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Jake Tapper's soft Hunter Biden question during Biden interview follows media's weak coverage of scandal

CNN's Jake Tapper failed to ask President Biden any challenging questions about legal woes Hunter Biden could face, including whether he would pardon his own son.

It is rare for any journalist to land an interview with President Biden, who has been historically hidden from the press in comparison to his predecessors. With just weeks left of 2022, the president has only given four televised sit-downs this year, most recently with CNN anchor Jake Tapper. 

Last week, The Washington Post reported that anonymous federal agents allege they have "sufficient evidence" to charge Biden's son Hunter with tax and gun crimes. 

During his interview with the president, Tapper allotted just one question about his embattled son in light of the latest developments. 

"Personally and politically, how do you react to that?" Tapper asked on Tuesday. 

Biden responded by reiterating how "proud" he was of his son, who he stressed has overcome his drug addiction and acknowledged the allegation that Hunter falsely claimed he was not addicted to drugs on his gun purchase application. 


Tapper failed to ask any follow-up questions like whether he would pardon his son if criminal charges were brought. The anchor didn't even touch the looming questions over Hunter Biden's foreign business ties that could implicate his father, avoiding concerns about whether the president was involved in any of his son's financial dealings and if he himself ever received kickbacks. There were also no inquiries about revelations that several of Hunter Biden's associates visited the Obama-Biden White House even after Biden claimed on the campaign trail that he never talked business with his son.

Tuesday night marked Tapper's debut in CNN primetime. His new boss Chris Licht hand-picked Tapper to fill the vacant 9 p.m. ET time slot at least through the midterms (The time slot previously belonged to Chris Cuomo until his firing in December 2021). Licht reportedly wants Tapper to be "the new face" of CNN as the network attempts to rebrand itself as nonpartisan after years of anti-Trump, hyper liberal coverage. 

It is unclear whether Tapper is up to the task. For starters, his splashy debut in primetime, which also featured an interview with movie star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, couldn't even crack seven-digit viewership. "CNN Tonight with Jake Tapper" received just 854,000 total viewers, coming in a distant third behind the 2.6 million viewers "Hannity" received on Fox News and the 1.6 million "Alex Wagner Tonight" received on MSNBC. 

But also, while Tapper is highly regarded among his media peers, his past coverage was a fixture in Jeff Zucker's CNN. Just look at how he's covered Hunter Biden.


Before Tuesday, the last time "The Lead" ran a report on the controversy plaguing the president's son was in July, according to Grabien transcripts. But just last week, Tapper was dismissive of Republicans who've accused Big Tech of "rigging" the 2020 presidential election for suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story while discussing the two groups of "election deniers" that exist. 

"One is people who just lie about the election or they're wrong and diluted and just say it was stolen or whatever," Tapper said to his guest. "And then there is the ‘questioners.’ And these ‘questioners,’ these Republican questioners, to me, a lot of them are people who know better but are afraid that if they don’t at least come out with ‘oh, it was rigged in a different way because Twitter wouldn’t let the New York Post publish, you know, publicize the Hunter Biden story' or whatever- but they go along with it in a way that makes them feel comfortable but they're still playing along with the lie. 

"I almost find them more cynical players than the deniers," Tapper added. 

Tapper himself wasn't exactly onboard with the Hunter Biden scandal when the New York Post first broke its reporting on his infamous laptop. 

"Bakari, the rightwing is going crazy with all sorts of allegations about Biden and his family. Too disgusting to even repeat here," Tapper told his Democratic colleague Bakari Sellers in October 2020. "I mean, some of the ones I've seen from the president's son and some of the president's supporters are just wildly unhinged."

Perhaps he was following orders as CNN's top brass at the time were caught spiking the Hunter Biden scandal as it was emerging, according to audiotapes released by Project Veritas in December 2020, after Joe Biden was declared president-elect. 


"Obviously, we're not going with the New York Post story right now on Hunter Biden," CNN political director David Chalian said during a conference call on Oct. 14, the same day the Post published its first story on Hunter Biden's emails. Chalian later insisted the report was "giving its marching orders" to the "right-wing echo chamber about what to talk about today."

