There was an amusing delicacy to the way a Washington Post reporter phrased the paper's confirmation Wednesday of the authenticity of a large number of Hunter Biden's emails. "Thousands of emails purportedly from the laptop computer of Hunter Biden are authentic communications that can be verified through cryptographic signatures from technology companies," tweeted Matt Viser as he promoted a story analyzing the messages.
The Hunter Biden laptop controversy has grown bigger than just a story about emails belonging to the president's son, though. Conservatives see pervasive liberal media bias and the suppression of information that was potentially harmful to a Democratic presidential campaign. Prominent public figures confidently asserted that the computer and its contents were Russian disinformation. "If we are right," wrote more than "50 former senior intelligence officials" in a well-publicized letter, "this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this."
Since then, Americans have become aware that the laptop is playing a role in the Merrick Garland-led Justice Department's investigation of Hunter Biden's sketchy business dealings. But not before the election year stories about this device were memory-holed by the big social media platforms and ignored or dismissed as a Russian and/or right-wing stunt by most of the media.
Newsrooms can point to reasons for their skepticism besides liberal bias. The laptop just being left at a computer shop seemed suspicious. Rudy Giuliani's involvement in its discovery likewise did not instill the confidence it might have 20 years ago. Former President Donald Trump was impeached over his Hunter dirt-digging excursions, which haven't exactly ceased since leaving office.
But there was also some degree of regret over how Hillary Clinton's emails were covered in 2016, with the belief that it redounded to Trump's electoral benefit. There was real — if often sloppily defined — Russian interference in that election (though that has also turned out to be a more complicated story than much of the reporting initially made it out to be). And even now, much about Hunter Biden's laptop remains unverified, along with the bolder claims about the president's place in these events.
All this could lead to some genuine journalistic qualms, though it was also clear that many in the media thought Trump's win was a bad thing. Insofar as Hunter Biden's emails are more than the Steele dossier of Trump-Russia fame, conservatives have a legitimate beef.