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The White House cocaine is the latest Biden story the press is happy to stop sniffing around for details about
July 18, 2023
Dateline: The day the first Barbie reviews started pouring in… and apparently the movie’s about the “patriarchy”?
Watching this week…
— Press helps White House coke disappear
— RFK Jr. and the Long COVID of hate
— ESPN is losing, but McAfee is winning
— Bolling, Purcell, Lowery - Fourth Watch Pods
— Great Moments in “Ecocide” Journalism
White House cocaine story blows over as press is happy to stop sniffing around for the truth
Tucker Carlson knew the Hunter Biden laptop story was real right away, because emails between him and Hunter were on it. He and Hunter were neighbors — they knew each other for years. “He had quit drinking. I had quit drinking. I was talking about sobriety. He was struggling with it…I always liked him, for the record, until he went off the deep end and started doing a ton of blow,” Carlson told me, in one of the first stories I recounted in my book “Uncovered” (available on Amazon or wherever you get your books!).
I thought about this story over the past couple weeks, while we learned that someone left cocaine in a cubby outside the White House West Wing, the Secret Service “investigated” it, and then decided last week they wouldn’t be able to find out whose drugs it was and promptly closed the investigation. There’s nothing to indicate the coke belongs to Hunter Biden, to be sure — but the White House won’t say it doesn’t belong to him either. In fact they scolded the press for daring to even ask the question. It’s not like Hunter Biden has faded into obscurity, painting sunsets from his LA home. He’s spending weekends with his dad, President Biden, at Camp David. He’s at the White House constantly — some reporting suggests he actually lives there.
I’m going to get back to the cocaine shortly — with insights from former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and one longtime reporter who has published a very different narrative than the rest of the press. But we need to start with Hunter.
Because the truth is, I’ve thought about the Tucker-Hunter story several times over the past few months, while Hunter Biden has become a mainstay in the conservative media news cycle, despite the corporate media’s best efforts to keep him away from the spotlight. There are what feels like endless investigations, all seemingly uncovering more shady dealings. It’s too many to count, but The Federalist has done excellent, consistent reporting on it all. The response from people like Nick Kristof of the New York Times? The story is really about a father’s love for his addict son, that’s all.
Hunter Biden, Joe Biden — these are longtime creatures of Washington. They have spent decades interacting with the people who are now tasked with covering them fairly. What do we expect? Tucker got out — he moved out of DC during the Trump years. Began to become the turncoat to the DC elite he was once a part of. What about the rest of them?
Look at two past interviews Hunter did with the corporate press. In April 2021, he was on CBS Sunday Morning to promote his book. Back then, the laptop was described as “sketchy” by CBS, and noted that "before the election, the Russians had launched a smear campaign against Joe Biden and his family.” Hunter was asked about any wrongdoing, and was adamant. “Not one investigative body, not one serious journalist has ever accused, has ever come to the conclusion, that I did anything wrong, or that my father did anything wrong,” he said. Not a lot of follow up since — and even in that interview, so much of it was yukking it up and softball questions meant to humanize him. (Click the screenshot to watch the full interview.)
Then there’s this October 2019 interview on ABC’s Nightline. Putting aside a few challenging questions about why he’d gotten paid so much to sit on the board of Burisma, it let him get away with insisting "this is not a family business" and "that's not what Bidens do,” which looks outrageous in retrospect but was pretty laughable even at the time. Do outlets like CBS and ABC feel taken advantage of? Do they feel that allowing this person to craft this narrative on their air, at the expense of the reality of the situation, harms the audience? Or it is that the on-air talent and off-air executives have spent years and years living among the Biden clan, and it’s just too socially awkward to press very hard.
Which brings us to the blow at the White House. Sean Spicer worked in the West Wing, and is very familiar with how the area where the cocaine was found is set up. He told me there are only two groups who could have left the coke — West Wing badge holders, and their guests. “That’s a finite, knowable number” of people, he told me — far fewer than the 500 the Secret Service claimed to be potential suspects. Spicer says the first thing you would do if you actually wanted to find out who left the drugs is drug test the badge holders who went through that area recently. Getting drug tested is a regular occurrence for West Wing employees, so that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Then you would know if it’s staff, or a guest of the staff.
He told me that most senior staff would not even take their phones out of their pockets, so they likely could be eliminated as suspects. So that leaves lower level staff and guests of staff. But at the same time, if you’re bringing cocaine with you to the White House West Wing, “you have a coke problem,” Spicer said — so perhaps all bets are off about who left it there.
The lone voice of counter-consensus narrative reporting on this has been Susan Katz Keating, a longtime reporter at outlets ranging from the Washington Examiner to RealClearPolitics to People magazine, who now runs her own publication. Last week she wrote an exclusive report, claiming “officials at the White House know who handled a packet of cocaine…and have confirmed that finding via fingerprint evidence, according to sources with direct knowledge of the investigation.”
