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Not only is Joe Biden innocent of any wrongdoing in Ukraine — as almost every legitimate news organization now acknowledges — but his actions concerning his son’s business interests there were precisely the opposite of the smears launched against him by the Trump campaign. That truth won’t change, no matter how many times President Trump and Rudy Giuliani repeat falsehoods about the former vice president.

Although the Ukraine scandal blew up quite suddenly, the effort to taint Biden’s character with a barrage of lies wasn’t hatched overnight. It closely resembles the publicity blitz that soiled Hillary Clinton’s reputation before the 2016 election — a costly and carefully planned enterprise overseen by Steve Bannon during the year before he officially joined the Trump campaign. The question is what, if anything, the nation’s editors and producers learned from their 2016 misadventure.

Like the defamation of Clinton, this assault on Biden can be traced to a book by right-wing author Peter Schweizer, which is filled with shady innuendo and short on factual reporting. Back in May 2015, Schweizer published Clinton Cash, a volume of half-baked investigations featuring the claim that Clinton, as secretary of state, engineered the sale of U.S. uranium deposits to Uranium One, a Russian-backed company, in a deal to enrich Clinton Foundation donors. In fact, Clinton had nothing to do with that trivial deal, which was approved as a matter of Obama administration policy and approved by both the Treasury Department and the Pentagon.

Relying on residual media hostility toward the Clintons, Bannon and Schweizer knew that they could inject the flimsy Clinton Cash allegations into public consciousness via mainstream outlets. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, reaching agreements with The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets to preview and promote Clinton Cash. In April 2015, Schweizer and Bannon hit the jackpot when the Times published a badly misleading page-one article about Uranium One that endorsed Schweizer’s paranoid view and warped coverage of the Clinton Foundation for the rest of the presidential campaign.

Three years later, Schweizer published Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, which includes a chapter suggesting that Biden somehow deflected Ukrainian authorities from prosecuting alleged corruption involving Burisma, a gas company that had placed his son Hunter Biden on its board. While that claim engaged some journalists, subsequent reporting has indicated that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were fully consistent with U.S. and European policy — and were in no way corrupt. Indeed, when Biden insisted on the dismissal of Ukraine’s corrupt and inept prosecutor general — who had failed to probe Burisma aggressively — he acted against his son’s business interests.

Providing the research, publicity, and most likely money for both Schweizer books was the Government Accountability Institute, a mysterious tax-exempt outfit located in Florida and financed by wealthy, ultra-right, mostly anonymous donors. Now that former GAI chairman Bannon is gone, Schweizer continues to run the same playbook as 2016, with multiple appearances on Fox News and across the media echo chamber of the Republican right. What appears to be different this year is the attitude of the mainstream press, which so far has proved less prone to manipulation.

Fortunately for Biden, no cozy media arrangements with Schweizer have distorted the coverage of the Ukraine story. Instead it is Giuliani spearheading the bogus charges against the Democratic frontrunner. The former New York mayor’s frequent, hysterical appearances on television have done little to advance his cause and much to discredit his conspiratorial assertions.

But the right-wing propaganda machine will nevertheless grind on. As Matt Gertz of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters warns: “Giuliani will continue to dribble out details from Schweizer’s book, working in additional inferences and data points he’s gathered. He will become Fox News’ assignment editor and a frequent presence on its airwaves. The network’s ‘news’ team will rush to chronicle and flesh out his allegations, providing fodder for its ‘opinion’ hosts, who will use the results to denounce on a nightly basis the entire Democratic Party as crooked.”

That a presidential campaign led by Donald Trump and his grifting family has no standing to accuse anyone else of corruption won’t discourage his cult followers on the far right. This election will again test whether media outlets can resist their self-defeating tendency to “balance” truth with falsehood — and whether they will avoid the kind of journalistic failures that boosted the most corrupt presidential candidate in American history.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Former Vice President Joe Biden.

Blake Neff

Twitter screenshot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On July 10, CNN's Oliver Darcy reported that Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson's prime-time Fox News show, had been anonymously posting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content on an online forum for five years. Neff used racist and homophobic slurs, referred to women in a derogatory manner, and pushed white supremacist content while writing for Carlson's show. Neff resigned after CNN contacted him for comment.

As Darcy reported, in an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Neff claimed anything Carlson read during his show was initially drafted by him. Darcy also found instances where there was "some overlap between the forum and the show," as sometimes the "material Neff encountered on the forum found its way on to Carlson's show."

During a 2018 appearance on Fox's The Five to promote his book Ship of Fools, Carlson mentioned Neff by name, calling him a "wonderful writer." Carlson also included Neff in the acknowledgments of the book.


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Before joining Fox News, Neff worked at The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet that Carlson co-founded. The outlet has published a number of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots.


Carlson has a long history of promoting white supremacist content on his show. His show has featured many guests who have connections to white supremacy and far-right extremism. Carlson has regularly been praised by Neo-Nazis and various far-right extremist figures, and he's been a hero on many white supremacist podcasts. Users of the extremist online message boards 4chan and 8chan have repeatedly praised Carlson.

The manifesto released by the gunman who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 was strewn with content that echoed talking points from Carlson's show. Days after the shooting, Carlson declared that calling white supremacy a serious issue is a "hoax" as it is "actually not a real problem in America."

Carlson has been hemorrhaging advertisers following his racist coverage of the Black Lives Matters movement and the recent protests against police brutality. Now that we know his top writer was using content from white supremacist online message boards for Carlson's show, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers distance their brands away from this toxicity.