Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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US campaign: Biden dodges a bullet, with a little help from his media friends

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THERE’S still one presidential campaign debate to come but it’s worth wondering what value it will add in an inflamed political environment in which everything is stacked in favour of the Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

There cannot be a sentient being in the United States who intends to vote and is still pondering whom to choose between Donald Trump and Biden and who hasn’t, moreover, long shut his ears to the clangour of unhinged partisan warfare. This is the nastiest election since the last one in accord with the tradition that each election is worse than its predecessor as the parties grow further apart.

US presidential elections have two features of high drama – the October surprise from one or other side and the televised debates between the two contenders; either may prove decisive with late-deciding voters, destroying the work of months of campaigning.

This year’s surprise was dropped by the New York Post when it claimed emails recovered from a computer belonging to Biden’s son indicated that Biden, when vice president, may have met the emissary of a corrupt Ukrainian energy company called Burisma which employed the somewhat feckless son for no good reason that anyone can fathom.

In Washington, that means influence may have been peddled corruptly. Unfortunately for Trump, the Post’s bombshell has so far been a squib. No proof has been shown that Biden père met the Ukrainian in question although there has been a plethora of insinuations. If the meeting happened, who knows what was said? It appears there’s nothing damning.

The Post got the story from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former adviser Steve Bannon.

It appears to reinforce a video seen earlier this year in which Joe, who went to Kiev in 2015 to give $1billion in loan guarantees to the Ukrainian government, boasted that they wouldn’t get it unless a public prosecutor investigating Burisma was fired. The official was gone within hours and the connection of his son, Hunter, to the company sure looked fishy. At the same time a billion dollars goes a long way with a government that is broke.

Hunter Biden also signed eye-wateringly lucrative commercial deals in China when he went to Beijing with his father who was on an official visit. That didn’t look good either but there’s still no proof of illegality.

No one has shown direct evidence that what Joe did with reference to Ukraine was corrupt despite the ardent desire of anguished Trump voters that the appearance of corruption should be enough in itself to convict the former vice president. So far, this scoop does not have the oomph to change the course of the election, which is not to deny that further revelations may give it more substance.

Meanwhile, some sympathy has swung Hunter’s way because secrets of his louche private life were on the computer along with the tantalising but inconclusive emails and were exposed to embarrass him. He’s a private citizen with no political role.

Republicans thought it beyond odd that the Hunter scandal wasn’t mentioned when his dad did a televised town hall with George Stephanopoulos, a former Clintonite, on Thursday. But Donald Trump did a separate town hall with NBC at the same time and he didn’t raise it either, although he’s a man who doesn’t flinch from using live ammo.

The likeliest explanations are the obvious ones. Stephanopoulos, along with most of the media, is in the tank for Biden and provided routine protection. Trump knew he couldn’t prove the allegation if challenged to do so by his openly hostile moderator. For once, Trump ceded to demands that he be ‘presidential’ and he was right to be cautious. The lack of substantive follow-up to the Post story shows there is every chance that smearing Biden would have backfired.

But, it’s an ill wind and all that. Biden may have dodged a bullet but social media’s attempt to smother the story has embroiled them in a censorship row that puts media bias in the congressional crosshairs. Curbs may be placed on their freedom to screen out news that’s bad for Democrats or good for Republicans. They have done this in an increasingly shameless way during Trump’s presidency.

The Post allegations were ignored by the MSM. Facebook and Twitter banned all reference to the Post’s story on flimsy grounds which kept changing as the furore in response grew. The Twitter account of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was blocked as was that of the Trump campaign communications team.

No one believes Democrats would have been punished with the same sanctions if they had pulled a dirty trick against Trump. Access to social media is crucial nowadays for everyone in politics.

Twitter chief Jack Dorsey was forced to admit his team’s handling of things had been ‘not great’. He and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are now under subpoena to justify themselves to the senate’s commerce committee with the possibility that the rules will be changed to make Big Tech more accountable. Republican Senator Ted Cruz called social media and its flagrant Leftist bias ‘the biggest threat to free speech today’.

The ambiguous political role of the overwhelmingly liberal/progressive MSM is what keeps Republican frustration permanently on the boil and especially at election times. The media claim it is their institutional job to vet the parties, their candidates and their unelected appointees to public office.

But they have become so aggressively hostile to Republicans since the Iraq war that the impartiality implicit in vetting has vanished. Obama literally got a free pass for everything he did. During this election, the media have helped the Democratic party hide Joe Biden’s obvious limitations from the public.

Biden didn’t always get such privileged treatment. The media dismissed him when he racked up a string of defeats in the early stages of the campaign for the nomination. It was only after the party decided, in extremis, to choose Biden over far-Left Bernie Sanders that the media promoted Joe to Mount Olympus.

As things stand, he’s headed for the White House with 56 per cent of intending voters declaring for him. Trump’s chances of winning the popular vote seem nil. If he’s re-elected, it will be like last time with the electoral college votes of the battleground states where the parties are evenly divided.

The final debate is on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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