Hunter Biden's laptop: The right's pseudo-scandal industry hopes for another big win

Of course it's a non-issue: Republicans hope to force the media to cover it, and hope to make Joe Biden cry

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 5, 2022 9:51AM (EST)

Hunter Biden, Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)
Hunter Biden, Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)

Donald Trump and his fellow traveler Elon Musk had a good weekend — if you judge such things on their terms. They both managed to accomplish something you would not have thought was possible: distract attention from their open association with Nazis and white supremacists. You have to hand it to them; that takes skill.

After a couple of weeks facing off an avalanche of criticism, Musk made a sharp pivot by releasing internal company documents pertaining to Twitter's decision last summer to briefly delete tweets relating to the now-infamous New York Post article about Hunter Biden's laptop. At least momentarily, that shifted the conversation from Musk's relationships with the numerous unsavory characters with whom he interacts on Twitter to a long thread he commissioned from journalist Matt Taibbi, supposedly revealing, at least according to Musk, that Joe Biden had defiled the First Amendment.

He did no such thing, of course. First of all, this went down during the 2020 campaign and Biden wasn't president at the time. As a presidential candidate, he had a perfect right to appeal to a private company not to publish salacious material about his family, following Twitter's own rules. (For an excellent analysis of the substance of the documents, I recommend this one from Nicholas Grossman.)

Nonetheless, the ensuing brouhaha on the right was overwhelming. This will give you a taste of the hysteria:

Then Donald Trump said, "Hold my Diet Coke." His response to the "revelations" came shortly thereafter:

Nobody's talking about his fascist dinner parties now, are they? Now they're talking about how he's still agitating for a coup. But that's a subject Trump seems to think appeals to a wide swath of the GOP base, and in this case he may be correct. The Hunter Biden laptop story has become an obsession on the right and this latest installment has them in the throes of ecstasy. They don't care about the Constitution. They care about the juicy dirt on that laptop and they want the whole country talking about it. This is a patented Republican scandal.

There are certainly unsavory aspects of Hunter Biden's ignominious personal and professional career, which I wrote about in detail years ago. There is no clear evidence of any illegal and the chronology doesn't work when it comes to allegations that Biden took corrupt action on behalf of his son as vice president. There is nothing there other than a man making money by trading on his family name, which you might think would be an embarrassing issue for a family that literally sells its name to the highest bidder.

The right has attempted to turn Joe Biden's care and concern for a son who was going through a major life crisis, which included substance abuse, wild partying and a range of self-destructive behavior, into a corruption scandal. No one can possibly read the emails from father to son that have been extracted from Hunter Biden's laptop and see anything but compassion and love. In fact, I'm sure Republicans understand that: What they are really trying to do is push Joe Biden to break down and cry in public.

Seriously: It's an old ratfucking trick from the Nixon years whose dastardly crew famously goaded Sen. Edmund Muskie, the Democratic frontrunner early in the 1972 campaign, into getting emotional over a fake letter impugning his wife. I have no doubt that the right-wing dirty tricksters of today are believing their own propaganda that Biden is a feeble old man who is overly sentimental about his family, and they think they can push him into doing the same thing.

We are a long way from 1972 and I suspect that even if Biden did cry about his son, the country would feel kinship with him, not disdain. There is hardly a family in America that is not touched by similar trauma.

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But mostly what the Hunter Biden laptop "scandal" is about is the dirty pictures. Sex scandals are where the dirty tricksters and ratfuckers of the GOP really shine. Think about 1987, when a picture of Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, Democratic heir apparent at the time, with a woman who wasn't his wife derailed his presidential ambitions. There is evidence, which emerged many years after the fact, that Hart was set up by none other than Lee Atwater, the Republican Party's most notorious political operative of the 1980s.

Bill Clinton was known to be a womanizer before he ever ran for president, and offered an irresistible target for the right in that respect. And did they ever. The GOP's sex-scandal industry of the 1990s produced nonstop prurient rumors so relentless and over the top that by the time Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, the public was disgusted with the president's behavior — but even more repulsed by the sanctimonious gossips who could not stop chattering about it like a bunch of horny teenagers.

Hunter Biden's laptop has the right in the throes of ecstasy. They don't care about Trump crapping on the Constitution. They care about the dirty pictures on that laptop, and want the whole country talking about them.

Years later, when Hillary Clinton ran for president, the right's hit men tried it again with a whisper campaign about her and her assistant Huma Abedin. They had long since planted rumors that Hillary was a closeted lesbian who was only with Bill to power her ruthless ambition. (Why do you think they wanted so desperately to get hold of all those personal emails?)

The mainstream media has always jumped right into these scandal stories with enthusiasm — and if they hadn't done so, it's unlikely such narratives would have gained traction with the broader public. For instance, the New York Times actually published a front-page story headlined "Huma Abedin, a Clinton Aide, Is Back in Spotlight as Republicans Seize on Emails" in 2015, which began with this suggestive lead:

Among the trove of emails released from Hillary Rodham Clinton's tenure as secretary of state was this instruction to a trusted aide who needed to brief her on a matter that could not wait: "Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it's closed," Mrs. Clinton wrote in November 2009 to Huma Abedin, then her deputy chief of staff.

The Times wasn't the only publication pushing this line.

The pseudo-scandal surrounding Hunter Biden's laptop is yet another chance for right-wingers to embarrass and harass their political enemies by talking incessantly about their sex lives. They the laptop — which, by the way, has been handled by so many people with dubious intentions that it can't be authenticated — would be their October surprise, somethinjg like Anthony Weiner's laptop back in 2016, which arguably cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election. They seem to be trying to convince people that pictures of Hunter Biden with lots of drugs and various different women would have shocked people into voting for Donald Trump over Hunter's dad, which is patently ridiculous. They are delicately choosing not to mention that he's the guy who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual assault and who paid off a porn actress during his 2016 campaign.

I don't know if conservatives really believe that the laptop would have turned the tide or they just get off on sharing naked pictures of the president's son and talking about his problems. But they expected the media to jump on that story and for the most part it didn't, largely because of all the hacking and ratfucking and foreign interference on the Republicans' behalf that had gone on during the 2016 campaign. I wish I were confident that the national media has finally learned its lesson about right-wing scandal-mongering in general, but that may be too much to hope for. 

We'll just have to see how the press and pundits handle it when House Republicans hold their inevitable "investigative" hearings on Hunter's laptop. Will that make it "news" that political reporters simply have to cover? Will they harangue the president day in and day out, to see if he'll break down and cry? It looks like we're going to find out.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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