On October 6, multiple outlets reported that federal investigators believed they had accumulated enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, with lying on a 2018 gun purchase form and failing to disclose all of his income on tax forms.
Since then, the news media has continued to follow its usual pattern: right-rated outlets paid substantially more attention to potential allegations against Hunter Biden than left-rated outlets did.
The story was brought back into the right-rated media’s spotlight when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) alleged the FBI has documents potentially showing Joe Biden was aware of his son’s dealings.
- Covered the Justice Department’s potential charges when initially reported
- Covered the White House’s reaction to the news
- Frequently covered Hunter Biden, framing him as participating in “potentially criminal business dealings”
- Criticized the Left for not covering Hunter Biden as much as the Right did
- Highlighted accusations of political bias at the Justice Department
On October 6, The Washington Post (Lean Left bias) reported that federal investigators “gathered what they believe is sufficient evidence to charge him with tax crimes and a false statement related to a gun purchase,” citing “people familiar with the case.” Several outlets confirmed the story, including Fox News (Right bias) and CBS News (Lean Left bias).
The investigation into the younger Biden’s taxes focused on whether he had disclosed all his income from various business ventures. The other part of the investigation concerned paperwork from a 2018 handgun purchase, in which he indicated he did not use illegal drugs; he later admitted to “smoking crack every 15 minutes” during that period in a memoir.
Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, must now decide whether to charge Hunter Biden based on the evidence gathered by investigators.
On October 17, Sen. Chuck Grassley said “numerous whistleblowers have made legally protected disclosures substantiating” his concerns about “bias by senior leadership and a double standard by the FBI in politically sensitive investigations.”
The Iowa senator also said the FBI possessed “significant, impactful, voluminous evidence of potential criminality in Biden family business dealings,” including documents linking Hunter Biden to Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky. These records, Grassley said, indicated that “Joe Biden was aware of Hunter Biden’s business arrangements and may have been involved in some of them.” Other records allegedly possessed by the FBI described a $5 million loan from a Chinese firm for an office block venture.
This was not Grassley’s first time intervening in the investigation of President Biden’s son. In July, as the Hunter Biden investigation reached a “critical juncture,” Grassley said “highly credible” whistleblowers had provided documentation of “the FBI's false portrayal of acquired evidence as disinformation.”
In late August, an FBI agent whom Grassley had accused of political bias resigned. The agent had reached retirement age, and his lawyer said he was “not fired, not forced to retire, and not asked to retire.” However, some coverage from the right appeared to frame the agent as resigning because of Republican criticism.
Also on October 17, the New York Post (Lean Right bias) and Daily Mail (Right bias) reported on a $40 million investment by Inteco Management — a company owned by Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina — into Rosemont Realty — owned by Hunter — for U.S.-based office building projects.
What the Right Reported
Right-rated outlets covered allegations related to Hunter Biden far more than left-rated outlets. This included frequent coverage of Sen. Grassley’s statements. Headlines often featured quotes suggesting President Biden was “aware” or “involved” with his son’s “crony” businesses, “pay-for-play” deals, and “criminal conduct.”
While most headlines appropriately attributed the quotes to Grassley, Sky News Australia (Not Rated) — owned by Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp — published a video with the title, “Joe Biden was ‘aware’ and ‘involved’ in Hunter’s business deals.”
Coverage often expanded to other Republican politicians’ remarks. The New York Post reported on Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) pledging to investigate “the Department of Justice and FBI refusing to prosecute Hunter Biden for clear crimes.”
Apart from these issues, coverage from the right also focused on criticizing left-rated outlets for their lack of focus on the president’s son. The Daily Wire (Right bias) highlighted remarks by former MSNBC (Left bias) chief Phil Griffin and former CNN (Left bias) chief Jeff Zucker, who defended their networks’ handling of the 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story. The article included a lengthy quote from Zucker, including several interjections like “you know,” “I mean,” and “like,” in an apparent attempt to frame Zucker as flustered. The Washington Examiner (Lean Right bias) covered the same interview, highlighting that the interviewer suggested CNN’s coverage made it appear “partisan.”
Many right-rated outlets covered a CNN interview with President Joe Biden in which he discussed his son, often framing the president and the interview negatively. Coverage from the New York Post said a “reclusive” Biden “appeared to admit Tuesday that his son Hunter lied about his drug use to buy a gun,” and the Post’s Editorial Board opined that he had “interfered in Hunter’s prosecution” by “defending him” on national television.
Meanwhile, Fox News criticized CNN host Jake Tapper's “soft Hunter Biden question,” which “failed to ask any follow-up questions, like whether he would pardon his son if criminal charges were brought.” The article’s author questioned whether Tapper was “up to the task” of prime-time reporting.
What the Left Reported
While left-rated outlets generally did not cover Grassley’s allegations directly, some covered the FBI agent who resigned following Grassley’s bias accusations.
Some also used decidedly neutral language to describe what the agent was accused of; a CNN article said he had “engaged with social media posts critical of former President Donald Trump” — less direct than Fox News’ description of “his alleged bias and allegations that he tried to run interference in the Hunter Biden investigation.”
Furthermore, many left-rated outlets joined right-rated outlets in covering President Joe Biden’s CNN interview. However, coverage from the left tended to cover his remarks more positively.
Coverage from Politico (Lean Left bias), for instance, highlighted that he “repeatedly stressed that he's proud of his son” and “addressed the possibility” that his son would be prosecuted. Coverage from Insider (Lean Left bias) began with more neutral framing, saying “the White House is bracing for potential charges,” but focused on how Hunter had “overcome his drug addiction” instead of potentially lying about his drug use and income. A CNN headline highlighted President Biden saying, “I have great confidence in my son. I love him.”
Get Both Sides by Reading Balanced News
If you believe the Hunter Biden investigation is worth your attention, then left-rated outlets are downplaying an important story for political reasons. If not, then right-rated outlets are exaggerating a polarizing story to frame a Democratic president as corrupt.
Regardless of the investigation’s newsworthiness, only reading right or left-rated outlets risks getting an incomplete understanding of this story and the opinions surrounding it. With the midterms in full swing, cross-partisan understanding is more important than ever.
See some of our other recent Media Bias Alerts on politicians’ racist remarks and PayPal’s rescinded anti-misinformation policy proposal.
Joseph Ratliff is AllSides’ Daily News Editor. He has a Lean Left bias.
This piece was reviewed by Henry A. Brechter, AllSides Managing Editor (Center bias) and Ethan Horowitz, News Research Assistant (Lean Right bias).