Fox News rejected Hunter Biden exposé; New York Post writer refused to put his name on it: reports

The FBI is investigating whether the story is tied to a Russian influence operation, according to multiple reports

By Roger Sollenberger
October 20, 2020 12:38AM (UTC)
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Hunter Biden (Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)

When former LifeLock spokesperson Rudy Giuliani approached Fox News with the trove of emails he alleged had been retrieved from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, the network declined to run the story over concerns about its credibility, according to a new report.

Sources told Mediaite that "the lack of authentication of Hunter Biden's alleged laptop, combined with established concerns about Giuliani as a reliable source and his desire for unvetted publication, led the network's news division to pass."

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Giuliani previously told The New York Times that he had chosen to place the material with The New York Post because "either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out."

The Post, a sister company of Fox News, published the unverified emails in a Wednesday exposé, which drew widespread blowback for its dubious sourcing. The Times earlier reported that most of The Post article had been written by a staff reporter who refused to allow the tabloid to attach his name to the byline over doubts about the article's credibility.

The alleged emails informing the article were obtained in a circuitous route by two Trump allies: Giuliani and former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who currently faces wire fraud and money laundering charges in a federal court. The pair gave the outlet a copy of what they claimed was content copied from a hard drive belonging to Hunter Biden, the youngest son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which they said had been obtained from a computer repairman who wished to remain anonymous.

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The repairman told a group of reporters last week that a man named Hunter Biden had dropped the laptop off at his store, but medical issues with his vision prevented him from making an identification.

A number of Post staffers questioned the vetting process for the article and expressed concerns about the sources and the timing as the election nears, The Times reported. Upon publication, other journalists pointed out major errors and holes in article, and the FBI has since opened an investigation into the story as part of a possible Russian disinformation operation, according to multiple reports.

The Times also reported that one of the article's two bylined authors had first learned that her name was on the report after publication; the other writer never previously had a byline at the paper. Both writers formerly worked at Fox News.

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The Trump-friendly cable network's so-called "Brain Room" had previously warned hosts about Giuliani's reputation for "amplifying disinformation," according to The Daily Beast.

One day after The Post published its story, The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials had repeatedly warned the White House in 2019 that Giuliani was a target of Russian intelligence, and information he passed along might be tainted by his interactions with pro-Putin officials in Ukraine.

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In the days leading up to publication, a team of The New York Post's top editors met to determine a course of action, including the editor-in-chief and the digital editor-in-chief, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Times. At least two writers refused to put their names on the report, according to The Times.

The bylines eventually went to Emma-Jo Morris — a deputy politics editor who joined the Murdoch-owned tabloid this spring after four years at Fox News — and Gabrielle Fonrouge, a reporter at The Post since 2014.

At Fox, Morris worked as an associate producer for Trump "pillow-talk" confidante Sean Hannity, according to her LinkedIn profile.Morris' Instagram, which has sent been set to private, included photos of her posing with Bannon and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally and Republican operative. In July, President Donald Trump commuted Stone's sentence on seven felony counts.

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Fonrouge, the article's other acknowledged writer, "had little to do with the reporting or writing of the article," according to The Times.

"The senior editors at The Post made the decision to publish the Biden files after several days' hard work established its merit," a senior Post official told The Times in an email.

The Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have all reported that they were not able to independently verify The New York Post's reporting or the contents of the hard drive.

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News outlets have repeatedly debunked allegations of corruption against the Bidens, and a roundly discredited investigation by Senate Republicans — predicated in part on information Giuliani acquired from a Russian agent sanctioned by the Trump administration — found no evidence that the former vice president had engaged in wrongdoing related to his son's business dealings.

Reports of the FBI investigation echoed headlines from the final weeks of the 2016 election cycle, when U.S. intelligence agencies began probing whether individuals connected to the Trump campaign were involved in Russian government efforts to harm Hillary Clinton via dumps of emails stolen from Democratic officials.

"At least in 2016, Trump's allies pushed powerful disinformation," national security attorney Bradley Moss told Salon last week. "These last-ditch efforts barely qualify as trying anymore."

"It's a garbage fire story with obscene numbers of legal holes and flaws," he added.

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A Post spokeswoman told The Times in a statement that the story had been "vetted," and it "stands by its reporting."


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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