By now, you’ve probably heard that Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, gave journalist Matt Taibbi inside information about Twitter’s suppression of an explosive story about Hunter Biden weeks before the 2020 election. But here’s some background that may shed some light — especially on how legacy media have changed and how social media really work. First, a summary of the basic story from legal scholar Jonathan Turley:
Weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post ran an explosive story about a laptop abandoned by Hunter Biden that contained emails and records detailing a multimillion dollar influence peddling operation by the Biden family. Not only was Joe Biden’s son Hunter and brother James involved in deals with an array of dubious foreign figures, but Joe Biden was referenced as the possible recipient of funds from these deals.
The Bidens had long been accused of influence peddling, nepotism, and other forms of corruption. Moreover, the campaign was not denying that the laptop was Hunter Biden’s and key emails could be confirmed from the other parties involved. However, at the request of the “Biden team” and Democratic operatives, Twitter moved to block the story. It even suspended those who tried to share the allegations with others, including the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who was suspended for linking to the scandal.Jonathan Turley, “Censorship by surrogate: Why Musk’s document dump could be a game changer” at The Hill (December 3, 2022)
Musk, of course, had promised to restore free speech to Twitter. This appears to be an opening salvo.
Legacy mainstream media, which are increasingly comfortable with censorship — for reasons we will discuss in a companion story about Matt Taibbi — reacted swiftly. Here are some of the comments:
Imagine throwing it all away to do PR work for the richest person in the world. Humiliating shit.
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) December 2, 2022
Imagine volunteering to do online PR work for the world’s richest man on a Friday night, in service of nakedly and cynically right-wing narratives, and then pretending you’re speaking truth to power.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) December 3, 2022
More such at Mediaite.
As if Taibbi was going to throw away his biggest story of the year because it was forwarded to him, reliably, by Elon Musk… There are journos out there who would certainly do that to please their betters but Taibbi does not seem to be one of them.
The New York Times, finally acknowledging the story it has failed to cover for so long (even as the clouds were long gathering), attempts to remain above the fray “Former Twitter executives, who have lamented Mr. Musk’s chaotic stewardship of the company, cited the documents’ release as yet another sign of recklessness.”
Of course, it is not a sign of recklessness on Musk’s part. It is a strategy: Tell readers and users the stories the legacy media don’t.
At Gizmodo, Blake Montgomery does his best to explain that nothing has really happened, and — seemingly without intending to — identifies a key problem: “We learned how Twitter came to its decision to block the Post’s story, but we did not learn a shocking new reason why. We knew Twitter suppressed the story before the release of these documents, and, for the most part, we knew who was involved.”
“We knew”?: Who is the we here, Blake?
The public, of course, did not know this because it was prevented from knowing. And that’s the nub of the story.
Howie Carr writes at the Boston Herald,
All of Twitter’s multi-millionaire conspirators came from the same fabulously pampered backgrounds — including membership in multiple protected classes and graduate degrees from elite American-hating universities, as well as few, if any, connections to any traditional national institutions such as the military, religion, the working classes or public schools.Howie Carr, “Newly liberated Twitter blows lid off Democrat tainting of 2020 election” at Boston Herald (December 3, 2022)
That seems to be the house that Musk, a naturalized American, is trying to clean. He has implied that Twitter may have violated the First Amendment:
Twitter acting by itself to suppress free speech is not a 1st amendment violation, but acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 3, 2022
At least some evidence does point in the direction of the FBI encouraging Twitter to suppress the story:
It is not necessary for FBI officials to issue specific warnings to convey the message that a story should be killed.
In these schemes, there are sophisticated actors in each camp, including former government officials in media and social media. When government officials do their nod-and-a-wink routine, these execs get the hint. The higher-ups at Twitter and Facebook knew the FBI wasn’t holding regular pre-election meetings with them idly. They would also have understood that when briefing private parties the FBI can’t accuse people of specific criminal misconduct — such as espionage and hacking. So it keeps things “general” (as Taibbi described the warnings). That, along with its perceived authority, allows it to get its accusatory message across but later deny it did so.Andrew C. McCarthy, “How the FBI’s nod and a wink got social media to censor The Post’s Hunter Biden reporting” at New York Post (December 4, 2022)
It isn’t, as Blake Montgomery is quick to tell us, a “smoking gun.” But then, under the circumstances, no prudent person should require one either. The people involved are usually too smart to provide one.
The question that looms is whether social media should have that kind of cozy relationship with the FBI. Musk thinks it shouldn’t.
Next: Veteran news hound Matt Taibi: Why not to trust mainstream media anymore
You may also wish to read: Quick update on the Musk n’ Twitter show Although Twitter has not “gone dark,” as many tech media types fondly hoped, the White House may be thinking of getting involved. We can only wonder why so many opinion leaders now fear free speech Are they just not used to defending or even able to defend their opinions? (Or, it now appears, their actions?)