When President Donald Trump raised Hunter Biden’s laptop during the final 2020 presidential debate, Joe Biden dismissed it as a “Russian plant,” citing “five former heads of the CIA” who say it’s “a bunch of garbage.”
Twitter suppressed the New York Post story that broke the news of the laptop’s existence, preventing users from sharing the story or even sending it by direct message (a tool usually used to stop the dissemination of child pornography). Worse, the company suspended the New York Post’s Twitter account, as well as other accounts that shared the story. Twitter did not suspend the accounts of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini, who tweets Holocaust denial and denies his citizens free access to the site. It did not suspend Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, or the Taliban, or the Chinese foreign ministry. But it suspended the New York Post for reporting what turned out to be a legitimate news story.
This is a scandal — one that appears to involve collusion between the FBI, the intelligence community and social media platforms to block a valid news story that could have damaged Biden and aided Trump’s reelection campaign. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy points out that the evidence the FBI interfered in the 2020 presidential election “is by leaps and bounds stronger than the evidence that the Trump campaign corruptly conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.”
We now know that Twitter and Facebook suppressed the story after U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials warned them to be on the lookout for foreign disinformation. In a sworn declaration to the Federal Election Commission, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then-head of “site integrity,” said he had held “regular meetings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and industry peers regarding election security” during which “federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected ‘hack-and-leak’ operations by state actors might occur in the period shortly before the 2020 presidential election, likely in October,” adding “I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”
At the time the FBI was delivering these warnings, it was in possession of the laptop, which it had seized in December 2019 from the computer repair shop where Hunter Biden left it — so it knew full well what it contained and that it was authentic, not a Russian plant.
In addition to these meetings with current officials, a group of 51 former intelligence officials released a public letter when the story broke in which they alleged that the release of Hunter Biden’s emails “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,” adding, “If we are right, this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election.”
They were not right. But together, these warnings by current and former national security officials gave Twitter the pretext to censor the story — and mainstream news outlets the excuse to dismiss or ignore it, which many of them did.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Bernie Sanders ally who represents Silicon Valley in Congress, revealed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week that he had written to Twitter at the time expressing his concern about the story’s suppression. He points out that Twitter defended its actions by claiming the story violated company policy because it contained information obtained through illegal means. By that definition, he writes, “they’d have to suspend any account that posted the Pentagon Papers.” He is right.
Not only that, they would also have to suppress any account that cited the illegally obtained classified intelligence released by WikiLeaks, or the classified intelligence unlawfully shared by Edward Snowden. They did not.
So where is the outrage from the mainstream news media over the fact that they were misled by current and former national security officials? What was the origin of that letter signed by those 51 intelligence officials? Who wrote it and circulated it for signature? To this day, the news media shows little or no interest in investigating how this story was suppressed, much less the contents of the laptop or whether President Biden knew about, or financially benefited from, his family members cashing in on his political influence with foreign governments.
The laptop’s suppression was justified as an effort to protect our democracy from foreign interference. But many Americans believe that reporting failures like this are the real threat to democracy. An October New York Times-Siena College poll found that 84 percent of respondents view the media as a threat to democracy — including 59 percent who agreed the press is a “major threat.”
More Americans said the media is a major threat to democracy than said Trump is. And an October Gallup poll found just 34 percent of Americans trust major news organizations to report “fully, accurately and fairly” on the news.
Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, is working to restore public trust in the social media platform by providing transparency as to how this sorry episode took place. Good for him. Perhaps mainstream news organizations ought to be engaged in similar soul-searching — so they can restore public trust in their platforms as well.