The whataboutism pandemic rages unabated in the Republican body politic.
First District Congressman James Comer is the super spreader. More on him in a minute.
Whataboutism’s main symptom is a dyspeptic, feverish cry of “Oh, yeah? What about Hunter Biden?” when the mainstream media breaks another news story about Donald Trump’s multiplying legal woes.
“There is no comparison,” said veteran Kentucky journalist Bill Straub. “But the Republicans are doing their best to make it one.”
So far, the indictment score is: Trump, 4; Hunter Biden, 0.
The past president and the First Son are tied at one apiece on being investigated by special counsels.
“Hunter Biden is a problem," acknowledged Straub, a Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famer. “But Comer is trying to make Joe Biden the capo of a Biden ‘crime family.’” (The president's indictment score is also a goose egg.)
Comer claims — without proof, of course — that Hunter Biden illegally traded on his father's name (in cahoots with then Joe the Veep) to make a ton of money. So when Republicans demand "What about Hunter?" they mean Joe, too.
“There’s no indication that [President Biden] took any money or made any decision based on what was best for Hunter Biden and [the Biden] family as far as money is concerned,” Straub said. “If any of that was true, the indictments would be coming down. There is no reason to think there will be because there is no evidence that the president did anything wrong.”
For months, Straub, a Northern Kentucky Tribune columnist, has been serially skewering Comer, who chairs the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. Click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
“For reasons we needn’t dwell on here, it’s obvious that Tail-Gunner Jamie Comer [as in Tail-Gunner Joe McCarthy] isn’t naturally suited to fill the role of Porgy (introduced on Broadway by Danville’s own Todd Duncan) in the Gershwin Brothers’ immortal opera, Porgy and Bess,” Straub suggested in a recent musing.
“But that truism hasn’t deterred the Republican congressman from WhereverHeHangsHisHatIsHisHome from adopting a heralded number in the show’s second act as something of a theme song. It begins:
“Oh, I got plenty o’ nuttin’ An’ nuttin’s plenty fo’ me”
Straub, who reported the news from Frankfort and Washington for many years, added that throughout Comer’s tenure as committee chair, he’s “led an ‘investigation’ that would make Torquemada swoon into the business dealings of President Biden’s son, Hunter, and the alleged personal involvement of the president himself in those affairs. It is Comer’s theory that the president may have directly benefited from those activities during his time as vice president from 2009 to 2017 and that his son’s commercial interests sway his decision-making process as president, that he was, in Jamie’s word, ‘compromised.’”
So how do reporters inoculate themselves against whataboutism, also known as “bothsidesism?”
“You obviously have to cover what’s going on with Hunter Biden and his troubles with the law,” Straub said. “There is reason to believe that he used his father’s name to try to gin up business in various locales, including China and Ukraine. But you also have to be cognizant of the fact that just because he used his father’s name to make money doesn’t mean that his father was intimately involved in it in any way.”
Straub wonders if it’s actually illegal to use a parent’s name to make money. “Is there a law against that? As far as I can tell, there is no law against that.”
Straub thinks the genuine media (“the real media – newspapers and television”) is mostly doing a good job of covering Hunter and Joe Biden fairly and accurately. The MAGA media? “My understanding is that when the indictment came down in Atlanta, Fox News was all Hunter Biden all the time. The problem is not so much with regular reporters like I used to be. It’s the right-wing media that’s trying to shove this down people's throats.”
Fox News isn’t just a willing Typhoid Mary in boosting whataboutism. “The problem with Fox ‘News,' the cable TV channel, isn’t just what it is — it’s also what it isn’t,” Dan Froomkin wrote for Think in a 2022 article that’s as timely as ever. “It is a purveyor of propaganda and misinformation. What it’s not is a source of ‘news’ — at least not by any normal definition.”
He suggested that the mainstream media “stop talking about Fox like it’s a different form of news — and start talking about how it isn’t news at all. It’s the opposite of news. It’s the absence of news.
“We can explain more clearly that real news organizations present viewers with the information they need regardless of whether it hurts or helps a specific cause or political party.”
The New York Times' Peter Baker and Politico provided the kind of context Straub meant.
Wrote Baker after the third Trump indictment: “The wave of whataboutism from Trump world crested with this week’s indictment, but has been building for months, a way of shifting attention from the former president’s kaleidoscopic legal troubles. The strategy provides the former president’s hard-core base a narrative to embrace that absolves him of any misconduct while muddying the waters enough to cause at least some independents and swing voters to throw up their hands out of a sense that, well, they all do it.” (I'm a Baker fan, but there's been plenty more MAGA whataboutism since indictment four.)
“Never mind that Hunter Biden was not and is not seeking to be the president of the United States and that no hard evidence has emerged indicating that his father used his office improperly. Never mind that Mr. Trump’s family has intertwined personal business and public life for years. Or that the worst accusations against Hunter Biden, even if true, are hardly comparable to a plot by a sitting president to overturn an election and hold onto power.”
Explained Politico: “For the first 234 years of the nation’s history, no American president or former president had ever been indicted. That changed this year. Former President Donald Trump has been charged in four criminal cases over a four-and-a-half-month span. In New York, he faces 34 felony counts in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. In Florida, he faces 40 felony counts for hoarding classified documents and impeding efforts to retrieve them. In Washington, D.C., he faces four felony counts for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And in Georgia, he faces 13 felony counts for his election interference in that state.”
Simply put, if Hunter Biden is indicted it will be for personal financial funny business at best, not for egging on a violent insurrection and for trying to subvert American democracy in a desperate and unlawful — if not treasonous — attempt to hold onto the presidency.
Despite the quadruple indictments, polls show Trump way ahead in the race for the GOP presidential nod. Other polls show him neck and neck with President Biden.
“People believe what they want to believe,” Straub said. “There’s a large segment of the population that thinks Trump is the messiah and that Biden is therefore the devil. There’s a lot of those folks out there; hopefully there;s not a majority.
“There are some people that will still trend toward Republicans because they don’t like what Biden has done. That makes a powerful coalition between the straight-line Republicans and the crazies.”
In his column, Straub concluded that notwithstanding “all the speculation, innuendo, and paucity of evidence, congressional Republicans are gearing up for impeachment, a rather overt payback for the two times House Democrats impeached his predecessor, former President Donald John Trump, who, you may have heard, faces four criminal indictments in four different jurisdictions.”
Straub couldn’t resist a parting shot at Tail-Gunner Jamie: “By the way, in case you’re unfamiliar with Porgy and Bess and you’re wondering why Jamie wouldn’t be a good fit, the part calls for a baritone.”