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12 June 2024

Hunter Biden is the great American failson

The media allowed his personal embarrassments to become a national disgrace.

By Sohrab Ahmari

On Tuesday 11 June, a jury convicted Hunter Biden of lying about his drug problem to obtain a handgun. And, confronted with the chaos that has been Hunter’s life, it’s tempting to detect in him an embodiment of American decline while waxing romantic about presidential sons past: all those men with mutton-chop beards whose sepia-toned daguerreotypes recall a more wholesome, public-spirited elite: the bearers of impressive last names who didn’t feast on crack with strippers.

But the truth is that American presidents have raised failsons going back to the early republic – a fact that belies the elite-worship that curiously persists in a democratic republic. The only difference is the lengths to which not just a friendly media, but an entire corporate, Big Tech and security apparatus have gone to protect Joe Biden from his 54-year-old son, and to exonerate the president himself from any role in the latter’s influence-peddling.

Yes, some American presidents have sired truly exemplary children, most notably John Adams, the second president, whose son John Quincy succeeded him in the Oval Office a generation later in 1825. As James Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams obtained Florida from Spain; as president, he promoted science and higher education; as a member of Congress in his post-presidency, he lent his name and stature to the cause of abolition. But plenty of other presidential children wrecked their lives and embarrassed their fathers.

Public recklessness? President James Madison’s stepson, John Payne Todd, was a gambling addict, forcing Madison to pay off some $40,000 of his debts, a huge sum at the time. After Madison died in 1836, Todd ransacked his books and papers for private gain, resulting in gaps in public archives at Congress and the University of Virginia.

Substance abuse? Charles Adams, another of John Adams’s sons, was an alcoholic and likely driven to it by the ruthlessly high expectations his father imposed on his children. John Van Buren, son of Democratic Party founder Martin Van Buren, regularly passed out in public from heavy drinking, and on one occasion lost $5,000 at a poker game; his opponent, fancying his mistress, Ameriga Vespucci (a descendant of the Italian explorer), agreed to forgive his debts in exchange for Van Buren letting him have her.

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Corruption? Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s oldest son, Jimmy, made a pretty penny in the insurance business in the 1950s by leaning on his family name, garnering much negative media attention – not that it stopped him from engaging in alleged mail fraud three decades later.

Arguably, the all-time worst presidential failson is none other than George W Bush, whose disasters had global, world-historic ramifications, rather than causing mere private offence. Public drunkenness, gambling and debt, strippers and mistresses and a sex toy – all pale next to launching two disastrous wars that cost several thousand American lives, hundreds of thousands more Iraqi and Afghan ones, and trillions of dollars. And all for what?

The sins of Hunter Biden, our current addict dauphin, needn’t have had such wide public consequences but for the determination of the establishment to protect the Biden presidential campaign in 2020. In October of that year, the New York Post, where I served as comment editor at the time, exposed emails gleaned from a Hunter laptop showing that in 2015 Hunter had set up a meeting between his father, then the US vice-president and the Obama administration’s point man in Ukraine, and bosses from Burisma, an energy firm that was paying Hunter upwards of $83,000 a month to serve on its board, no doubt for his deep expertise in eastern European energy affairs.

The Post detailed how it had obtained the email – including, yes, the story’s partisan sourcing – which was far more than could have been said for a mountain of dubious anti-Trump stories that had appeared in the left-of-centre media over the previous four years, such as his collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Moreover, my then-colleagues had the goods in the form of screen captures, not to mention the fact that the Biden clan never denied ownership of the laptop or authorship of the emails – though they did deny the meeting took place.

Even so, when Facebook and Twitter suppressed the story (the latter also suspended the Post’s account), most mainstream outlets cheered the censorship. And when 50 former intelligence officials asserted, falsely and on the basis of zero evidence, that the Post’s reporting was Russian disinformation, mainstream outlets uncritically broadcast the claim: a repeat of the grossest Iraq War-era deference by the press to the spooks.

If the Hunter saga reveals a degeneration, it doesn’t have to do with Hunter’s own moral lapses, which have been common enough among sons going back to the US’s founding. Rather, it’s the degeneration of the media’s relationship to power that we should lament, with reporters in recent years all but completely abandoning the ideals of a truly adversarial press to serve as the amanuenses of Big Tech and security-agency power.

[See also: Rishi Sunak and Sky TV have unleashed a class war]

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