing that Trump’s son-in-law/top White House adviser had received a huge, highly suspect cash injection from the Saudis. The only scandals that exist in this universe involve Democrats.
For context, CNN largely ignored both stories over the timeframe in question, with Hunter getting mentioned once, and Kushner mentioned twice. MSNBC devoted a lot more time to the Kushner story, mentioning him 23 times (Hunter Biden was mentioned three times), but they weren’t nearly as obsessed with it as Fox is with Hunter.
The disparity is a good example of how Fox works to warp viewers’ perceptions of reality. Relentlessly pushing the Hunter stuff as a major scandal not only keeps the heat on Biden, but minimizes the galling corruption of the MAGA wing of the GOP. To hear Fox hosts tell it, Russiagate was a hoax (it wasn’t), but the possibility that Biden is compromised by China is a very real concern.
This sort of propaganda may not be as over the top as Russian state TV, but it serves a similar purpose — to bolster the political fortunes of right-wing reactionaries.
Trump’s remarkable anti-endorsement
Trump wants people to believe he’s a GOP kingmaker. There’s some evidence the power of his endorsement is overrated — it isn’t doing much for David Perdue’s flailing campaign, for instance — but there’s no doubt Republican candidates would rather have his support than not.
So former US attorney and staunch Trump loyalist Bill McSwain, who’s trying to win Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary, must have been devastated to see the scathing anti-endorsement Trump blasted out Tuesday.
One person in Pennsylvania who I will not be endorsing is Bill McSwain for Governor. He was the U.S. Attorney who did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth ... Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our Country down. He knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly.”
The context for Trump’s weird grudge is important. In 2017, Trump nominated McSwain to be US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where he loyally did Trump’s bidding. From the AP:
As U.S. attorney, McSwain battled Democrats in Philadelphia over law enforcement policy, accusing city officials of being too lenient when they prosecuted violent crime and defying the “rule of law” through the city’s sanctuary city policy. He also went to court successfully to fight plans to open a medically supervised drug-injection site.
But as he considered making a run for elected office last summer, McSwain apparently had worries he might not have done enough to help Trump overturn his 2020 loss to Joe Biden in Pennsylvania. So he took the extraordinary step of writing Trump a fawning letter basically begging for his endorsement, blaming Bill Barr for the fact he didn’t contribute more to the coup effort, and asserting, “President Trump, you were right to be upset about the way the Democrats ran the 2020 election — it was a partisan disgrace.”
On Election Day and afterwards, our Office received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities. As part of my responsibilities as U.S. Attorney, I wanted to be transparent with the public and, of course, investigate fully any allegations. Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities. I was also given a directive to pass along serious allegations to the State Attorney General for investigation – the same State Attorney General who had already declared that you could not win.
I disagreed with that decision, but those were my orders. As a Marine infantry officer, I was trained to follow the chain of command and to respect the orders of my superiors, even when I disagree with them.
Trump initially seemed sympathetic to McSwain’s position, even if he never learned or couldn’t remember his name.
But it turns out it wasn’t enough to save him from Trump’s wrath. As Steve Benen put it for MSNBC, Trump’s vision of the judicial system is one in which “federal prosecutors should ignore the Justice Department and pursue his conspiracy theories. What matters, in other words, is loyalty to his demands and political needs, not the rule of law.” After all, as Trump wrote in his anti-endorsement, overturning the election was “there for the taking.”
While the Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial primary remains a close race between McSwain, Dave White, Lou Barletta, and Doug Mastriano, the fact remains that no matter who wins, the endorsed candidate will be a proponent of the big lie. As Amanda Carpenter wrote for the Bulwark, “they’re all election conspiracists. The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.”
At this point, merely embracing the big lie isn’t enough. To get the former president’s endorsement, Republican candidates have to demonstrate they’ve worked to end American democracy. Such is the fraught state of our two-party system in 2022.