We keep an eye on a fairly large number of politics and news sites, so as to keep on top of what's going on in the world of politics as best we can. And of those sites, there may not be any that require more caution than The Hill. A site like Fox or Breitbart, we already know they're in the bag for right wingers, and so we only link to them if the point is "Here's what right wingers are thinking/hearing/seeing." And a site like The Washington Post or The New York Times is almost certain to be OK, as long as you correct for their propensities for bothsidesism.
But The Hill? On one hand, they have a fair number of good, straightforward news pieces that are not behind a paywall, especially if Politico (which is also free) doesn't have the story. The staff there sometimes comes up with something that nobody else has. On the other hand, virtually every page has an auto-play video, which annoys us, and which we don't like to inflict on readers who might click through. The opinion pieces are often right-wing propaganda, but The Hill's editors are better at separating news from opinion than the people at Fox News are. Nevertheless, this is the site that not only put John Solomon on staff, but bestowed a management title upon him (he was executive vice president of digital video until being fired for shoddy "reporting").
We say all of this as preview to our daily The Hill check-in yesterday. Among the features of the site is a column, on the right (probably apropos), that lists the most popular stories of the moment. Many sites have this, of course. Here's what The Hill's looked like around lunchtime yesterday:
By the time we get to The Hill, we've already looked at a half-dozen (or more) reputable news organizations. We're also aware of the stories we've written or followed in the previous days. What stood out to us on yesterday's list was item #3: "Biden's use of fake names in email could cost him." That is the only item on the list that we had heard nary a word about. When we are talking about The Hill, there is roughly a 98% chance that such a story is right-wing claptrap that has been driven up the "popular" list by sharing and re-sharing on social media by right wingers. However, there is a 2% chance that The Hill has the scoop on something before all the other outlets. And a 2% chance is enough to be worth a click, just to be sure. So, we clicked.
It did not take long to confirm on which side of the 98%/2% divide this piece lives. After the headline, which we already knew, it reads: "BY JONATHAN TURLEY, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR." Done and done. Nonetheless, we kept reading, since it's still useful to know about the latest slings and arrows that the right is preparing to use against Joe Biden. And even by the low standards that Turley has adopted in the current chapter of his career, the piece is an absolute fiasco. The basic argument, though it is made in a manner that would earn a C in an undergrad-level composition course, is rooted in the notion that it's already an established "fact" that Joe Biden engaged in influence peddling before becoming president. After all, as Turley points out (without giving any context), the House has launched investigations. And now, according to the author, it has been uncovered that Biden sent e-mails using an alias. Here's the key passage, which follows the observation that Barack Obama has to decide whether or not to release the e-mails:
Obama is now being asked to bail Biden out from another debacle of his own making, going back to his time in Obama's administration. Various committees and private groups are seeking more than 5,000 emails from Biden in which he used an array of aliases during the Obama administration.
Under the Presidential Records Act, Obama has 30 days to bar the release of the emails and to help shield his former vice president in a growing corruption scandal over the influence-peddling operation run by Biden's son, Hunter.
Recently, it was learned that Joe Biden went by a variety of code names and false names, including Robin Ware, Robert L. Peters, JRB Ware, Celtic and "The Big Guy." House investigators believe that may only be a partial list. For many Americans, it is understandably unnerving to learn that their president has more aliases than Anthony Weiner.
Note that, even in a brief 147-word snippet, Turley deploys numerous sleazy argumentation tricks. For example, the implication that if Obama decides to keep the e-mails secret, he would undoubtedly be doing so to "shield" Biden. Or the casual linking of Biden to sex-scandal-ridden Anthony Weiner.
In any event, having read the whole thing, we have two observations. The first is that the use of e-mail aliases,
depending on how loosely you use the term, is generally pretty innocuous, and does not tend to indicate ill intent. For
example, between various personal, teaching, and E-V.com needs, (Z) uses 11 different e-mail accounts. And messages from
just 2 of the 11 go out under his real name.
Meanwhile, only one of them is used to receive marching orders from the
The second observation is that Turley doesn't actually make clear what fraud Biden ostensibly perpetrated by using these aliases. What he wants you to believe is that Biden was conducting shady business under fake names, so that the messages could not be traced back to their real source. But Turley has no actual, you know, evidence for this. So, he has to utilize innuendo and misdirection, not unlike a conjurer. Or a charlatan. And the theory doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense. If a person was trying to pass themselves off as some other person, would they really use aliases that clearly allude to their real identity (e.g., "JRB Ware") or that have no identity at all (e.g., "The Big Guy")?
We don't love to give oxygen to this sort of nonsense, but we did think readers would want to be aware of the (apparent) latest front in the "corrupt Joe Biden" narrative, especially since the impeachment talk is about to heat up (see above). And, for those who like to peek behind the curtain, this also afforded an opportunity to talk a bit about our process. (Z)