I asked Keating for more information — she says she stands by her reporting. “The Secret Service is being pressured to toe the line. They know whose prints are on the packet. This is a huge problem for the White House and for President Biden in particular,” she told me. “Individual agents are caught in the middle. They are being asked to put partisan and company loyalty above their oaths.”
Keating told me that not only do the Secret Service know whose fingerprints are on the cocaine, but “I know whose prints are on the packet.” She says more reporting is forthcoming — and while the White House wants this to go away, “it won’t.”
Well, it will if the corporate media lets it. The Biden White House would love to blow this cocaine story off. And the Acela Media is largely obliging. I don't know whether Keating's reporting is accurate. But it's absolutely worth more investigation.
It’s not completely being ignored by the Acela Media. This segment from Friday night’s CNN show hosted by Laura Coates asked some challenging questions (rhetorically — no one from the White House was there): “How are there blindspots in White House surveillance?.. Is the building that houses the President of the United States truly secure?"Click the screenshot to watch the segment:
Seems like an eminently legitimate question — with actual national security implications. This isn’t some salacious, partisan story. This is real.
Just like the Hunter Biden stories that are emerging are real too. The corporate press monumentally screwed up the laptop story in October 2020 — on purpose, perhaps. It’s time they attempted to separate their personal relationships with the Bidens — and their own partisan leanings — to begin to dig into the reality of this family, from Hunter all the way to the top. The White House wants every story from the whistleblowers to the cocaine to simply blow over. It is the fourth estate’s job to not let that happen.
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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. continues to inspire a unique brand of hatred — is COVID to blame?
Two tweets have stuck with me from the past few weeks, and both relate to COVID. The first is MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan thinking he has some mic drop moment, and, as usual, falling flat on his face. Isn’t it weird, Hasan wonders, how the people who downplayed COVID are obsessed with finding out where it came from?
Then there’s this from the New York Times’ David Wallace-Wells, who I generally like, attempting to explain why the Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. hype is unwarranted, since most people got some version of the COVID vaccines. “While plenty of people who got vaccinated surely have some questions about the shots—whether efficacy was oversold, particularly regarding transmission, or some side effects possibly undersold, particular regarding blod clots—the American public is, overwhelmingly, vaxxed,” he tweeted later in the thread. “The weird RFK Jr. news cycle demonstrates a lot of things about this country, but one of them probably is that there simply isn't a mass audience here for a politics built on vaccine skepticism.”
This is a total misreading of the data. The reason there’s RFK hype to begin with is precisely because of how the vaccines were inaccurately framed to the American public. He’s winning because the scientific elite were wrong — or they lied — and vaccine skepticism grew out of that. I wrote recently about how the consensus failure is what powered RFK Jr.’s rise:
The collective corporate media freakout has only gotten louder, with The Atlantic going deep on RFK as a “MAGA Democrat,” rendering the term MAGA suddenly meaningless. More recently the New York Post wrote a hit piece on RFK, misconstruing what he said and making it sound like he was saying COVID was genetically manufactured to spare Jews and the Chinese. After his clarification I ended up down a rabbit hole myself, and let’s just say there is definitely scientific evidence that, for whatever reason, characteristics of “genetic susceptibility” are less prevalent in those two groups, which was the point he was making.
Anyway — litigating each mini-controversy news cycle is not really the point. The point is — what’s really behind this? And I come back to Long COVID. Slate took a brave stance and published a well-researched look at the actual studies on “Long COVID,” the mysterious, unexplained COVID side effect, that point to a link between Long COVID and mental illness. It doesn’t mean there aren’t physical ways COVID can have a long-lasting effect. It just means, perhaps, COVID may have some long-lasting mental effects too, that can exacerbate something “physical” that isn’t actually there.
Is RFK hate the new Long COVID? It does seem there’s a special breed of unexplained mental illness that affects rational thought when it comes to the Democratic contender. Is it possible to not think the man is correct on everything without dubbing him a “MAGA Democrat” as a new pejorative? And is the hate from the elites only making him stronger with the rest of the country?
Bolling, Purcell, Lowery: From Trump and Fox, to AI and content, to the need for conversations
It’s been busy over on the podcast feed with the Fourth Watch Podcast (busier than the written feed, I know), with an eclectic mix of guests.
I talked with Newsmax host Eric Bolling last month, and you can watch clips of our conversation about Fox News’ post-Tucker, and really post-Trump, evolution, and about how his life has changed since that tragedy in 2017.
Then I had Gavin Purcell on, formerly the executive producer of Jimmy Fallon’s late night show and now the co-host of the “AI For Humans” podcast, and we talked about the negative ways politics infected late night comedy and culture generally, as well as whether we should be worried or invigorated by artificial intelligence as it relates to media and entertainment.
And earlier this month I had on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the new book, “American Whitelash,” Wesley Lowery, where we discussed what really happened in Ferguson (and why the media coverage was so terrible), and we got deep about the importance of conversations — especially uncomfortable ones.
