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Skepticism is fundamental to good journalism. So one might applaud the Washington Post for raising questions about Wednesday’s New York Post which reported that emails found on a computer allegedly owned by Hunter Biden suggest Joe Biden was lying when he said he knew nothing of the lucrative deals his son had cut with a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, while he was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine policy. The veracity of the emails has not been established. On the other hand, they haven’t been debunked, either.

This Washington Post article, however, suggests they have. Start with the lede, which aims to debunk through ad hominem attack things that might very well be true:

President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who have attracted the scrutiny of U.S. authorities for their political dealings in recent months, helped make public private materials purported to belong to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son in an attempt to swing support to the struggling incumbent.

The fifth paragraph of the article – which, at that point, has still not said what’s in the emails – continues the line of attack:

The New York Post, which is owned by conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, said its report was based on materials it said it heard about from Bannon and were provided by Giuliani.

When we finally get to the news in the seventh paragraph, it is presented with caveats that tell readers even if it’s all true, it’s no big whoop:

The report Wednesday did not markedly advance what is already known about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, other than to suggest that at one point he gave Vadym Pozharskyi, a Ukrainian business colleague, “an opportunity” to meet his father. The Biden campaign said the vice president’s schedule indicated no such meeting.

It would be a very big deal if we had proof that Hunter Biden had tried to arrange a meeting with his father, who was then acting as the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine policy, because Joe Biden has long claimed he has “never” discussed such matters with his son.

In addition, the short email the Washington Post references but never fully quotes in its 33-paragraph article suggests the Ukrainian might have met with the vice president. Here's the New York (not Washington) Post quoting the email: “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.” 

Finally, the Washington Post quotes ambiguous statements from Biden spokespeople to undercut the email.

We have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.

The skeptic will note that Biden could have had a meeting that was not on his official schedule. More important, the Bidens are not claiming hat the laptop did not belong to Hunter or that the email is a fabrication. Perhaps Hunter Biden tried to arrange a meeting that never materialized. That is one reading of this response:

Hunter Biden’s attorney, George Mesires, told The Washington Post that “this purported meeting never happened.” Pozharskyi, who works for Burisma, the Ukrainian gas firm that included Hunter Biden on its board from 2014 to 2019, could not be reached for comment.

While the veracity of the emails is not firmly established, this article shows how the Washington Post – along with other prestigious news outlets that credulously reported the allegations of often anonymous sources to advance the Russiagate conspiracy theory – have weaponized skepticism to attack unwelcome assertions and facts. The most common strategy is to say that figures they do not support – especially President Trump – have made claims “without evidence.” But, as this article shows, they also do it through news reports that use selective skepticism to push an agenda. 

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