The sins of the son

The multiple tragedies of the family Biden

Hunter and Joe Biden, source: AP

One of the first rules of questionable PR is to change the subject when your client is feeling heat. Get people talking about something – anything – other than, say, his conviction as a felon. Put something or someone else under the Klieg lights.

Defenders of Donald J. Trump, the convict, are doing this to a fare-thee-well with the plight of President Biden’s son, Hunter. Hunter’s trial on three felony gun charges, all based on his lying on an application for a gun license in 2018 and on his drug addiction, began today with jury selection. The court action is expected to last two to three weeks.

Trump’s trial took five weeks. It led, of course, to guilty findings on 34 counts related to false bookkeeping for covering up hush-money payments to a porn star in 2016. It was about burying troubling information during an election.

So, now, the media – particularly right-wing media – are having a field day with Hunter. They are busily making comparisons between Trump’s sordid disgrace and the young Biden’s drug-addled misbehavior.

Fox News analyst Jonathan Turley, for instance, noted that the jury pool in Wilmington, Del., the Biden family’s home turf, is likely to be friendlier than the Manhattan jurors were to Trump. “This is the hometown of the Bidens, and they may be hoping for a type of jury nullification,” Turley opined. “This is the opposite of Manhattan. This is a great jury pool for the defendant.”

Never mind that the pool included a former Delaware police officer who said he believed that the FBI prosecutes over politics and who mentioned the Steele Dossier (a much-attacked report in the Trump-Russia probe) and the trial against former President Donald Trump in New York, as Fox reported. The potential juror – who would seem likely to be tossed — said he once supported a candidate who challenged Beau Biden, Hunter’s deceased brother, in the race for attorney general.

Once the jury pool was winnowed down and the dozen members were selected, Fox also reported that the panel includes three black women and three white women, four black men and two white men. Just why their race and gender were relevant was not clear — but, hey, you gotta report something, right?

Calling the federal litigation an “historic trial,” Fox also referred to defendant Biden, 54, as “the first son,” a derivation of first lady. In three simple words, the phrase does two things that a spinmeister might like: it ties Biden to his presidential dad even as it misleads, since Hunter’s brother, Beau, was older and died in 2015.

The late Beau Biden and wife, Hallie, right

Not to be outdone, the New York Sun suggested that President Biden’s visit to his daughter-in-law Hallie’s home eight days before his son’s trial began “could raise the possibility of accusations of witness tampering.” One might note the exceptional array of fudge words there: “could,” “possibility” and “accusations,” all of which raise the question of whether such speculation is good journalism.

For its part, the more fair-minded Newsweek took note of a comment by a White House spokesman that Biden’s visit to Hallie was about the then-impending ninth anniversary of Beau Biden’s death; the president wasn’t there to talk about the trial, the spokesman said. The piece also helpfully recounted a laundry list of rightist fulminations on X, including this over-the-top one by former Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass: “Biden crime family boss uses presidential muscle to pressure witness: Joe Biden visits Hallie Biden days before she testifies in Hunter’s gun trial,” Kass wrote on X.

Hallie had been Beau’s wife, but she took up with the then-divorced Hunter years after Beau’s death. As recounted by The Washington Post, Hallie found the gun that Hunter improperly bought in her home after he had spent the night. She bagged it and tossed it in the trash some miles away. After the two split, Hunter married anew in 2019. The New York Post’s Page Six site helpfully reported that Hallie was wedding anew, too.

The Sun also gushed about how this is “the first trial in American history in which the child of a sitting president has been prosecuted.” It further tied the younger Biden to his dad – and mom – with the headline “First Lady Makes Surprise Appearance” at the trial’s opening. We seem to be in for breathless gavel-to-gavel coverage in some venues at least, troublingly like the sort given to a much-sullied former president.

Of course, some of this is legitimately newsworthy, though it’s not clear why the support of a mother for her son is surprising. There also seemed to be little in the conservative-media coverage about Hunter’s graduation from Georgetown University and the Yale Law School and his work in business, law and government. It will be up to his lawyers to sketch out Biden’s not-inconsequential resume for the jury.

For his part, President Biden issued a statement saying he has “boundless love” for his son, “confidence in him and respect for his strength.” He added: “I am the President, but I am also a Dad … Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today.” He said he would have no further comment on the case.

The mainstream media gave the younger Biden’s missteps a great deal of attention, too. As it did with Trump’s trial, the New York Times offered a stream of updates on the case, including one taking note that First Lady Jill Biden was “wearing a purple blazer and scribbling on a white legal” in the courtroom. The Washington Post similarly offered such updates but, so far at least, attire has not been part of its coverage. One wonders if such fashion details may yet come, as hard-pressed reporters cast about for information to share.

This live-update process mirrored the approach journalists took to the Trump trial. If it continues, that process itself amplifies the false equivalence that Trump enthusiasts are making between the two bits of litigation.

Source: Thinking is Power

Personally, I was touched by this false equivalence in a family feed. When I posted a link to my Substack piece about Trump’s conviction that asked “Is decency returning to our politics?,” that sister responded: “I guess we’ll find out next week after Hunter Biden’s case.”

Of course, Hunter is not a candidate for president or a former president. Moreover, Hunter’s issues have nothing to do with the election, other than that they are arising as his father is running again. Trump’s, of course, had a great deal to do with his last election and his early days as president. Indeed, it’s notable how Biden has not tried to pull strings in the case (something Trump, no doubt, would do for Ivanka, if needed). But such subtleties apparently elude Trump enthusiasts.

One has to wonder, moreover, whether this case would have even gone this far if it didn’t involve a president’s son. “Hunter Biden has argued that he was only charged because of his last name,” legal podcaster and Justice Department veteran Sarah Isgur noted in a guest essay in The New York Times. “And he has a point — there are far more gun crimes committed than can be handled by federal prosecutors.”

Colt Cobra .38, the type of weapon Biden bought, source: AthlonOutdoors

Rather than shining a reflected light on President Biden, perhaps this case should raise questions about why it’s so easy for a drug addict to obtain a gun. If we had tighter gun laws, perhaps, none of this would have occurred. Pols, are you listening?

Isgur argued that Biden should seek a plea deal, even though it might be tougher than one he almost had last summer. She noted that the DOJ rarely loses its cases, so jury nullification may be what Biden hopes for. To that end, one might expect that sorrowful events in his life – dating back to the 1972 car accident that killed his mother and sister and left him, at 3, with a fractured skull, as well as his descent into addiction that saw him booted from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014 – will be shared with the jury.

For a full account of Hunter Biden’s woes, The Washington Post did a creditable job. One piece, “For Hunter Biden, a dramatic day with his brother’s widow led to charges,” offered a tick-tock on how the cocaine-addicted and grieving Biden fell into a series of mistakes that led to the litigation. Another, by fact-checker Glenn Kessler, ably sketched out the man’s descents and dealings.

Together, those pieces – as well as others in respectable places — should disabuse conspiracy-theorizing Trumpists of some of their more bizarre claims about Biden le père, and Biden le fils. Will they, though?

As the trial proceeds, one can expect the false equivalences to continue, apparently in hopes that Americans will look on all politics as corrupt and be inured to that. The GOP and Trumpists will sling as much mud as possible on the president, hoping it will take eyes off Trump’s thick coating of slime. The question for the thinking American public is: should the sins of the son be visited upon the father?