"The Trump media, you know, moves immediately from – OK, well, never mind – the [Michael Flynn] unmasking was, you know, found to be completely nonsensical to the latest alleged scandal and expects everybody to just follow suit," then-CNN president Jeff Zucker told his staff on Oct. 16. "So, I don't think that we should be repeating unsubstantiated smears just because the right-wing media suggests that we should."

CNN was certainly not alone. Virtually the entire legacy media either completely avoided or dismissed the Hunter Biden scandal in the days leading up to the 2020 election. 

"The Biden campaign on Wednesday rejected a New York Post report about Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter that the nation’s leading social media companies deemed so dubious that they limited access to the article on their platforms," The New York Times framed the revelations in an Oct. 14, 2020 report. "The report, appearing just three weeks before the election, was based on material provided by Republican allies of President Trump who have tried for months to tarnish Mr. Biden over his son. It claimed that the elder Mr. Biden had met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served."

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent quickly declared the day after the New York Post first began reporting on the alleged contents of Hunter Biden's laptop that it was "Trump's fake new Biden scandal," calling the allegations "laughably weak."

"While Trump and his propagandists would surely prefer to have a more compelling scandal to tout, the thinness of this new gruel is largely secondary," Sargent wrote on Oct. 15, stressing Steve Bannon's involvement in the distribution of the laptop's contents. "Trump’s last-ditch hope is to cast a vague pall of corruption over Biden ... But plainly, the mere fact of covering smears and disinformation, even negatively, itself rewards their purveyors." 


MSNBC anchor Katy Tur mocked the Post's story, saying it "dropped like a bomb," but to "wither under scrutiny, not really dropping like a bomb." NBC News national security correspondent Ken Dilanian called it a "fishy story" despite acknowledging that various emails and images that came from the laptop looked "legitimate." MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle attacked those who were covering the Hunter Biden controversy, referring to it as a "so-called story" with "unverified claims."

"We are now four days away from the election and the truth is more important than ever," Ruhle told her viewers. "The truth is that we're in the middle of a pandemic. The truth is that millions of Americans are out of work. The truth is we have to listen to science. And in these final days, instead of debating crowd size or unverified claims or conspiracy theories, we should be talking about policy, values, and ideas."

NPR public editor Kelly McBride addressed a listener's question about the news outlet's blackout of the Hunter Biden story at the time. After claiming the New York Post's reporting had "many, many red flags," including its potential ties to Russia, NPR apparently determined that the "assertions don’t amount to much."

"We don't want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don't want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions," NPR managing editor Terence Samuel told McBride. "And quite frankly, that's where we ended up, this was … a politically driven event and we decided to treat it that way."

Politico elevated the "Russian disinformation" narrative, running the headline, "Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say." 

The report on Oct. 19, 2020, authored by Natasha Bertrand, now a CNN reporter, highlighted an open letter signed by "more than 50 former senior intelligence officials" who insisted that the published emails from the laptop had "all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation."


The letter, which was parroted by much of the media, baselessly suggested the emails were hacked and could have been tampered with by the Kremlin in order to make their contents look incriminating. 

Signatories of that letter included outspoken Trump critics John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and Jeremy Bash, many of whom work as analysts on MSNBC and CNN and supported Joe Biden's candidacy.

However, it wasn't until Joe Biden was elected into office that the media began taking the scandals surrounding his son seriously. 

One by one, news organizations from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, NBC News and even CNN said they were able independently verify the authenticity of Hunter Biden's emails after they all promoted the narrative that it was Russian disinformation. 

It is unclear what will come from the Hunter Biden saga, but it could still have a significant political impact. Puck News reporter Tara Palmeri suggested his legal woes will be a "deciding factor" in President Biden's decision on a 2024 run, especially if Democrats take a beating in the upcoming midterms and the GOP take over investigative committees in Congress next year.

"You’re gonna have all these investigations into Hunter Biden. There’s, you know, reports that the Justice Department is looking at indicting him. It’s just gonna be a dark time. It’s not gonna be good for his family," Palmeri said in July. "He’s gonna be weakened. And then I think you layer in the personal stuff on top of it. And that is what will be the deciding factor."

"If it was purely political, I think Joe Biden only knows how to run. That’s all he has been doing his whole life. But I think if he sees- if he thinks that perhaps saying he’s not gonna run for reelection will get the Republicans to drop their terrifying investigation into Hunter," she added. 

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