From Hollywood to ESPN, the powerful are crumbling. But who’s “winning”? Pat McAfee…
There are some seismic changes happening across the content landscape, beyond the usual "media" outlets I cover in Fourth Watch. In the world of entertainment, dueling strikes happening by the writer's union and now the actor's union have essentially ground Hollywood to a halt, and the reverberations will be huge. Obviously there's no new content being produced when it comes to late night shows and scripted TV and movies, but with the actor's stepping away that stops not just production but promotion too. Barry Diller warns "these conditions will potentially produce an absolute collapse of an entire industry."
At the same time, ESPN, the worldwide leader not just in sports but sports media, has trimmed some of its most high profile talent over the past few weeks. Jalen Rose, Jeff Van Gundy, Max Kellerman, Keyshawn Johnson, Suzy Kolber, Steve Young... a mix of former athletes that have become huge TV stars and actual journalists who have been with ESPN for decades - gone. Stephen A. Smith, perhaps the most untouchable talent at the network, says...he could be next. And whether that's just posturing or reality, it shows the state of sports media — as viewing habits change, among other reasons.
And then there are the "winners" — like Pat McAfee, who is being brought into ESPN at close to $20 million a year as these others are headed out. He's gotten some backlash about it - and addressed it briefly. But why is McAfee winning while others throughout the sports media are, essentially, losing.
He's based in Indiana, and not the coasts, for one. He's very much not a condescending elitist — but he's also not some crazy right-winger. He's just...normal, for one. But dissecting why the people who are cutting through the mess of an industry in 2023 are doing so is important to understanding this perilous moment.
I'll dive into it more in a future "Rabbit Hole" column later this week.
WATCH IT… Yes, I know this newsletter is behind, so forgive me for highlighting my favorite Tucker Carlson “Twitter episode” yet, which is way back in episode 7 three weeks ago. That’s when Tucker discussed the implications of Ukraine leader President Zelensky declaring there wouldn’t be presidential elections until after the war (Snopes fact check: true!). Why is this not getting more coverage? Follow his thread, all the way to Gavin Newsom…
HEAR IT… Ezra Klein is not a UFO / UAP believer. But unlike so many in the corporate press, he’s curious. And he’s not afraid to interrogate his own beliefs, and bring his audience information that they can do what they will with. So his long, fascinating conversation with leading UAP reporter Leslie Kean last month is a must-listen.
READ IT… An interesting New York Times story with a Martha’s Vineyard dateline, exploring how some of the migrants who were flown there by Gov. Ron DeSantis have settled in and stayed. The subtext is how DeSantis’ cruelty backfired, but it seems to miss the point — it wasn’t actually cruel to begin with, the people of America are good, and it is America’s inherent goodness that’s why people want to come here in the first place.
Former Oath Keepers leader and current media darling Ray Epps is suing Fox News — but notably, not Tucker Carlson personally. A story to watch, and one I’ll cover more in the weeks ahead…
Greg Gutfeld — who I once got very drunk with — is Fox News’ biggest star right now. He’s gotten some well-deserved profiles recently — this from the New York Times was my favorite.
What’s the future of newsletters, both on Substack and outside of it? This from Vanity Fair is a good synopsis.
Bizarre story about ABC’s new FiveThirtyEight leader threatening the Rasmussen poll folks over associating with right-wingers (which 538 founder Nate Silver called out).
National Geographic has laid off… every staff writer remaining at the magazine. Rough times in the industry.
Speaking of — the New York Times is “disbanding” its sports department, and instead relying solely on the reporters from The Athletic for sports coverage.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Nashville Manifesto Edition ⏩
⏪ It’s now been close to four months since the horrific shooting at the Nashville Christian school by a killer who identified as transgender. There were reports of not just a manifesto, but lots of writings that got to motive and other elements.
⏩ We still haven’t seen the manifesto. Yes, the families of the victims are attempting to block its release, and I understand their pain. But as Reason magazine’s J.D. Tuccille wrote last month, “the public has a right to see” it. It’s hard to see a scenario where if the shooter was, say, a red-hat wearing Trump supporter we wouldn’t have seen the writings by now.
A new Reuters report found that former President Barack Obama’s ancestors owned slaves, and he refused to comment when asked about it. That’s certainly one accurate way to frame a gigantic Reuters project that tracks which U.S. politicians had ancestors that owned slaves. But that seems unfair. So instead, what’s the point of this exactly? Clinton’s ancestors did, Bush’s did. Trump’s didn’t. Ok. It feels like the kind of journalism investigation that is saying nothing while saying a lot. But I wonder if this sort of racially-charged journalism aimed at amplifying America’s original sin —with the hopes of saying something — will continue to grow.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
What does that mean, CNN asks — great question. Maybe it’s a made up term meant to elicit headlines and articles like this one!
Thanks for reading. Back soon with a new “Rabbit Hole” column…